Based on Dan Brown’s classic novel, The Da Vinci Code now comes to the stage in a thrilling new adaptation starring Nigel Harman and Danny John-Jules, arriving at the Belgrade Theatre from Tues 22 – Sat 26 Feb.
How would you sum up the character of Robert Langdon as he’s portrayed in the stage version of The Da Vinci Code?
He’s the Harvard professor that we all know and love. He’s one of the smartest people in the room but what’s wonderful about the play is that he’s also a little inept in some areas, such as when he’s handling his gun and when he makes silly mistakes about the most obvious stuff whilst also solving the most complex matters, equations and Newton’s theory of gravity. So, he’s very human in our play. There are moments where he’s vulnerable and he loses his temper at one point because he’s so frustrated. That’s the joy of the play – it fleshes out our main characters more than I’d say has been done before. That’s what drew me to it.
Can you relate to Langdon in any way?
You know when you get completely focused on something that you really love, a passion of yours, and the world becomes really quiet because you’re just doing that one thing? I relate to that aspect of him, when there’s something to solve or something to think about or a puzzle to put together. That’s where Langdon comes into his own and I think there are moments in my life when I’m really focusing on a project I’m doing, reading a book or whatever it may be… You have those moments where you have utter calm and just focus on that one thing. I share that and I like it when it happens. It doesn’t happen all the time because we’re all trying to juggle so many balls but when there’s only one ball it’s brilliant.
Does the role present any challenges?
The challenge with this one is staying as present as possible. Every night the story unfolds in front of me. As Langdon I turn up in Paris to give a lecture and suddenly I’m contacted by the police, taken to the Louvre, then the next 24 hours are a rollercoaster ride. The challenge is not to pre-empt what’s coming, not even to think about what the next scene is and just stay in the moment because each clue leads to the next step and if I get ahead of myself then it loses its magic.
Have you done any research or are you just going by the script?
The research I’ve done is quite simple because, like I said, it’s about staying present and not learning too much because then I can be surprised as I’m playing it. I did read the book, which I’d never done before; I’m one of the few people who hadn’t read it. I sat there and read it out loud to myself in an American accent so I was learning about the more fleshed-out version of the story whilst practising my accent at the same time. I really enjoyed the book so it was absolutely a pleasure.
Had you seen the film version?
I had seen it before and [laughs] the one thing I wanted to do was not have the mullet. That was a key character decision there! But the stage version is very different. It moves as fast and it’s just as complex but we’ve got an extraordinary visual landscapes with all sorts of projections and gauzes. We’re telling the story through a visual medium and then we’ve got what I would describe as a banging soundtrack. We’ve got this energy that is propelled throughout the play and it’s underscored so you get a real sense of time, tempo and all that sort of stuff. If you like the book and you like the film definitely come along and see the play because you’ll get another layer. I think that’s really clever about what the writing team [Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel] and Luke [Sheppard] the director have done with it.
The stage adaptation is a brand new play. Is that exciting for you as an actor?
It is, yes. When we did our first ever performance [in Bromley on January 10th 2022] it was the world premiere of this play and when that was announced before the show started we were like ‘Wow, it’s amazing’. It’s very exciting to be part of something new and also it means there’s work to be done. We’re doing little re-writes and trying different things so it’s very fresh and very alive. New writing allows you to work a little bit more and play with it a little bit more rather than if you’re turning up to do Shakespeare. When things work you’re like ‘Yeah! That’s staying’ and when they don’t you go ‘I don’t think we’ll do that again tomorrow night’.
What is it about The Da Vinci Code that you think continues to fascinate people?
For one thing there’s the question at the heart of it: Did Jesus have descendants? That’s a brilliant question. Then the rewriting by men of the church of the female place in society is very prescient and a really good debate to be had. The other thing I love about it is that it’s an Agatha Christie, it’s a thriller, it’s a whodunnit and there’s a baddie, but I won’t tell you who that is if you don’t know the story already. On that basic level it’s ‘How are they going do it? Are they going solve the clues, who is going to get in their way and what are they going to find?’
It’s been more than 15 years since you left EastEnders but do people still recognise you for playing Dennis Rickman?
It’s for a range of things now but when it comes to EastEnders it depends on the length of my hair. If my hair is cut around the same length as when I played Dennis then people get me much quicker. If it’s longer they look at me and go ‘Do you work at the Sainsbury’s in Cheltenham?’ EastEnders is still very much with me and it’s actually quite sweet because people light up when they talk about it or they remember a storyline and share it with me, when half the time even I can’t remember it.
Obviously that was a life-changing job but what have been your other career highlights over the years?
Downton Abbey was cool. I did a comedy on Channel 4 called Plus One that I really enjoyed. Then on stage I did The Caretaker, which I also really enjoyed, and doing Glengarry Glen Ross was amazing. I also love singing so every now and again when the clock starts ticking I try and muscle my way into a musical somewhere.
You’ve done a lot of theatre. What do you especially enjoy about live performance?
The audience and the connection. There’s a pact and I don’t even know how it happens but subconsciously we connect and we go on a journey. Also, from the moment the lights go down and the play starts it’s live and it’s the actors who kind of own that space. We tell the story and we do it all in one evening or afternoon. Every performance is unique whereas working on telly you get a few takes, then that is forever what will be seen plus it’s shown on a box with a glass screen in front of it and people watch it from a distance. You don’t get the live sense with TV and film.
What are you most looking forward to about taking The Da Vinci Code around the country?
I like the idea that we’re going to people’s communities rather than asking them to come to London. I love that we go to them and go ‘Here’s our play’. What I really like about this play is that they haven’t skimped on the set. It’s really flashy and it’s classy, and I love that we’re taking that to people’s hometowns and going ‘We’re here to entertain you, please come along’ rather than ‘We’re all in London, come down here, it’s great’. I love London. I live in London and the West End is brilliant but I also think there’s a time to get out into the communities and that’s what I really like about touring.