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Interview with Rufus Hound

9 September 2015 Imogen Greenberg

Rufus Hound is a comedian and actor, currently starring in The War of the Roses at the Rose Theatre, which stages three of Shakespeare’s history plays back to back. London Calling caught up with him as rehearsals got under way, to talk about Shakespeare, Game of Thrones and contemporary politics.

London Calling: Hi Rufus! The War of the Roses is a huge Shakespeare undertaking. Have you been in any Shakespeare productions before and have you enjoyed taking on the challenge?

Rufus Hound: I had a drama teacher who really inspired me in understanding the timelessness of Shakespeare. When you’re a kid, you can hate it because it’s so boring and hard. But I’ve never had any doubt really that what Shakespeare refers to is the fundamental dichotomies within the human condition. We’re both animal and conscious, and we love and we hate, and we want peace but we crave violence. So once you tune in to the poetry it’s all there, and better expressed than by anyone else. It was always on my ‘To Do’ list. This has been my first professional engagement doing so. When someone rings and says Trevor Nunn’s directing it, and it’s three Shakespeare plays and they’d like you to be in all of them, you’ve said yes before they’ve got to the end of the sentence!

LC: Do you have a favourite of the three plays?

RH: I think for me, the most surprising was reading Henry VI. At first, I thought ‘I don’t really get this’! Then we read it, and Trevor explained how we’re going to tell the story. I was like this is House of Cards meets Game of Thrones! If you’ve ever got stuck in to House of Cards, seeing these three Shakespeare plays back-to-back is so fulfilling!

LC: It’s being billed as Shakespeare’s Game of Thrones. Are you a fan of Game of Thrones, and are you taking any inspiration from it for the play?

RH: It’s kind of sad because I’m sat here going ‘oh yeah like on Game of Thrones’ whereas if you’re a proper grown up, you watch Game of Thrones and say ‘oh yeah, it’s like in Henry VI part II’. We got halfway through Edward IV and I was surprised there wasn’t an imminent dragon invasion. I’m given to understand Shakespeare was playing it subtler than that.

LC: You’re known for your comedy work. Will there be any laughs in there, or is it all family feuds and tragedy?

RH: Ian McKellan said if you’ve never done stand up, then you’ll never get Hamlet. I’d like to think that’s true! With comedy, tragedy often underpins the jokes. Of the characters I play, two of them are obviously quite funny, in terms of looks. The question is, can you take what is obviously quite funny about them and bring them to a place where they also feel real? If I don’t, then I’ve got it wrong.

LC: You’ve done exclusively theatre in the last few years. Would you like to keep working in the theatre?

RH: I want to keep earning a living! What I love about theatre is the discipline and the teamwork. It’s fulfilling in a way that almost nothing else is. You’re all working towards the same goals, with a kind of mutual respect and discipline. Theatre thrills me and I think anybody who’s worked in theatre would largely say that you see the best of people in these conditions. But equally I’ve just done an episode of Doctor Who and completely adored that. It’s not so much about which medium I want to tell stories in, it’s more about the people I want to work with and the stories I want to tell.

LC: Any chance of a recurring role in Doctor Who...?

RH: I mean, from your mouth to God’s ears! I would like nothing more, but unfortunately it’s not down to me ringing them up and going ‘hey guys!’.

LC: You ran to be an MEP in the last European elections. Do you have any future political ambitions?

RH: Um, no. It’s funny, since the general election I’ve felt a bit... I was trying to think of another word for depressed but let’s go with depressed!

I kind of felt like I could use the low level celebrity I have to wave a flag. What I realised is, most people don’t care as long as they’re OK. I therefore question the validity or the value in being just another voice. I don’t see why any human being alive should give a shit what I think! Why would they? I’m just some bloke who used to tell jokes on telly. With social media you can spread the word that’s being put out by people who do know their stuff. They are far more worth listening to than I am. But at what point is it spreading the word and at what point does everybody just think, sod off mate you love the sound of your own voice? I feel kind of lost in terms of what brings about change.

I don’t understand why people aren’t angry. The end of the Independent Living Fund is literally the same as Conservative MP’s going in to disabled people’s homes and locking the doors. That’s what that boils down to. They can’t get out because they’re not independent. That’s barbaric, right? I think the majority of people feel like it hasn’t hit them and by the time it does, it’ll all be too late. I just want everything to be better and I think there should be people more noble and wiser than I am who are able to bring that about.

LC: Do you think there is anyone?

RH: I’m very interested in how Jeremy Corbyn is doing. I think he’s a man of principle. I don’t understand why the other three candidates think you beat Darth Vader by becoming more like Darth Vader. That’s not how it works! You say no, that’s wrong, so let’s fight that. There’s this idea that it’s better that we inflict exactly the same misery on everyone because we get to wear a red tie whilst we do it. The job of Labour should be to convince people that we as a society are all better off by working together.

We live in a democracy where people are scared that Scottish people are going to have their democratic say! The front page of every newspaper was ‘The Scots are coming, vote conservative or the Scottish people will...’. It’s this weird medieval jingoism that we’ve all bought in to. I just don’t understand how we allow the conversation to be conducted in that way.

LC: Does it resonate with the plays?

RH: Massively! That’s why these feel so timely. Interestingly, the project Wars of the Roses was put together in the 1960s at a time of enormous social change in this country. The Second World War was very recent, and people were looking down the barrel of the Cold War. Now you can look at these plays in the shadow of the European Union and domestic politics. You realise the people actually making the decisions are so far removed. Why would they care about your stupid petition or your stupid march? The voices screaming in the corridors of power are not the same as the ones screaming outside in the streets.

Rufus Hound is in The War of the Roses at the Rose Theatre from 16th September to 31st October. For more information and to book tickets, please see the website.
 

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