The last time I was in the vicinity of an actor-director-writer-producer type I was having my picture taken with scotchka-drinking lunatic Tommy Wiseau, the man behind cult film The Room. But yesterday, I managed a quick chat with Wavertree’s finest multi-hyphenate Scot Williams, who made a lot more sense all round and is pretty much guaranteed to provide an altogether more professional experience with his latest project.
After much fanfare, Hope, the new play he has written, directed, produced and features in, opens tonight at the Royal Court. His co-stars in the high profile endeavour include Mark Womack, Rene Zagger, and Samantha Womack. Here’s what he told MADEUP about it.
How does it feel to be at this stage of the process, when everything is about to come together for curtain up?
It’s exciting. I’m remarkably relaxed about the whole thing actually, and I hope it works out. It’s quite a personal play, a bit semi-autobiographical, and I got my first choice actors to bring it to life – so personally I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve and I’m not that worried, although obviously you want people to like it. There has been too much to think about to get nervous, because I’m the producer – so everything from what drinks are behind the bar to who gets what dressing room is down to me.
What can you tell people about Hope?
It’s hard to sell this one in a way, because I really don’t want to give too much away. It’s a love story, that’s what I think it is. There’s elements of mystery, it’s a thriller, and it’s very funny. The first ideas for the play came about ten years ago. I was writing about a guy who held people hostage by the power of his mind, his own charisma made others not want to leave – but I got writer’s block. Over time, returning to the story, the stranger became the character of Victor, and writer’s block became part of the play. I like playing with the subconscious, and I like it when you watch something that sticks in the mind a few days later, something that is not just gifted to you on a plate.
The show has received attention for being the first time Samantha and Mark Womack will appear on stage together (they appeared on TV in the series Liverpool One, where they met). How did they get involved?
For me, I saw a chance to pair Mark and Sam together, and they made it clear it was the script that made them choose to do it. I wanted to write roles that would attract great actors. I have shown the script to people like David Morrissey, Maxine Peake and Stephen Fry and they have all loved it, which let me know I was onto a good thing because they are my peers. It’s important to get the right cast and the right actors bring themselves to the role. I didn’t need to audition them as I’ve worked with them all before, and Sam, Mark and Rene are all a lot like their characters.
Did you always plan to star in the show as well?
I didn’t intend to act in it, and in that regard, acting and directing, for the first time I feel I don’t know what I’m doing and whether it feels right. So that’s been interesting, and having assistant director Alexandra Spencer-Jones has been great. Warren Brown from Good Cop was going to be Victor for a while. He’s supposed to be an alpha male type drug dealer, you know, so I was thinking to myself ‘come on Scot, you’re 41, you can’t do this’. So I’ve been eating lettuce leaves and all that…
People will know you best as an actor, but you actually started out as a playwright 20 years ago.
Whatever film or TV you do, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as writing a play and bringing it to life. In the 1990s I was encouraged to join the Everyman’s youth theatre. I remember we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream – we took it to Czechoslovakia – and they gave me a budget to do my plays. Apparently I was the youngest ever writer to be produced at the Liverpool Playhouse – I’d written Growing Young when I was 16, and staged about five plays in the early to mid 90s.
Hope is the first production from your new theatre company Thirty7.
It all came about because I’d written a musical in 2006 – A Bard Day’s Night – which nearly happened and was optioned by a few West End producers. Hope is a stepping stone to our ambition of getting Bard Day’s Night on. Hopefully people will like what we do and it will go from there. To have done this within the first six months of Thirty7 is amazing really.
Is there more of a necessity for actors to create their own opportunities these days?
When the recession hit, for a lot of character actors and really good actors work really did dry up. It all became about money, and producers and investors wanted to make their money back. A small group of actors ended up monopolising roles. If you were a character actor like me, or not a celebrity, you were vulnerable – and the options were either play the fame game, which never appealed to me, or produce your own work. Through A Bard Day’s Night I learned a lot in a short space of time. To get to a stage in my career where I could have full creative control and write something from scratch was such a luxury. I thought about letting somebody else do this, but just wanted to put it on stage as I imagined.
Why premiere Hope in Liverpool?
I wanted it to premiere here for several reasons. I had a relationship with the Royal Court and knew Kevin Fearon and knew he was into the idea of doing something different. Liverpool is a wonderful city, but it doesn’t have a lot of theatre – a couple are subsidised and have a particular audience. With Hope, I saw the opportunity to involve the loyal local audience and bring something new to this beautiful theatre. And I was very conscious of the venue – it loves a laugh and I definitely wanted to bring that, with a bit of intelligence, to the script – there’s a lot of references you’ll only get if you’re a bit of a bookworm, too.
Do you have plans for Hope after the Royal Court run?
We’ll see how people take it – obviously the goal would be to take it around the country and onto the West End, but we’ll see what people think. I’d also like to film it.
What’s next for Scot Williams?
I’m working on three films after this – finishing Flight Redirected with Vinnie Jones, a romantic comedy from director Maeve Murphy called Taking Stock, and there is talk of a sequel to The Crew, which was the film based on Kevin Sampson’s Outlaws. I’m not after the security of a long contract yet. I’ve played over 50 characters and I like playing different people.
Hope is on at the Royal Court Liverpool until March 30.