A few months ago, I got to chat to Conleth Hill, who plays Lord Varys. It gave me the same goosebumps I got during my tête-à-tête with Dance.
Hill is a very calm person. He labours over his choice of words in his responses while sneakily throwing in a few jokes.
After complimenting me on my “lovely name”, he reveals when he started working on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
“I was doing Game of Thrones season 7 - we finished it in December - and I started rehearsing in January. My first job was in theatre. I’ve always wanted to do something (in theatre) every year, either as a director or actor. It’s very important to me and a lot more time consuming,” he notes.
The immediacy of an audience’s reaction has been known to add to an actor’s stress. But not Hill.
“We have weeks of rehearsal, so you are not that pressured.”
In Edward Albee’s celebrated play, he (cast as George) shares the stage with Imelda Staunton (as Martha), a fellow Olivier award-winner (not forgetting her Bafta win). She is best remembered for her roles in Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Luke Treadaway (also an Olivier winner) and Imogen Poots are cast as Nick and Honey, a young couple who unwittingly accept an after-party drinks invite, only to find themselves drawn into the older couple’s exchange of caustic insults.
“Imelda and I worked together a couple of years ago,” says Hill. “It was in a Victoria Wood television film called That Day We Sang. We got on very well. Then, out of the blue, I got a call for this.”
Expanding on his character, he offers: “He’s a college professor, teaching history. Martha and he have been married for 23 years. And she has, unbeknownst to him, asked a young couple to come over for late-night drinks. The story explores what happens that evening, night and early next morning.”
The play is broken into three acts. What viewers will enjoy is how what starts off as a fun evening quickly devolves into an uncomfortable and emotionally unstable one as the hosts fire insults in a twisted, passive-aggressive manner.
Although this production is longer than most, he says it’s not the most physically demanding thing he’s done. “It moves at a very brisk pace. A lot of what’s said has to be said very clearly. I think it’s harder mentally than physically.”
On how he appeases the actor within, he shares: “I generally read a script, whether it’s for TV, film or theatre. And if I don’t like it, I don’t like it. Yes, when I first started out, I would do everything I could. That is still my advice to young actors. You have to learn what is good or bad, who you like and don’t. I’ve become selective.”
It’s widely known that everyone involved with Game of Thrones is sworn to secrecy. I did broach the subject, but there was no getting sneaky with Hill.
“Good try. But no,” he teases. “It’s the journalist in you that wants to know. In a way, I can tell you I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m proud that a lot of it is made in my home country. For me, it’s been a life-changing job.”
The seasoned actor admits he’s as big a fan as any viewers. “When I get the script, I avidly read it.”
In the meantime, he is keeping fans entertained with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf until Game of Thrones 7 arrives on July 17.
* Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? releases on the big screen tomorrow for four National Theatre Live screenings at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.
They will be screened tomorrow and July 5 and 6 at 7.30pm and on Sunday at 2.30pm. The running time is 3 hours, including a 15-min interval.
For booking information visit: www.sterkinekor.com