INTERVIEW: From Casanova To Angry Young Man

Sitting on the bus the other day, actor David Tennant got a fright. Looming above him as he gazed out of the window was a billboard with a giant photograph of himself.

He was draped by two women and looking smoulderingly at the bus passengers as if he'd love to rip their knickers off.

There's one of these posters as you come out of Bristol on the Wells Road, and they're popping up all over the place - a bit like the 33-year-old actor: a role in the new Harry Potter movie, heaps of praise and award nominations for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, a star role in the recent BBC musical drama Blackpool, and now baring his all for art in the Beeb's new big glossy biopic Casanova in March.

The three-part drama, portraying Casanova as an "18th-century Jeffrey Archer", rather than randy, womanising misogynist, is getting a big build-up - as the crop of billboards prove.

"It was 20 feet high!" David gasps, recalling his first sight of himself as the young 18th-century lothario.
"It scared the s*** out of me."

People are expecting a lot of the talented and likeable David Tennant, dubbed "the new Scottish star".

"Casanova cometh soon", woos the sultry billboard. Luckily for Bath theatregoers, he cometh here first.

On Monday, he arrives at the Theatre Royal to rant, rage, snarl and stomp as Jimmy Porter in John Osborne's groundbreaking Fifties drama Look Back In Anger, a play Tennant sees as more passionate, thrilling love story than comment on post-war frustrations. The reviews have been glowing, describing him as "compellingly detestable", "oozing sexuality" and "odious but irresistible".

"Reviews? Don't tell me!" Tennant pleads. "I don't read them until after it's over, because I find the good stuff never makes you any better, and the bad stuff really doesn't make you any better! I'm strict with everyone not to tell me."

It's a mark of his acting ability that he can portray such a convincing tormented, bitter animal as Jimmy Porter, when in person Tennant comes over as the nicest rising star you could ever meet.

Most nights he even apologises to his co-star, Kelly Reilly, for the way he treats her during the performance.

Angry young man? Bush might rattle his cage, but on stage it's all acting.

"There's something cathartic about exposing the nasty side that we all have, and revelling in it for three hours, not stopping short where we traditionally would for obvious sociopathic reasons," he says.

"But when I'm having to destroy Kelly and spit in her face and be ghastly to her... it's funny, although you're all actors and complicit in what you're doing, it's still a fairly weird place to go in your head. I'm so fond of her, and it's such an extraordinary thing to find yourself doing. I often feel I have to say sorry afterwards."

He felt the same twinge of surreal discomfort filming some of the sex scenes in Casanova, when at one point a conveyor belt of undressed actresses came in one after the other to film brief romps.

"It's saucy without being offensive - although I'm bound to say that, aren't I?" he laughs. "But the really embarrassing time for me was filming a sequence when Casanova remembers a catalogue of women he's had, and there were a lot of very, very quick scenes involving actresses who don't appear at any other time.
"It was like, 'this is Tracy'. Here we go, shag shag, thanks very much, nice to meet you, Tracy, bye! I got blasé about it, then I realised some poor girl had been shipped in and was having to drop her drawers."

He says his father, a retired Church of Scotland Minister wouldn't be bothered by the nude stuff. It's not like the dark and sweaty 1970s Frank Finlay version of Casanova, written by Dennis Potter, he says.

This version is by Russell Davies, creator of Queer As Folk, also the writer behind the latest BBC remake of Doctor Who.

This links spookily with David Tennant, who got his inspiration to become an actor from watching Doctor Who as a boy.

"Tragically, I have to admit that my earliest memory is watching Doctor Who and seeing Jon Pertwee transform into Tom Baker and thinking I want to be part of this world!"

But sadly, he is unable to reveal more about his role as Barty Crouch Junior in the next Harry Potter movie.

It was great fun, is all he'll say. Maggie Smith was "hilarious and wonderful", Harry actor Dan Radcliffe was "down-to-earth and good fun". But more than that is strictly hush-hush.

" I'm not allowed to tell you," he apologises.

Harry Potter and Casanova are still to come - but Bath gets him next week.

David Tennant stars with Kelly Reilly in Look Back In Anger at Bath Theatre Royal from Monday to next Saturday.

Source: The Times 10th February 2005