Earlier this year, Henry Proffit starred in The Rubenstein Kiss at Southwark Playhouse as Jakob after performing at the theatre in 2018’s production of For King and Country. Henry has appeared in many other stage roles including as Macbeth in the Shakespeare play and has also filmed for screen, with feature film Cassette due for an upcoming release. Sitting down with us, Henry answered our questions about his most challenging role, last year’s For King and Country and his recent production, The Rubenstein Kiss.
You have recently finished performing at the Southwark Playhouse in The Rubenstein Kiss as lead character Jakob, can you tell us about the play and your character?
It’s a really amazing play and it was a real epic journey for my character. The play is about the Rosenbergs, who gave the nuclear bombs to the Russians in the 1950s and were executed for it. It surrounds these two people and how and where their idealism took them, which in this case, was to the electric chair. My character began as a 26 year old and then ended as a 40 year old. The last scene is just before they go to the electric chair and it was an incredible journey and a very beautifully-written play. I really love it.
What was Jakob like to play?
It was a challenging role. The play has a Shakespearean tragedy vibe to it and with that comes the level of emotional intensity. Jakob breaks down quite heavily three times in the play, it’s a big old journey so it was demanding and challenging. Usually, you don’t get something for nothing so playing it was great – it was challenging but equally, you are in a run of eight shows a week and there will be a couple that are solid, if not spectacular, and there were some special nights where everything clicked and the audience were there with you and were loving it.
How much did you know about the story before receiving the script?
Not much. The director asked me if I’d be interested in doing it and sent me the script so I didn’t really know much about it at all. I read it and was really moved by it as it’s a really moving play.
Did you get much audience feedback from your performance and how long were you in rehearsals?
I definitely read the reviews but I read them after the play so whatever is said, doesn’t really matter. You don’t want to be reading them during the run because if there’s a bad one, then that might really hurt. During the show, the director will come in and will check how you’re getting on so if things aren’t right then he’ll work that out. You do get people tell you what they think of it so you do get an idea of what people are thinking.
We were in rehearsals for four weeks.
Last year, you played Lieutenant Webb in For King and Country at Southwark Playhouse, how was your time in the show?
Yes, it was last summer in the heatwave! It was a World War One play about the horrors of the trenches and it’s quite heavy. It was really hot and I was in a full army uniform! It’s a great play and I love the period and what it was about and the story it was trying to tell. It was quite demanding in the fact it didn’t sell well because of the weather. I lost a lot of weight because I was sweating so much and Southwark is really hot in the summer. I did enjoy it though.
Had you worked with any of the cast previously and what was it like being part of the London revival?
I had worked with the director a couple of times before but not the cast – I didn’t actually know any of them. It’s quite nice to have worked with the director before because you have a kind of relationship, so that’s good. It was great being part of the London revival.
Can you tell us about playing Algernon in the National Tour of The Importance of Being Earnest?
That was an amazing play and really funny and beautifully written. It’s a really fun part. I enjoyed performing it.
We understand you have filmed for upcoming feature film Cassette, is there anything you can say about this?
I only had a few lines and I was there for such a brief time – I was filming for a day. It’s a horror film with a couple of TV faces in it. I haven’t seen it but it seemed quite good while I was on set.
How different do you find screen to stage work?
It is different but you know who the character is, what they’re doing, what they want within the scenes and how they’re connected to the story, that’s usually the same. However, the process is significantly different in the sense that you don’t rehearse in the same way. You might rehearse for a massive movie, but generally with TV dramas and soap operas, you don’t rehearse, you do the work, bring it to the set, respond to what the other actors are doing and then the director will rework it there and then. You’re not performing to an audience; the performance is made in the editing room. It is quite nice but it can be quite technical as you’re filming in bits and breaking it off out of context, whereas with a play, you run it all the way through from beginning to end with an audience.
To some extent, in theatre, the actor is in control and that’s what can make it exciting and also be what makes it so good. Every night can differ, you can go to a theatre show and some nights it’s amazing and other nights, not so good for different reasons. Film and TV capture the best moments and put that in an edit and it won’t change and that’s why live theatre can be amazing. You play the intimacy of the space with screen work as you don’t have to be concerned about hitting the back of the room and making sure everyone can hear you.
What would you say has been your most challenging role to play so far?
I did a production of Macbeth which I think was the most challenging, partly because Shakespeare tragedies are huge. Macbeth has a very short break in the second half but he’s in nearly all of the scenes and it has very high stakes of intense drama right from the very beginning of the play. The moments that are occurring are huge, cataclysmic events for that character in every single scene and that is quite demanding. There were nights that were great and there were nights when I did not enjoy it but that’s usually the case with everything. The audience enjoyed it and it was a good show but it was challenging but in a great way because you become a better actor playing a part in those tragedies. It was a tiny theatre but a good group, good project and good director and I’m a better actor for it.
Had you always wanted to be an actor and how did you get into it?
I always wanted to be an actor ever since I was a teenager. I used to do it in primary school and was interested in it but I was good at sports as well. I always knew I wanted to go to drama school but my mum didn’t necessarily want me to so she ended up encouraging me to do a university degree. I did a politics degree at Nottingham for three years and, while I was there, I auditioned for drama schools and then did three years there after that. I did always want to do it but I don’t really know why, it was just something I was interested in.
What do you think you’d be doing if you hadn’t gone into acting?
I think maybe I’d be in music or politics, like one of those activist organisations or campaigning. I don’t think I’d be an MP but maybe working as a political activist. I’d probably be playing music a lot more as well as I already play the guitar.
Do you have any roles you are preparing for or currently working on that you can tell us about?
I’m auditioning so I can find the next thing whenever the right role comes along. I’ve auditioned for a Netflix TV series, which I’ve got a recall for, which is cool. It’s a fantasy drama and my character has superpowers, so that would be amazing. I’ve not done much TV so that would be great. It’s the first time I’ve auditioned for something like that so we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed!
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