With The Cereal Café showing at The Other Palace earlier this year, Thomas Grant played lead character Aiden alongside Keith Ramsay as his twin, Doug, and has since appeared as Ruairi in Intemperance at the New Vic Theatre. A new production of Alan Bennett’s comedy The History Boys is opening at the Wolverhampton Grand on 7th February 2020 for two weeks and will see Thomas in the role of Posner, and be directed by Jack Ryder. Sitting down with us, Thomas chats about appearing in The Cereal Café, performing at Abbey Road Studios and his upcoming role in The History Boys.
What are you looking forward to for starting your role in The History Boys?
I’m most looking forward to working with a group of actors my age, who are in a similar career place to me, and creating the piece together. I think it’s going to be so much fun – I met them all the other week when we were filming some promo. We met in a state school in Wolverhampton and all the pupils were extras. We didn’t know each other but as soon as we donned the school uniforms, we regressed to sixteen year olds! Also, I love regional theatre, I love that you can go and live somewhere new and have no distractions other than the play so you can really get into it.
Was there anything that drew you to the script and how long will you be in rehearsals?
I think what most drew me to the script were my false preconceptions about it. I hadn’t read the script or watched the play or film before getting the audition through, and I assumed The History Boys was about a group of posh kids trying to train to get into Oxbridge… obviously I was completely wrong! I read the script, I really related to this group of kids who were trying to break into an elite institution from a state school. I’m playing Posner and I found I have a lot in common with him – I interviewed for Geography at Oxford and the script really reminded me of going in and having no clue.
Rehearsals are almost four weeks long, which is nice. Jack Ryder (director) wanted to get things on its feet early on so we can properly play around which I’m really excited about.
Why do you think audiences will enjoy the show?
We are performing at the Wolverhampton Grand, and although the show was originally in London, the show is based in Sheffield which is a much similar place to Wolverhampton so I think people will really relate to it. I think everyone can relate to someone different in the show. Our version plays on its 80s setting a bit more than the original production of The History Boys so I think people will get nostalgic of the 80s which will be a fun touch!
How did you find your time at the New Vic in Intemperance?
I absolutely loved it. It was the most welcoming theatre ever, everyone was so lovely and supportive. Again, it was regional theatre, we were in Newcastle-under-Lyme and I could really get stuck into working on this fantastic piece of writing by Lizzie Nunnery. Intemperance is Irish, and my family are too, so it was really nice to get into a character with Irish roots. Zoë Waterman (director) was wonderful to work with. There were only five of us, so we spent almost two weeks just talking about and dissecting the script before setting the scenes which was so fun as you don’t usually get that luxury. It’s going to be worlds away from The History Boys where we’ll be running around the room straight away!
Can you tell us about appearing as Aiden in The Cereal Café?
It was loads and loads of fun! We only had two weeks to rehearse the show – it was billed as a workshop but they wanted us off-book and it sort of changed into a full-on production! The cast all bonded really quickly. Playing Aiden was a really interesting task. I worked with Keith Ramsay, we played twins, and he was amazing. We got on really well and we also look really like each other which was bizarre!
The twins who made The Cereal Café in Shoreditch weren’t on the production team, but they came to a couple of the rehearsals. Playing someone who divides a lot of public opinions, and whose actions have been portrayed as quite controversial, is interesting to play, especially when they are watching you play it. I love playing characters who are anti-heroes or divide opinions. It was a difficult path to tread, but I really enjoyed it.
What did you know about the show before workshopping it at The Other Palace?
We got the scripts in advance to learn the lines as much as possible beforehand because it was such a short period. I knew about The Cereal Café on Brick Lane, but I’d never been. Doing my under-graduate degree in Geography we looked at urban regeneration and social policy problems and that case study came up because The Cereal Café, and the riots that went on around its opening, are quite famous. The team took me and Keith to meet the twins and go to The Cereal Café, so we got to know the place and what it stood for.
What was this venue like to work in?
I love The Other Palace. The refurbishment of it is quite new and it’s super nice. Because we were in the studio area and we were putting on quite a full-on piece, it was challenging to pull off what we did. Vicki Gimby and Seimi Campbell did a great job putting it on, and getting it into that space.
You performed at the Abbey Road Studios with new musical The Dreamers, how was it performing there and appearing in the show?
Abbey Road was very special and it was very, very exciting to perform there. It didn’t come without its challenges because Abbey Road isn’t made to be a theatre, so our dressing room was actually one of the studios that Amy Winehouse recorded one of her albums in, which was odd changing in and out of clothing knowing Amy Winehouse probably sang in that spot! It was really fun, it was my first show out of post-grad training so it was really exciting to work with some big names in theatre.
What was Will Parry like to play in His Dark Materials and are you watching the new TV series on BBC?
It was amazing playing Will Parry. Those books mean so much to me, they are my favourite kids books of all time. When I was a child actor, I went up for Roger and I didn’t get it, and I have never been more gutted about not getting a part. I was praying that they made the other movies so I could play Will Parry because he’s my kids book idol. When His Dark Materials came around in my last year of university at Bristol, I had my eye on that character, and luckily, I got to tick that one off because I’m a bit old to play him now!
Yes, of course I’m watching the new TV series! It’s interesting as I always imagine Nicole Kidman as Mrs Coulter, and now Ruth Wilson is playing her, so I found it quite hard to get into the character changes at first as you have these preconceptions, but Ruth Wilson is doing an amazing job. It’s so nice to have a series that each episode you can mind the chapters in the books so you don’t miss anything out.
You worked in screen when younger, what are your favourite memories whilst doing this?
I think one of my favourite memories was one of the first things I did on screen, which was Vanity Fair directed by Mira Nair. I played Reese Witherspoon’s nephew and I was there for a week filming. It took six days to film a dinner party and I got to sit next to Reese Witherspoon on the dining table for that time, so my first experience of being on camera was having Reese Witherspoon sort of helping me out and telling me what to do, so that was a really cool experience. You don’t realise how special that was until you grow up.
Another thing, my friends always joke about it, is that I played a murderer in Midsomer Murders when I was eleven or twelve. That was loads and loads of fun. It’s definitely a good thing when you go around in a circle and have to say something interesting about yourself and I can say I played a murderer when I was a child! I was terrifying in that episode, or I think I was at least! That was a fun memory. I think those are the two that stand out.
Was there anything that drew you to acting?
Since I was five, I’ve always loved performing in some capacity. Having a live audience that can react to what you are saying and working hard to get them on your side is really addictive. I did a geography degree and left the child acting behind and thought I’d never come back to it again. Getting to the end of that degree, I just knew that there was nothing else I could do but be an actor. I’m glad I had that “epiphany” although it took a long time to get around to it. That always draws me back, knowing I took time out for four years and that made me realise that I can’t do anything else, and I won’t do anything else.
How do you prepare for auditions?
On the day, I like to go to the gym or do some exercise beforehand, especially if you’re singing. I think if you haven’t exercised your body before you try and exercise your voice, you’re just making it twice as hard for yourself. In the long-run, I like to immerse myself in as much resource as I can find about the piece I’m auditioning for, or the character.
When I was training, we had a director called Bruce Guthrie who really hammered in this idea of the “culture diet”. So, if you’ve got an audition for a certain character, you’d find out the historical context of the piece and the character, and you’d go and watch a movie or read a book about it. You live in that world for a week (if you’re lucky enough to have a week to prepare) and then when you go in, you can trust that you know enough about the world of the character that if any surprises come up, you can just let all that homework infiltrate into your audition.
How was training at Royal Academy of Music?
It was great. It was really, really intense but I was so up for the intensity of it. It was post-grad, so it was after the university “epiphany”, so I thought that I was very ready. Doing that course was probably the best decision I made. I think it’s a really, really great course, it’s only a year as it’s a masters, so everyone there is really focused and has similar backgrounds where they know they won’t do anything else. I would say it’s about two years’ worth of training crammed into one year, so sleep is not a priority! You just have to remind yourself that you’re going to come out of it the other side alive.
What advice would you give someone wanting to attend?
I would say go into it and try and have a couple of specific aims that you want to get out of it. You can write them down to hark back to if you’re feeling a bit lost and asking yourself why you’re there or why that class is useful to you. My aims were to improve my acting, make my voice have better stamina and get an agent, so if you keep your three aims in your mind the whole time, you’ll be able to filter through all the information you get and grasp anything that is relevant to you.
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