Since starting his role of James Morse in Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Savoy Theatre in the West End in 2020, Mark Holden returned to the role when theatres could reopen last year, with the show currently booking until 2nd October 2022. During the pandemic, Mark performed in The Gods are Not to Blame at the Almeida Theatre, along with a number of times for The Show Must Go Online, and amongst his previous work, he was in the West End production of The Bodyguard as Bill Devaney, with which he also toured the UK and was part of the Toronto run. Mark’s screen roles have seen him play Dave in The Studio, Wilf in Series 2 of A Discovery of Witches, regular character John Lynn in Deep State and Joel in The Perfect Escape (with a release date not-yet-announced). In 2014, Mark released his award-winning short film The Double Deal, which is available to watch on YouTube, and as a voiceover artist, he has most recently voiced Doctor Paradox in Cyberpunk 2077 and Nikolas in Dying Light 2. Chatting with us, Mark tells us about performing as James Morse in Pretty Woman: The Musical, his time in The Bodyguard and the upcoming film The Perfect Escape.
You are currently playing James Morse in the West End cast of Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Savoy Theatre, what is the character like to play?
James Morse is a character with gravitas, weight and respect. He reminds me a lot of my late father Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, former Vice President of Nigeria. As I approach my 60th year, I feel that I’ve taken some of his true life traits to play the role, which I find empowering.
Is there anything you are enjoying most about performing in the musical and working with the rest of the cast?
I especially have fun dancing the foxtrot with Aimie Atkinson (Vivian Ward) every night, which adds a little bit of magic to the role. The whole cast are wonderful; I try and speak to most of them at least once a day, because apart from warm up it’s very easy to miss them and not speak for a couple of days, once the show is running and everyone is doing their thing.
How has it been returning to the show when theatres could reopen after being closed for the pandemic?
I, like most performers in a show coming out of lockdown, feel very fortunate to be working as an actor/performer in the West End. It felt exhilarating being back on stage.
What are you looking forward to for continuing your run in Pretty Woman and why would you recommend seeing the show?
Performing in the West End is a fortune that many actors don’t experience, not because they aren’t good enough, but their vehicle just doesn’t come along for many reasons; not being in the right place at the right time, being unavailable due to other projects, the director preferred someone else’s portrayal of the character, and, more recently, some other actor has a higher social media profile than yours and so on. I’m making the most of my time in this very successful production of Pretty Woman. It’s a feel-good show, with variable emotions and great music. Audience members come out at the end feeling energised and happy, what else can you ask for.
Last year, you were part of The Gods are Not to Blame at the Almeida Theatre, can you tell us about this?
This was the first time I’d actually performed in a Nigerian play, so it was a very special time for me. I am half Nigerian on my father’s side, as I mentioned previously. He was from Edo State in Nigeria, not far from the famous city of Benin. I played Baba Fakunle, an old blind man who is also a soothsayer. It was interesting being taught the correct pronunciation of many of the words in the script, because, although many of the cast were Nigerian, most of us had never lived there. The Almeida Theatre is a wonderfully intimate space to perform, and it has been on my bucket list of theatres for a while.
What are some of your favourite memories from performing as Bill Devaney in The Bodyguard in the West End, on the UK Tour and in Toronto?
Well, I have to say, working with the Queen of British Soul, Beverley Knight was one of my most memorable highlights. Being just a few feet away from her singing her heart out on a nightly basis was mesmerising. We are still in touch and meet up very occasionally. My wife Patsy McKay knew her way before I worked with her. I also made a very good friend on the show called Alex Andreas, he doesn’t live very far away from me so we get to see each other quite a lot.
What was The Bodyguard like to work on and was there anything that drew you to the role of Bill?
Again, Bill Devaney was a role that had gravitas and authority, which I guess helps when you’ve spent 17 years as a police officer as I did. It was also great to play it on tour around the UK, in the West End and in my other country of Canada. I have three citizenships.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from working on stage over the years, which has seen you play roles including Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Baloo in The Jungle Book and Mr Myers in Fame?
I guess my stand-out stage highlights are from back in Canada when I was directed by the late Robin Phillips at the Edmonton Citadel Theatre in Alberta. He would always bring in some wonderful stars to lead his shows. Those that come to mind are Juliet Mills (The Cherry Orchard), Keith Michell (Anthony & Cleopatra) and others. This was also where I started my professional career playing the role of Villac Umu in Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun opposite the Canadian star Scott Hylands, who played Pizarro.
During the pandemic, you performed a number of times for The Show Must Go Online, how did this feel?
This was a wonderful release from the strains of lockdown. I am an avid Shakespeare lover having performed many times in Canada, but alas not any over here in the UK. So this was a great opportunity to get my teeth back into iambic pentameter, especially playing Mark Anthony and Aaron the Moor.
On screen, you will be playing Joel in the upcoming feature film The Perfect Escape, what can you tell us about this?
It’s a comedy where I play Joel opposite my on screen wife Stacy Thunes, who plays Britta. We own a lodge which we use as a couples retreat at the top of a mountain in Transylvania in Romania, which is where we shot part of the film. Three couples come to stay on the weekend just before the new year. They all have problematic relationships and things start to happen!! 🙂
You play Dave in The Studio, can you say about the project?
The Studio is a comedy TV series, where I play the role of Dave, who is a slightly strange and over friendly caretaker of a dilapidated building that’s about to be turned into a gym. Each episode follows the two main leads and a storyline of each of the regular cast members.
How did you find your time on set of Series 2 of A Discovery of Witches as Wilf?
I had the pleasure of returning to Wales to film this project on location in Cardiff. I had fun with this role, because the character was a little extrovert with a passion for researching antiquities, and was the sidekick to one of the new main cast. I also got to meet and chat with the writer Deborah Harkness.
In the TV series Deep State, you played regular character John Lynn, what was this like to be part of?
Deep State was one of Fox Networks Group’s new European/North African region’s first piece of content. The mastermind behind it was writer/director Matthew Parkhill, who had been working on this project for many years. So it was wonderful to go along for the ride. John Lynn was a great character to play and mirrored in life what can frequently happen to bosses right under their noses, where they get replaced by a subordinate who is surreptitiously after their job.
How was it filming as the character across both series and can you tell us about John Lynn?
John Lynn only came back for one episode in Season 2, but it was a lot of fun working opposite Victoria Hamilton, down in Cape Town, South Africa, which has amazing crews and where we were very well looked after.
Over the years as a screen actor, you have worked on many projects including Riviera, No Easy Days and 24: Live Another Day, can you tell us about some of them?
Riviera was a wonderful series to be part of with great locations in the South of France. My character Martin Sinclair, a private detective, was fun to play with my real life police and private detective background. Julia Stiles and Lena Olin were lovely to work with.
Probably my most memorable location shoot was whilst filming Captain Phillips in Malta with Tom Hanks. What an absolute gent to work with and learn from. Watching him and director Paul Greengrass work together was a wonderful experience. He was very generous taking the cast and crew out for beer and pizza on one occasion and to watch a movie on another.
In 2014, you released your award-winning short film The Double Deal, how long were you working on the release and what was it like to do?
I wrote the actual script back around 2002 in Vancouver, Canada. It was based on my experiences as a habitual gambler but taken to the extreme which I had fortunately not sunken to. I then shelved it for a long while, until my good friend, director Doug Rollins, asked me if I had any scripts that I wanted to make. I had just come into some inheritence money from my late father and decided to finance the short film. We prepped the shoot over about 4-6 weeks and filmed it in two days. We then had a very good editor help us complete it. The film won four awards from around the world. It can be viewed for free on YouTube.
Is there anything you enjoy about voicing video games, with your most recent being Dying Light 2: Stay Human and Cyberpunk 2077?
Voiceover work is a totally different medium, where the voice is extremely important, which is why a lot of theatre actors are sought after to do voice work. I had a lot of fun playing Doctor Paradox in Cyberpunk 2077, because he was a crazy guy; so I was able to use all manner of voice variance for him. In Dying Light 2, I played Nikolas, who interacted with one of the lead characters, so he had some interesting dialogue.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
My late mother took me to many live theatre productions of musicals, pantomimes and movies from a young age. When I was around ten/eleven years old, I joined a local amateur musical theatre company in Plymouth, which gave me a lifelong interest in show business. I turned professional at the age of 29 after I had finished competing as an international bobsledder for Canada.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I guess my favourite film has to be the original West Side Story, which left an impression on me when I watched it with my family over Christmas of 1970-71. Over the last few years, Breaking Bad has been one of my favourite TV series, and, most recently, Ted Lasso. But there are so many interesting shows to watch depending on what sort of mood I’m in. I enjoy going to watch Shakespeare in the theatre or a good gritty drama, along with musicals, of course.
Do you have any upcoming plans you can tell us?
I’m going to be producing some film and TV over the next year, but it’s a slow process waiting for the funding to appear. But it’s sure exciting looking forward.
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