Last year, we interviewed Robert Lindsay about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Here’s the piece that went in our magazines, written by Angela Kelly.
Robert Lindsay had been out walking his dogs and taking the opportunity to learn his lines for his latest show.
The fact that it’s the musical version of the 1988 hit film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, set to premier in Manchester before going into the West End, was exciting for the 63 year-old actor. But not because he was reprising the role Michael Caine took onscreen as the suave Riviera conman Lawrence Jameson whose life is suddenly disrupted by Steve Martin’s character, the anarchic Freddy Benson.
“I’ve never seen the film,” he admits, “but it’s a wonderful show. The script is incredibly funny and the score by Yazbek (award-winner David Yazbek) is amazing – the man’s a genius.”
The show did run for a time on Broadway where it won awards, “but it seemed to fade away,” adds Lindsay. “This is a totally different show, and there’s a fantastic buzz about it already. I think the plan long-term may be for it to go back to Broadway.”
All of this is a long way from the very first time the Great British Public became aware of young Robert Lindsay when he played a Cockney layabout in the ITV series Get Some In!
However, it was when he headed up the Tooting Popular Front as likeable but inept urban guerrilla Wolfie Smith in the hit comedy TV series Citizen Smith that the public really noticed him.
This ran for three years, from 1977 to 1980, and established the actor firmly in viewers’ consciousness. He felt pretty comfortable in the role as he’d come from a council estate in Ilkeston, Derbyshire before graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and had admittedly left-wing views.
An early flexibility and desire to take on other, different roles – “as well as wanting to play posh people,” he quickly points out – steered him towards more serious productions.
He played Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing in the BBC’s Shakespeare series, and then moved up to Manchester to play Edmund in a Granada TV version of King Lear alongside Sir Laurence Olivier.
He happily admits that his first love, though, is musicals and he famously played the role of Bill Snibson in the acclaimed 1984 London revival of Me and My Girl. This role not only won him an Olivier Award but, when it later transferred to Broadway, a Tony Award as well.
“I find musicals easier because you’ve always got the music, it’s familiar,” states Lindsay.
He has, however, also enjoyed plenty of film roles. Interestingly, he was at the same place making a different film (Strike It Rich with Mollie Ringwald and Sir John Gielgud) where Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was being filmed.
“I met Steve Martin one day – we’d met previously when I’d been in the States and had dinner together – and he told me about the film he was making,” explains Lindsay. “He seemed to have some reservations about the script and I got the impression that they were adding to it quite a bit themselves.”
Television has proved a remarkable showcase for Lindsay’s talents over the years. Although he believes that he wanted to get away from his roots for a long time – “I lost my way a bit in my 30s,” he says – he particularly enjoyed working with gritty Northern writer Alan Bleasdale. Lindsay was in his dark comedy serial G.B.H. (for which Lindsay won a BAFTA) as well as another Bleasdale play, Jake’s Progress with Julie Walters, and recalls both experiences with genuine affection.
He played another posh character when he took on the role of Captain Pellew in the long-running and very successful series of Hornblower with Ioan Gruffudd as the young midshipman of the title.
Was this largely sea-going adventure a fairly physical experience for Lindsay? “Not so much for me, but definitely for Ioan,” he laughs. “What was interesting was that it was the first time I had played a father character.”
His longest running role was also as a father: as dentist Ben Harper in the popular BBC sitcom My Family – this ran for 11 years and still surfaces on Sky channels. “Zoe (Wannamaker) and I had a great time making that,” he states.
Lindsay himself is very much a family man. He and second wife Rosemarie Ford – she was a dancer and a presenter on The Generation Game with Bruce Forsyth – have three sons and he also has a daughter from his relationship with actress Diana Weston.
It’s plain he doesn’t like being away from his home and family. “But sometimes they have to understand that you have to be, you’re doing it for them,” he states.
For the most part, his children don’t like roles that take him away from them, or his being acknowledged as an actor rather than “just Dad” when he’s with them. “When I was in Hornblower and picking them up from school it was different. Normally, they don’t want me to walk with them and disown me, but suddenly I was cool!”
Ask about the highlights of his career and he swiftly points to the work with Alan Bleasdale and Me and My Girl. “I suppose Citizen Smith, The Entertainer at the Old Vic and Cyrano de Bergerac at the Haymarket were also special,” he adds.
He’s still regularly on TV and had just recorded Have I Got News For You as programme presenter. “You have to watch Mr Hislop and Mr Merton, though,” he says light-heartedly. “They’re very quick but I think they like actors because they understand timing and not hogging the lines.”
Is there any TV he’d like to do, like Downton Abbey? “No,” he states, “that’s not my bag.
“But I’ve just done a cameo role in Atlantis as the father of Icarus – that was good fun. It’s a very well made series and the boys there were great. My children were also very impressed!”
* Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is at Manchester Opera House from February 12 to 22, 2014, in Aylesbury Waterside Theatre from February 26 to March 1 and then at the Savoy Theatre, London from March 10. To find out more go to www.scoundrelswestend.com