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Jonny's back in Macbeth sequel

By Margaret Chrystall

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Jonny Phillips and Siobhan Redmond in Dunsinane.
Jonny Phillips and Siobhan Redmond in Dunsinane.

THOUGH Jonny Phillips has played as wide a range of roles as any actor could, he’s got good reason to remember Siward.

He’s just about to play Siward for a third time in Dunsinane – Scottish playwright David Greig’s sequel to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

It’s Siward who has to try to bring peace to Scotland with slippery Gruach aka Lady Macbeth just one of his obstacles.

In his long career, Jonny has played everything from the famous surviving second officer in movie blockbuster Titanic, to a psychiatrist in recent BBC drama The Village, a baddie in this week’s Death In Paradise and a ruthless Eastern European official in Spooks.

Then there are all the parts in everything from Holby City and Heartbeat to movies and classical stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But Siward has a special place in his heart. Jonny’s acting career started playing his son, Young Siward who is killed at the end of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

“It was open air summer theatre down south at an old manor house,” Jonny recalled.

“I was a kid of about 14 or 15.

“I remember I had to come on at the very end of the play, have a go at his nibs and quickly get cut to death.

“I just remember waiting for hours and coming on all wide-eyed, seeing this grand old man of the theatre – a semi-pro actor who was playing Macbeth – by this time exhausted, sweating and covered in fake blood.

“I’d come through these trees which were brilliantly lit and meet this wild-looking actor who had been killing people for two and a bit hours by then.”

The experience persuaded him he wanted to be an actor.

Now in Dunsinane, Jonny plays soldier hero Siward as he tries to bring peace to Scotland and get a new ruler in place.

But it’s not an easy job.

It’s a great role for an actor who has to make Siward seem a decent soldier whose tough mission forces him to change.

By his second audition for the role back in 2010, Jonny was on a mission of his own.

He laughed: “The second time I saw director Roxana Silbert, I told her ‘Seriously, you can’t take this away from me now!’ – and I was lucky enough to get the part.

“I’m not ready to let it go – I’m very attached to it! ”

The actor talked about the change he has to make in Siward between Act One and Act Two.

One reviewer said “the stage belongs to Jonny Phillips”.

“It’s very much like the process in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Jonny. “The approach in both was initially very much to win hearts and minds as an invading force, but that gradually changed – as it does in so many conflicts – to one of elimination of the enemy.

“In Afghanistan the first American general took the gentle approach of building relations, creating infrastructure, building a parliament – all that kind of thing. But then the guy who took over from 2010 to 2011, General Petraeus, he went all out to eliminate the bad guys.

“That is kind of Siward’s journey too.

“He arrives in Scotland believing it’s the start of a new peaceful chapter.

Jonny in the physically-demanding role of invader Siward.
Jonny in the physically-demanding role of invader Siward.

“But of course it’s much more complicated than he could ever have imagined. It’s tribal and he also has an heir to Macbeth floating about.

“So he is eventually pushed into taking an aggressive stance.”

Siward is also pitched against Gruach.

“Otherwise the play would be very male,”explained Jonny.

“My character can’t quite understand how somebody can hold power in her clever and secretive manner. Then of course she does a disappearing act.

“Siward is completely confused and enraged and also, to some degree, heartbroken.

“Part of him becomes infatuated with her, so there is a sort of romance going on at the same time as a political thriller.”

It’s likely Jonny understands the power of romance.

After all, it’s part of the reason he got into acting.

He joked: “I realised you could meet girls and thought ‘This is great!’.”

He studied at the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts in his hometown, London.

The old reportery theatre system quickly brought him to Glasgow.

“I really found my place there. I’d found a lot of theatre quite safe and middle class until coming up here and finding a vitality in it.”

Looking at Jonny’s many film, TV and theatre roles, it doesn’t look as if there’s much he hasn’t tried.

Hitting 50 this year, he’s where he wants to be in life?

“On a day like today working hard with good people and in a great environment, everything is fantastic.

“I try nowadays to go with the flow and enjoy whatever comes along.”

But as well as being likely to appear in new Sky production Lawless, Jonny is testing new ground.

“I’ve just directed my first short film called Woodwoo – it was shown at the Loch Ness Film Festival a couple of weeks ago.

“Now on to making another one.”

With a fight director and archery teacher on Dunsinane’s cast list, it’s no surprise when Jonny confirms Siward’s a very physical role.

“And it will get more so because the theatres we are playing this time are bigger.

“I find it tough, but I think it’s also to do with the emotional journey. I have to have a liedown afterwards!” he said.

You recall the sweaty, blood-soaked actor who made such an impression on young Jonny.

“Now that’s me!” he laughed.

Dunsinane is at Eden Court from Saturday's preview show, continuing from Tuesday to the following Saturday.

A mellower moment for Gruach (Siobhan Redmond) and Siward (Jonny Phillips).
A mellower moment for Gruach (Siobhan Redmond) and Siward (Jonny Phillips).
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