Interview: Rafe Spall

Posted: Mon Nov 12 2012

The rising acting star discusses the return of Nick Payne's 'Constellations'

Son of the great Timothy Spall, Rafe Spall has recently found success on the big screen with Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' and Ang Lee's forthcoming 'Life of Pi'. He makes his West End debut this month with the transfer of Nick Payne's high concept Royal Court Upstairs hit 'Constellations', a kaleidoscopic 70-minute exploration of the infinite possibilities of one couple's relationship, starring Spall and Sally Hawkins.

'Constellations' is set in multiple dimensions; what did you make of it when you first read it?

It's got one of the best stage directions ever: “a change in font - for example bold to italic - denotes a change in universe”. I was like, what the fuck is that? Apart from that stage direction Nick doesn't tell you anything. So our director, Sally and me were hunkered in a room with him for four weeks basically saying, 'how are we going to put this play on?' We didn't know if it was going to come together but thankfully it did and people liked it.

Did you know Sally Hawkins before?

I didn't know her but I'd met her, she'd worked with my dad in 'All or Nothing', a Mike Leigh film. But we have become really close. It's a very scary play to do together because it's just the two of you talking for just over an hour, you've only really got each other. You breathe together, in and out; it's like a dance.

How will the play handle the move to a West End venue seven times bigger than the Royal Court Upstairs?

It's an entirely different thing, it's 'Constellations' on steroids! I hope people want to see a play like this in the West End, that they want to see exciting young writing. But the demand for this play at the Royal Court was really huge - even my sisters couldn't get in.

Do you ever talk shop with your dad?

In terms of the actual nuts and bolts of acting he would never offer his advice and I would never ask for it. But he's been incredibly supportive… you know, my dad had cancer and Sally's character gets cancer, and when [my parents] came and saw this play it was an extremely moving thing for all three of us. I get more nervous when my dad comes to watch than on press night, because I want my dad to think I'm a good actor.

You only ever perform in new plays, never the classics; are you not tempted? You're about the right age for 'Hamlet'…

I can categorically state that I have no interest in playing Hamlet. Don't get me wrong, I love classical theatre, it's just that there are so many other actors who are better at it than me. I think what I'm basically good at is Nick Payne plays.'