Robert Sean Leonard on To Kill A Mockingbird, House and turning down Tom Stoppard

American actor and 'House‘ favourite Robert Sean Leonard tells us why he prefers stage to screen as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ returns to London

Manuel Harlan

A heavyweight US actor best known as Hugh Laurie’s co-star in ‘House’, Robert Sean Leonard won rave reviews two summers ago as upstanding lawyer Atticus Finch in the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Now ‘Mockingbird’ moves indoors to the Barbican.

Do you have any important backstage rituals?
‘No, I really don’t. I’m not very superstitious at all. I just say “hi” to everybody, have a cup of coffee and then walk on.’

Have you ever had any onstage mishaps?
‘One night in the first run of “Mockingbird”, in the court scene I had a tickle in my throat, and there was a jug of lemonade on the judge’s desk and I went over only to realise it was glued in place. And there are 1,200 people watching me. I picked up a cup and tried to dip it in, but the cup didn’t fit, so finally I just ripped the pitcher off the table with both hands. It was real lemonade. Pretty old lemonade.’

What persuaded you to come over and take the role in the first place?
‘I hesitated because of the shadow cast by Gregory Peck, and also while I knew the book I didn’t know there was a stage version and I didn’t see the reason to do one, like when they did “Psycho” with Vince Vaughn. But in the second preview I thought: Well, all right, this isn’t the movie or the book, it’s something else.’

Did you come back because they promised you a roof this time?
‘I would have come back to do this on a rooftop, I don’t care, it’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done.’

You’re best know for ‘House’… are you happy with that?
“House” was lovely, but thank God for Hugh Laurie: without him I would have put a gun to my head. It was a job and it was a lucky job, and I’m proud of it, but I don’t think I was that good at it, I’m much better on stage.’

So you’re more of a stage than screen actor?
‘I had to say “no” to Tom Stoppard when he was thinking of me for the New York production of “The Coast of Utopia”. I thought: I’ve become my own worst nightmare – I’m a TV actor who turned down Tom Stoppard. I actually started crying and I thought: I can’t do this, I’ve become a Neil Diamond song.’

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is at the Barbican Theatre until Jul 25, 2015.

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