This is part of an interview I was asked to do for The Stage.
Where did you train?
When I left Swansea University, I got a scholarship to go to ALRA, but when you’re an actor, you’re always training: working with directors like Philip Prowse, Andrew Lynford, Sophie Jane Austin, Joyce Branagh, Mark Phoenix, Zoe Reason, Chris Johnston and Giles Havergal has taught me a lot.
I’ve done some interesting workshops with Complicité and The Wrestling School – enabling me to step beyond my habits and my comfort zone. I’ve also been given some great advice from people like Murray Melvin, Kathryn Hunter, Geraldine Pilgrim and Tim Carroll along the way.
Recently, I have worked with John Osborne Hughes who combines yoga, meditation and philosophy with psychoanalysis and Stanislavski in order to create what I suppose you might call a holistic approach to performance.
What has been your most challenging work?
Playing Jiwdas Isgariot in The National Theatre of Wales‘ (Theatr Genedlaethol) production of Iesu! by Aled Jones Williams. It is a radical retelling of the life of Jesus, set in a modern day middle eastern, oil-rich metropolis – a city where poverty and the marginalisation of ordinary folk are rife. In this hypothesis, Jesus is a woman. And Judas Iscariot is an business-man who has done rather well out of his investments, but is nevertheless intrigued and enchanted by this brave new philosopher. They form a close bond, but Jiwdas is ultimately bound to betray her to the authorities.
The greatest challenge in this case, was playing a character who becomes so close to somebody – he helps her, he learns from her, he falls in love with her – but ultimately, money, and rejection of love (or self rejection) is more important to him. Upon his signal, she is captured, tortured, raped and then executed. He doesn’t just allow this to happen; he helps to orchestrate it.
It was my job, as an actor, to find out what kind of person could actually do this. What kind of childhood trauma, emotional landscape and subsequent thinking patterns actually cause somebody to behave like this? He clearly wants to be powerful; he wants to be admired; wants to be respected but also, he wants to be rescued; to be loved and then to be rejected. The thinking of Jiwdas becomes quite neurotic and dangerous.
Our director, Cefin Roberts, a master story-teller, challenged me to explore all of these psychological and emotional places; he kept raising the stakes so that the words and actions of the characters took on huge importance and had devastating consequences. The play was exhausting, but rousing and cathartic at the same time.
How was working in America?
I played Alexander Valmont in a modern adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons at The Bailiwick Rep in Chicago: It was wonderful; people in Chicago expect to see good theatre and American audiences are much more vocal than in the UK; you feel a strong connection with them when you’re on stage, which is lovely, because Valmont is a character you can easily play around with, letting the audience in on your schemes and deceptions – they love the audacity and laugh at the games but very vocally disapprove of the immorality and you feel them retreat when you falter because you deserved everything you get!
How does improvisation help your acting?
It doesn’t help the acting – it is the acting. I’ve been working with Mark Phoenix for many years now – firstly with Fluxx and now with Third Person Theatre Company. His philosophy is that all acting is or should be improvisation – even when there is a script. This is about existing and reacting in the present moment. All actors know that this is true to a degree, but working with impro companies has given me the opportunity to practise it regularly.
Having worked with Mark for so long, it makes me appreciate the benefit of having a mentor. An acting teacher who knows your strengths, your habits, your weaknesses and defaults. He knows when I’m being lazy; he knows when I’ve reached beyond my comfort zone and he knows where my next area of development lies.
What is the meaning of ‘ap’ in Gareth ap Watkins?
Traditionally, Welsh names were patronymics and people took their surname from their father’s christian name, using ‘ap’ or ‘ab’ (meaning ‘son of’). I do have an ancestor whose christian name was Watcyn, but I’m technically breaking the rules by using ‘ap’ because Watkins is not my father’s name. I like it though, because it’s a synthesis of a modern system and a traditional Welsh system.