BYLINE: Michael Holland
I have always had a lot of respect for those dedicated actors who give up the chance of a career in other industries to follow their dream, and who are always available to audition in a cold room before cold eyes. We sit in front of our TVs thinking only of the actors we see and not about those that have melted away. Sometimes we may wonder why some of the best actors in some of the best programmes are no longer on TV, but we only have to check out the soaps to see it is not the best performers that get the best roles. On occasions we ask, ‘Whatever happened to…? The answer would probably be they are working in part time jobs, jobs with strange hours or jobs where they make their own hours so that they can get away to a casting, or they may well be steadily working away in theatre.
Ricci Hartnett first came to my attention in the brilliant Roger, Roger, the minicab comedy written by the late, great John Sullivan. I have since seen him in many British films that deal with the underbelly of London life (Turnout, Rise of the Foot Soldier, Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan) playing either policemen or someone on the other side of the law – as well as cropping up in all the TV favourites. Ricci is a motorbike courier between jobs while also doing The Knowledge and is a true Londoner, having lived north, east and south. I met up with him in Dulwich Park, near his home, to talk about his work.
Ricci’s first paid job was in Crimewatch aged 10, which seemed apt for a boy who had been expelled from school. He joined the Sylvia Young Theatre School full time and speaks kindly of Sylvia for helping his mum out with fees – he did dance at the school and Ms Young championed boy dancers. ‘I used to swerve the drama classes,’ admits Ricci, ‘to do double ballet.’
His first big break came in The Object of Beauty with John Malkovich and Andie Macdowell, and afterwards, Peter Benedict, also in the film, asked him to be in a play that he was doing. It was having the audience’s focus when he spoke, and not on a whole chorus line, that converted him from dancing ambitions to wanting to be an actor. ‘I’m having some of this,’ was how he put it to me.
Ricci continued to cut his teeth in theatre, working in the usual London fringe spaces: ‘I had to strip off naked in Swingers,’ he began, ‘and I became fearless after that… Once you get your dick out on stage you can do anything!’
I asked what inspired him and, like all British actors worth their salt, he answered Nil By Mouth, the film that changed independent filmmaking. He tells me he has learnt a lot from working with Danny Boyle on 28 Days Later and from John Sullivan, but also has good things to say about the new breed of actors and directors.
The conversation turned to his generation and how working class films all seem to be required to have drugs and crime in them, which restricts its audience; we talked of how the middle class still have a tight grip on film money, hence most TV and film being full of ex-Oxbridge or children of the connected.
Right now Ricci is rehearsing for Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at Peckham’s Bussey Building, which is as far removed from improvising in a film about kids round the flats as it could be, and once again he is working
with Peter Benedict. He is obviously blown away by the script and the more he gets into it the more he understands why people worship Beckett. Having not done theatre for a long time he is a little anxious about not having the luxury of several takes to get a line right, but is looking forward to getting back to the stage. He mused on how he is now using a different part of his brain for remembering streets for The Knowledge and that doing it is helping him learn his lines for Endgame. One day you could be in the back of the cab of one of Britain’s finest actors.
Future plans for Ricci Hartnett include a one-man show called Comic Relief, a political piece that he quite fancies doing, and a film called Vendetta out soon.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett is at The Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham SE15 4ST from 25 June to 13 July. Mon-Sat 8pm, Matinees 2.30pm on Wed 26 June, Wed 3 & 10 July. £10/£8/£5 www.beckett-endgame.com 0207 732 5275