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Interview with Nick Blood – Stuart Sutcliffe in Backbeat

Nick Blood“[Backbeat] certainly isn’t a ‘jukebox musical’.[…] It is the story of a band – inevitably it’s punctuated with their songs. The songs provide the heartbeat to what is a high octane rip through 6 months in Hamburg where people fall out, fall in love, get in fights and ultimately change from boys to men.”

Nick Blood is a very versatile performer. Born in London, Nick joined the local drama club when he was only 7 years old and soon realised that he wanted to be an actor when he grew up. He subsequently trained at LAMDA and his professional stage debut followed in 2009, when he starred as Adam in The Priory at The Royal Court.

He has since worked with the National Theatre, playing Sordido in Women Beware Women (2010) and is currently appearing in the West End in Backbeat, playing the lead role of Stuart Sutcliffe. He has learned to play the bass guitar for the role and has recently joined a band called Shaaark.

Nick and a friend have set up their own theatre company (“We. Buy. Gold.”). Inches Apart, the debut show, won the Old Vic New Voices Theatre503 Award.

Apart from theatre, Nick has also done a lot of work in front of TV and film cameras. He has appeared in popular programmes such as Misfits, Material Girl, Trollied , Public Enemies and Stanley Park.

Despite his very busy schedule, Nick has kindly answered a few questions about himself and his career. Enjoy this great interview!

When did you first realise that you wanted to act?
When I turned seven I was old enough to go to the local drama club, the main attraction of which was that it meant I got to stay up till 9 pm. And my older brother went so I assumed it must be pretty cool. I got the bug straight away. The first time me and my friend went we had to get up and do a piece in front of the rest of the group, I can vaguely remember it and it was absolutely bonkers. But I loved it. Getting to hang out with your mates and let your imagination run wild. We never really used scripts so it was all devising and improvisation. It was the best ‘training’ you could hope for.

You trained at LAMDA. Please tell us about your time there.
Trying to sum up my time at LAMDA is quite hard. It was life-changing and I’m proud to have trained there. I learnt a lot, had a huge amount of fun, met brilliant people and was given the opportunity to do what I love everyday of the week.  But of course there were times when it did my head in. Drama school is pretty intense and you’re with the same people day in day out so inevitably you’ll get the urge to knock some heads together. On the whole I largely resisted doing so. I was determined to keep it all in perspective, all too often people can get carried away because this or that teacher gave them a glowing review of a workshop play they did, or a big agent is sniffing round. As soon as you get distracted by that stuff then you’re on a slippery slope. I did my best to take everything I could from the experience, learn as much as I could, work as hard as I could (except in any singing or dance lessons – I was crap), and then take it with me, get out and see how I get on in the real world.

You are currently starring in Backbeat at the Duke of York’s Theatre, playing the ‘fifth Beatle’ and the band’s original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. What would you say to people who are reluctant to go and see Backbeat because they (wrongly!) assume it’s ‘just another jukebox musical’?
Word is getting around about Backbeat and the uninitiated are realising that it certainly isn’t a ‘jukebox musical’. It’s a play about 5 young lads from Liverpool who head to Hamburg for an adventure, playing rock’n’roll music in grimy strip clubs night after night, taking speed and generally behaving in the way a bunch of 21-year-olds away from home for the first time would. As it’s the story of a band inevitably it’s punctuated with their songs. The songs provide the heartbeat to what is a high octane rip through 6 months in Hamburg where people fall out, fall in love, get in fights and ultimately change from boys to men.

Not much is known about Stuart Sutcliffe who tragically died at a very young age so it must be hard for you as an actor to play him ‘right’. Does this role come with a lot of responsibility?
It is quite daunting playing someone who actually existed, you’re very aware of respecting the memories held by their family and friends. As such, I did a lot of research and read all the books I could on Stu which helped me get an idea of what he was like. The photos and images of him were very useful too. But at some point you have to let all that stuff go, trust that it’s been absorbed and go with what’s on the page. To a certain extent I had an easier job than some of the boys playing the better known Beatles as the audiences will have an expectation of how they should be. I was lucky enough to meet Pauline Sutcliffe (Stu’s sister) who came to see the show, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better response. She was so enthused by the play and gave a glowing report of my performance of her brother. That meant the world to me.

Please describe your ‘Stu’ to someone who has not seen the musical yet.
I find it hard to describe ‘my Stu’, I think I’d just say to anyone interested, come see the show and make your own judgement. As far as the experience of playing the role goes, the play does demand a certain stamina. It’s pretty fast paced and Stu’s story is full of drama – the stakes are high for him. But that in itself is energising. It’s a lot more interesting and fulfilling to play a person for whom things really matter, it’s life and death for him. And anyway, if I’m ever in danger of tiring, the audience do a pretty good job of getting you going. I come off stage every night buzzing.

In Backbeat, the principal actors are also musicians. John Lennon talks your character Stuart into joining the band as the bass player although he can’t actually play (at first). Can YOU play bass guitar?
Before the show I had never played an instrument, let alone the bass. Fortunately our MD Paul Stacey has been brilliant at guiding me and giving me the confidence to be able to play. I was thrown in at the deep end which, although daunting, was the best approach. I’ve enjoyed learning and was determined not to let myself or anyone else down. It’s something I never imagined I’d ever do – play an instrument in front of a crowd of people. Since starting I’ve joined a band called Shaaark, we have our first rehearsal in a week or two and I’ve been learning a bass line for it. Shaaark will be very different to The Beatles though. We’ve created a new genre ‘Death House’, it might make your ears bleed.

What’s your favourite scene in Backbeat? Can’t pick one.

And your favourite Beatles song? In My Life.

What kind of music do you listen to on your iPod?
I listen to all sorts of music. I really wouldn’t rule anything out. Indie, hip-hop, metal, electro, house, garage, punk, folk…. I’ve tried jazz but can’t get into it. And I’m not a fan of singer-songwriter-singalongwithaguitaronthebeach-whining music. Favourite band of all time is probably The Pogues. Favourite album probably Stone Roses’ debut. Favourite current band probably Friendship.

Is there a role you’d really love to play (in any musical/play) and why?
I don’t have a particular role I’m desperate to play but I’d love to do something in a Martin McDonagh play.

Is there something embarrassing or unexpected that has happened to you on stage?
I haven’t had any major embarrassing moments on stage although there are a few moments in Backbeat that when my mum came to see it I just had to try and forget she was there…

What’s your favourite West End musical or play (apart from Beackbeat)? And is there a show you’d really like to see?
There’s no particular show that stands out for me in the West End. I’m not a fan of musicals so that rules out quite a few. I’m looking forward to seeing my good friend Ben Deery in Woman In Black though. Everyone tells me it’s a brilliant play and I’ve no doubt Mr Deery will smash it.

Together with a friend, you founded your own theatre company; impressively, the debut show Inches Apart won the Old Vic New Voices Theatre503 Award. Congratulations! Please tell us more  about WE. BUY. GOLD.!
WE.BUY.GOLD. was born at drama school really. Tom McCall and I loved working with a tutor called Mark Bell who taught Le Coq based techniques and with whom we devised our own stories and pieces. Both Tom and I thrive on the opportunity to let our imaginations do the work and being forced to push the boundaries of our creativity. We formed a company and with a bunch of friends we developed a 15 minute theatre piece we had come up with while at LAMDA, entered it into the Old Vic New Voices award and thankfully won. The Old Vic then produced a full professional production at the 503. Our philosophy is that no moment in the play should pass without a story being told and we always say ‘don’t come up with a solution, come up with the best solution’. I guess it can be loosely described as ‘physical theatre’ (although that term makes me cringe – it ain’t ‘expressing anger through the medium of dance’ or anything). It’s just a more interesting way of telling a story and (hopefully) unlocks the audience’s imagination more than a naturalistic set and script would.

You have done quite a bit of TV and film work (e.g. The Bill, Stanley Park, Material Girl, Misfits, Trollied, Public Enemies). What do you like about working in front of a camera? And how does it compare to performing on stage?
It’s really hard to compare stage and screen work. I always say that they are like doing two completely different jobs. I love the variation in filming, no two days are the same and performance-wise you often have a greater responsibility for what you do as there is less rehearsal time. Seeing the finished product is great, usually you’ve had a few months to forget about what happens and you get lots of little surprises from the edit and seeing the other scenes that you weren’t involved in. Theatre is a whole different ball game. Rehearsals allow you the freedom to really experiment, and the buzz of live performance is incomparable. I really can’t pick between the two but I do feel fortunate to have had a good mix of both. Towards the end of a theatre job I start to crave some filming, and towards the end of a filming job I yearn for a bit of theatre. I’m just fickle.

Is there anyone you would you really like to work with (TV or stage)?
To get the opportunity to work with Ken Loach or Shane Meadows would be a dream come true. I love their films and the way they work. They manage to create engaging stories and characters, with a lot of humour, but also pack a punch. I think I share their politics too. There’s a young director called Tom Shkolnik I came close to working for, it’d be great to do something with him, his style of film-making excited me.
As far as actors go: Julie Walters, Stephen Graham, John Leguizamo, Paddy Considine, among many others. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some brilliant people already – I can’t list all of them here. Often it’s the people you’re not aware of before.
To be honest though, I’d love the opportunity to work professionally with people I know from before I got paid to act. Some of my friends are amazing and I’m desperate for us to do something together – among them are Ben Whybrow and Imogen Doel. Ben is so interesting and creative, Imogen is one of the best actresses I’ve ever seen. Fortunately I’ve worked with a bunch of my pals including Tom McCall, Sophie Steer and Michael Malarkey who are brilliant. And I have a couple of projects on the go with the wonderfully talented Ben Deery.

What do you like to do to chill out?
Chilling out involves hanging out with mates really. I love my friends’ company, they make me laugh a lot and there is nothing better than that. Music plays a big part in my life, I like to go out on my skateboard, although I gave up attempting any tricks a while ago – can’t risk being injured and not being able to work. Watching Match Of The Day and supporting Liverpool is another favoured past time. Family is very important to me and we’re very close, I’m lucky enough to have recently become an uncle twice over in the space of 4 days, I love my new niece and nephew.

Footy or Rugby? Footy.

Beer or wine? Beer.

Burger or salad? Salad.

Your best quality? I’m good at maths.

Love Me Do or Twist & Shout? Twist and Shout.

Party or a good night’s sleep? Party, followed by a good nights sleep.

Pets? No.

Your favourite film?
Wind That Shakes The Barley.

Thank you very much for this great interview, Nick and all the best for Backbeat and your other projects!

Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickdiscoblood

Interview by Sandra Palme (Twitter @LondonTheatre2)

12th November 2011


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