“Like most actors my heart is in the theatre. It’s where I started and probably where I will finish, but it is nice to have the variety along the way.”
William Ilkley is currently starring as Major Metcalf in the West End production of The Mousetrap. He has performed on stage at the National Theatre, the West End and in regional theatres. He has more than 70 television credits, which include Dr Who, Coronation Street, Dalziel & Pascoe and many more!
William’s numerous film credits include Thunder Road, written by John Godber for the BBC, playing the lead role of Malc Spencer. He was in the Disney film Shiprecked, spending a month in Fiji filming on a pirate ship.
He was also in The Boat That Rocked – Richard Curtis’ film about Pirate Radio in the 60s. “Imagine sitting around a table for the read through with Richard and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh; Jack Davenport, Gemma Arterton and Rhys Ifans. I kept asking myself what I was doing there!!!”
Enjoy our interview with William Ilkley
Before you started training to be an actor, did you consider any other career options?
I actually had a university place offered to do a Law degree, and in my year off after A Levels I was performing in the Ilkley Literature Festival and the adjudicator there was Sally Grace, a tutor at Rose Brufords. Sally asked to speak to me afterwards and asked if I had considered Drama School, which I hadn’t at that stage; so if it had not been for that conversation with Sally, I would probably be a Lawyer now! Interestingly it was also Sally who suggested I use Ilkley as my professional name as there already was a William Brown in Equity when I started working and I was struggling to choose a name.
Was there a ‘spark’ that ignited the desire for you to want to get into acting?
Definitely my Drama Teacher at Ilkley Grammar School – Mr David Wildman – who absolutely ignited my interest in theatre and cast me as the lead in many school productions as well as at my local Amateur Theatre Company, the Ilkley Playhouse. Sadly David is no longer with us but I am sure he would have been very proud of the career I have had.
You trained at Rose Bruford College, London’s International Drama School. Do you have a favourite memory from your time there?
I was at Rose Bruford from 1977 to 1980 and absolutely loved my time there. The College and its grounds are stunning and the staff at that time were incredible. I have so many happy memories of my time there, my favourite probably playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of my final year productions. Gary Oldman was the year above me and on my year we had Janet Dibley, Cathy Shipton and Mary Roscoe, all of whom I am still in touch with.
You have many regional theatre credits. Do you have a favourite role?
This answer links to the next question too! Definitely Salt of The Earth, my first play for John Godber in 1988. A stunning play and a stunning part to play. We opened the show at Edinburgh Festival that year and won a Fringe First and Perrier Pick of the Fringe. The show then toured nationally, came into London to the Donmar Warehouse, was invited to the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon and then to the New York International Theatre Festival. Quite a way to start my link with John and Hull Truck and probably why John and I are still close friends to this day.
You were a leading actor with John Godbers’ Hull Truck Theatre Company from 1988 to 2001. What can you tell us about your time with the company?
I feel very proud of my many years with John and Hull Truck. I learnt so much, I had incredible experiences, toured all over the country and had the plays Salt of the Earth, Unleashed, Seasons in the Sun, Gym ‘N’ Tonic, The New Office Party, and The Debt Collectors written for me by John. I am also very proud to have been appointed as Associate Artist with the new John Godber Company.
You have toured with several shows including; Lucky Sods, Ken Blake in Gym and Tonic, Judd in the 21st Anniversary National Tour of Bouncers and Bob Lawrence in Unleashed. What is the best part of touring and, as an actor, what can you learn from touring?
I have really enjoyed the touring aspect of an actors’ life. It has been a fantastic way to visit so many cities and regions in the UK, a lot of which I probably wouldn’t have been to otherwise. I have made the most of my time in these cities during the daytimes when there hasn’t been a show. I’ve made great friends with many fellow actors, thrown together sharing flats and houses on these travels. Also, I have always driven straight home after the Saturday night show in order to wake up in my own bed on a Sunday morning and be back with my family.
You performed at the National’s Olivier Theatre in Bouncers, as part of the National Theatre’s celebration of the last century’s 100 greatest writers. In terms of your career, how would you describe appearing at the National Theatre?
That event was certainly momentous, made even more special by having John Godber on stage with us playing Judd. We enjoyed playing the Olivier stage and hopefully I’ll get to be back there at some point!
You have over 70 television credits, so where to start. Okay, name your favourite 3 and what did you enjoy most about each?
I was in Dr Who – The Mark of the Rani in 1985 with Colin Baker as The Doctor and Kate O’Mara as the Rani. It’s a 2 episode story that we filmed on location at Ironbridge Mining Museum in Shropshire and in the old BBC TV Centre Studios. To this day I still get many autograph requests for this programme and I still earn royalties each year! It’s remarkable, but after so long I would actually now like to be in the show again in its more modern version! I loved being in Coronation Street and Dalziel & Pascoe too!
You have also appeared in many films. Can you name 3 and what was special about each of them?
Thunder Road is a film we did for the BBC, written by John Godber again and in which I played the lead, Malc Spencer. Very proud of this film.
Shipwrecked – the first Disney movie I did (with Gabriel Byrne). Spent a month in Fiji filming on a pirate ship around several islands; flying in helicopters and lounging on a yacht as a green room; then to Los Angeles and finally to Spain – what a job!!
The Boat That Rocked – Richard Curtis’s film about Pirate Radio in the 60s. Imagine sitting around a table for the read through with Richard and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh; Jack Davenport, Gemma Arterton and Rhys Ifans. I kept asking myself what I was doing there!!!
Do you prefer stage, screen or really don’t mind?
Like most actors my heart is in the theatre. It’s where I started and probably where I will finish, but it is nice to have the variety along the way.
You are currently playing the role of Major Metcalf in the West End production of The Mousetrap. Without giving too much away, are you able to tell us about your character?
Metcalf is a retired Army Major, one of the 8 characters staying in Monkswell Manor Guest House where the play is set. Suffice to say, like all the characters, he is hiding something and he has a fabulous twist and revelation moment at the end of the show! Can’t say any more than that!!
What does it feel like to be performing in the world’s longest running production?
It’s an honour. You really do feel like you are a part of theatre history. The show is unique and probably the best known show anywhere in the world.
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is celebrating its 62nd year, of a record breaking run during which over 25,000 performances have been performed. Why do you think The Mousetrap has lasted so long as a stage production?
Agatha is so popular and a master of the murder mystery genre. Her structure is fabulous and the characters and twists and turns of the plot, mean that it’s very hard to guess correctly who the murderer is.
The Mousetrap is a murder mystery ‘whodunnit’, where you cannot give away the secret. How do you describe The Mousetrap to someone who hasn’t seen it?
It’s a period murder mystery thriller that will captivate you; take you back in time to the 1950s and will allow you to test your own amateur sleuthing skills!
Why should everyone get along to see The Mousetrap?
Not only will you have a fabulous evening seeing the show, but you will also get to see the interior of the last remaining privately owned West End theatre. Our audiences are bowled over with the beauty and detail of St Martin’s Theatre. You should definitely go once!
Interview by Neil Cheesman
Follow on Twitter at @LondonTheatre1
You can keep up to date with William Ilkley on his official website at:
The official website for The Mousetrap