Daniel Boys has enjoyed something of a meteoric rise since first coming to the broader public’s attention as a contestant on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s reality show, Any Dream Will Do. However, the 34-year old has already accrued an impressive portfolio of rôles, from Russell Labey’s unnerving Wolfboy to the much lighter Avenue Q, the thoughtful Rent, and frothy High Society. He’s currently appearing as Penhall in Brian Mitchell’s and Joseph Nixon’s new musical The Opinion Makers. Paul Couch caught up with him in Colchester.
These are the first performances of The Opinion Makers. How’s it going so far?
It’s going really well. It’s really interesting doing a new musical because you’re creating the characters and it’s the first time they’ve ever been done; it’s the first time we get to see whether a script works. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a brand new musical – I’ve always done shows that have already existed in the past. The rehearsal period has been quite tough because there are things that you may think don’t work and you have to convince the writer to change bits and, of course, it’s their baby so they’re reluctant to change anything and then you don’t want to piss them off or the director, so it’s tough but it’s been really fun. I’ve loved creating characters.
The Opinion Makers is a rare thing these days – a new British musical. How do we reconcile the economic need not to take risks against the need to get fresh blood writing in our theatres?
It’s really difficult. Theatre tickets are just so expensive these days and so trying to get people to come to the theatre is difficult enough. Taking a risk on something that nobody’s ever heard of, I really admire theatre companies and I fully support new writing. That’s something that Julie Atherton [co-star] and myself are proud of doing because the UK is so famous for its theatre and I think that’s dwindling because no-one’s taking a risk. I don’t know how you do it; I think you just have to be brave and take the risk of losing money on it. But I think we have to keep supporting new writers and try to convince people to go to the theatre and to see new shows. There’s some amazing work out there that we don’t get a chance to see normally a performer.
You play opposite Mel Giedroyc, not a performer we usually associate with being a stage actor. How’s that worked out for you?
I’ve absolutely loved it. I think she’s an exceptionally talented woman, very funny, and just a lovely, lovely woman. She’s had us all in stitches 24/7 – she’s just got such funny bones in her. I was a bit star-struck because I loved the Great British Bake-Offs and so meeting her was very exciting. She’s very supportive and funny and I think she’s a wonderful actress and it’s been an absolute joy working with her.
First and foremost do you consider yourself to be an actor or a singer?
It’s weird – I would say that my strength is my singing. That’s my best quality. I’ve always doubted myself ever since drama school [The Guildford School of Acting] that I wasn’t a good actor but people tell me that I am and I have to believe what people say. If someone asked me what’s my main strength, I would say singing. But if someone says: “What do you do for a living?”, I’d say I’m an actor.
You’ve done serious drama, musical theatre, cabaret, and recorded an album. What’s your favourite medium?
When I did my last performance for a live audience, I absolutely loved it. Last year I got to do a studio album, So Close, and I got to do a tour of the album and I got to be “Daniel Boys singing songs and telling anecdotes”. I got such a buzz out of just being myself and being able to sing what I wanted to sing and speak when I want to speak. I loved it and I loved hearing the audience reaction and being spontaneous, it was just so much fun. Ultimately, that’s what I’d love to do more of; I’d love to do more albums and I’d love to do more tours.
If you weren’t doing this for a living, what else would you be?
I’m a real animal lover. I love animals. I’ve got dogs so it would be something with animals if it wasn’t acting. I’m not intelligent enough to be a vet [laughs]. Maybe I’d work in a rescue centre or something.
Were you precocious as a child?
No, it was very odd. I don’t know where I get it from. I was quite a quiet child. No-one in my family acts or sings or anything. I remember being taken to see Starlight Express when I was a kid by my mum and dad and loving it. And I always wanted to be in a school play but I certainly wasn’t the centre of attention at all. I was always very well-behaved, quiet child. I’m one of four, and I was the quietest.
You’re open about your sexuality. Many gay actors aren’t for fear that they’ll get passed over for playing “straight” characters. That’s never been a concern for you?
I think it’s very sad that people have to live a lie and I’d never want to do that. It must be horrific for them. I think it’s ridiculous that straight actors are praised and heralded when they play gay characters and they all get awards for how realistic they were and why, then can’t an openly gay actor play a straight part? We’re actors, that’s what we do – we’re not being ourselves, we’re being a whole other character. I know someone who was in musical theatre, he’s now a very successful movie actor and he is – or was – openly gay; he’s had boyfriends and he’s done interviews in the past. Now he’s gone to Hollywood, he’s having suddenly to be “straight” and it’s so sad. But then you have people like Rupert Everett who said that coming out was the worst decision of his life for his career. I find it bizarre and I’d hate to live like that. It must be so lonely.
What was your worst career mistake?
There’s been a few but I’d better not name them! You do think occasionally “Oh God – what am I doing in this? Why have I decided to do this?” I think you just have to see the funny side otherwise you’d lose the will to live!
What is the most important play of the past 100 years and why?
Oh my Goodness! Well I don’t know if it was the most important in the last 100 years but, for its time, Rent was a very powerful and influential musical because it was the very first honest musical about the whole AIDS epidemic. It was gritty and real and I think, at the time, it shocked people. It was based on true characters and Jonathan Larson just wrote this very real, honest musical. I was too young to live through it but the whole AIDS thing, especially in America, must have been terrifying because nobody knew what it was and people were dying all over the place, especially in the gay community. Unfortunately, he [Larson] never lived to see his legacy, but I think it’s an incredible show with a really powerful message.
What’s the biggest challenge facing actors at the moment?
Getting work. I think being an actor is tough anyway. Whenever I do master-classes and workshops for kids and they tell me they have other interests in life, without being negative, I tell them to go and do those instead because being an actor really is tough. You can have some real high points in your career but, mostly, it’s a scary, dark place to be an actor because you’re always thinking about the next job and “how am I going to pay next month’s rent?”. I know that sounds depressing but it’s the truth. I think all actors would be lying if they said they weren’t going to be scared about what was coming next. I think the scariest thing at the moment is Government funding cuts within the arts. I think it’s terrible with theatres closing left, right and centre.
So what next for Daniel Boys?
After The Opinion Makers, I go off to China for nine days, just songs from the shows with a local orchestra, and I’ve done a few of those. They’re my favourite jobs, I love it. I feel very lucky that I get paid to travel to such fascinating places. Then I have Christmas off, which I’m already looking forward to, because I haven’t had Christmas off for about eight or nine years. In the New Year there’s the possibility of a new project but I’m not allowed to mention it! But it will be something very exciting…if it happens!
The Opinion Makers runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, until November 9, before moving to the Derby Theatre, Derby, from November 13–23.