Interviews - John Paton - Role: Sempronius - MISANTHROPOS

John Paton
Role: Sempronius

Before we start, and just because you're a fellow Bristol boy, I have to ask: what's your favourite place in Brissle?

I have been away a long time and much has changed. Probably when I was younger my favourite place was the Odeon Cinema and The Dug Out Club or the Locarno night clubs! (hahahaha). However when I visit these days I love the Bristol Old Vic – it brings back happy memories of both my first ever ‘proper’ theatre trip to see The Crucible – age of 12. PLUS I got the thrill of working there in a play called "Croak, Croak, Croak" by Peter Tinniswood, directed by BOV's assistant Artistic Director Gareth Machin.

What was your first exposure to Shakespeare?

The first theatrical experience I had, let alone Shakespeare, was in primary school was a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The whole school was seated in a circle on the floor of the assembly hall and in the centre was a square of green ‘hospital’ style screens on wheels. From out of that fabric centre emerged a magical troupe telling us a story of faeries, kings, men becoming donkeys and love struck people chasing each other through a forest... I was smitten and bitten by a desire to escape into this world of magic.

Now this is amazing, you spent 3 years teaching in North Tarawa, Kiribati, which is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! WOW! Do you feel your acting is heavily informed by your life experience? And what's the weather like there? (just for my own curiosity, ha!)

It taught me a whole host of things about life: I learned that I loved and valued my family – something I had taken for granted while I was close to them in the UK; I also discovered I love meeting new people and discovering new cultures yet at the same time I like and am quite comfortable in my own company. I learned I love eating very fresh fish and that I adore learning new languages – Gilbertese is what they speak there. It was originally only a spoken language until the British colonised them and forced them to write it down – consequently there are only 13 letters used (the 5 vowels plus a handful of consonants) – quite a tongue twister in many ways e.g. ‘ngkoananoa’ means yesterday!!!! I also found out I am willing to turn my hand to a whole host of skills I might never have tried – like sailing an outrigger canoe, digging taro pits to grow veg, fishing on the reef with an oil lamp and shoulder throw nets. Even how to acquit myself with reasonable dignity while performing traditional Gilbertese dancing on a stage! But to more specifically answer your question – yes I believe having a life full of experience that has a varied/diverse history does allow me the chance to draw on things to inform my acting. P.S. the weather is hot all year round!

What's the best Shakespeare performance you've seen?

I was a supernumerary for Sir Peter Hall’s production of “Julius Caesar” at The Barbican and every night I was privileged to witness Hugh Quarshie preparing in the wings and then delivering on stage Mark Anthony’s famous ‘lend me your ears’ speech – Truly inspiring and a little piece of genius – he was able to shed tears every time.

You're not just a theatre actor, but you have a lot of experience in musical theatre. How does that skill in music help with the lyrical skill required when delivering Shakespeare?

I love reading poetry aloud and musicals are poetry (lyrics) set to music. Music often touches our deepest emotions. For me Shakespeare’s genius is putting into actors’ mouths pure poetry – sometimes rhyming, yet often not – which a performer needs to fully feel and understand in order to interpret his ideas and thereby deliver the beauty of his well-crafted dialogue. When actors ‘get it right’ and it works for an audience I am certain it must touch them as deeply as an oratorio by Handel or a symphony by Beethoven.

What do you focus on when it comes to the motives for how you treat Timon?

Self-preservation and acquisitive desire to be seen to succeed in society, almost a fear of not being perceived as important enough to retain my reputation and power among my peers. Vanity and arrogance too – hopefully, these are qualities I can find yet I hope, even though they are buried deep in me somewhere – that they are ones that do not figure large in my daily existence!

You've previous playing Gloucester (a pre-crowned Richard III) in "Henry VI: PART III"; do you feel that helps inform you on the motivations or character of Sempronius?

Not too much really for the most part – Shakespeare’s talent was to create so many very diverse and distinctly ‘individual’ people. However, the fact that a political power struggle is taking place runs through much of his work. The characters and their lives are tools he uses to tell his stories powerfully and believably.

Have you worked with CGI before?

Never – that was one major reason for me in asking to be considered for a role in the production. I am always keen to learn new skills and CGI is increasingly used in film and TV so I need to find out about it.

Have you ever filmed abroad before? (if not, but have done stage abroad, tell me)

I have never filmed abroad however I spent 6 months touring Spain in a theatrical production of “Huckleberry Finn”. Wonderful times and amazing experiences. The audiences never stopped talking – we were told (and chose to believe) that this is because those present who understood English were providing running commentaries on what was happening on stage for their friends who didn’t speak the language as fluently.

What do you expect from a Director?

All actors have to be able to trust in the integrity of the director’s vision and rely on his/her skill to bring out the desired traits and performances from within the cast. In doing so we rely on them to enable our work to fulfil their goals for the piece. We are all, always potentially in a position of vulnerability and place our trust in the director to make sure our interpretation delivers a form of the truth he/she wishes to convey to the audience.

How has the film process been for you, thus far?

Maximianno’s musical background has been a pleasure to hear in how he directs and interprets what he is looking for from his cast – a great personal pleasure to be part of and a delightful opportunity to share in the inspiring and stimulating vision that he brings to the rehearsal room and the set.

Lastly, what will happen to your character after? Do you feel there is hope for your character/for the world, by the end of the film?

He is not a very ‘nice’ man but I feel somehow he will find a way to avoid personal disaster – even if it is at the expense of others and his own rather dubious ‘integrity’.

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