Jack Ryder Interview
by Vicky Edwards
Jack Ryder explains how an audition he never meant to attend took him to Albert Square and on to becoming British theatre’s go-to director of naked actors…
Jack Ryder has extreme attention to detail. Lucky enough to inveigle my way into his rehearsal room to watch him work with the cast of the brand new tour of The Full Monty, I marvel at how he picks up on the smallest nuances. But each time he stops to ask an actor to try something different, the subsequent re-run is immediately enriched. The dialogue is more sparkling and the character more credible.
“Even when I watched movies as a kid I always noticed the scene itself rather than the actors. As a director I do go very much into the detail of things. Because then something magical starts to take place,” he explains.
Running my eye over his CV, it confirms what I witness during the morning’s rehearsal. Jack has come a long way since getting bumped off as Jamie Mitchell in EastEnders in 2002.
“Directing was something that was always whispering to me,” he admits. “As Spielberg once said, the things you choose to do in life don’t usually come in loud shouts or chants; they come in whispers and you need to listen hard for them. I think directing had been whispering to me for a while but it took me time to hear.”
“I never trained as an actor”
Initially hired to act in the smash-hit stage production of Calendar Girls, Jack became increasingly fascinated with directing. Spotting both his talent and his interest, the producers promptly hired him as Assistant Director on the subsequent tour.
So where does his talent stem from – is he from theatrical stock?
“No, not at all,” he laughs. “I was very late coming to theatre – being a nineties kid I grew up watching movies on cable telly. My dad occasionally took me to the opera, but I found it quite boring. So I’d sit and play with my toy cars instead,” he confesses.
“I never trained as an actor so everything I know I have learned hands-on. EastEnders came about by accident when I was sixteen. I went to a workshop with a mate who wanted to audition and I got spotted. I’d never even done a school play before then,” he grins.
“Gets that balance between comedy and heartfelt truth”
In which case, Jack’s school definitely missed a trick when this little cracker was on their roll, because, as well as directing Act of Memory, a short film that attracted huge interest and that was selected for a host of international festivals, including the famous Cannes Film Festival, as an actor he has done everything from Shakespeare to farce. On television he’s popped up in shows like Holby City, Popcorn and In the Club, while on the radio he has even done a stint on The Archers.
But while Jack’s school drama teacher kicks herself, their former pupil is focused absolutely on The Full Monty, the movie version of which became an instant hit in 1997.
So what makes this tale of Sheffield steel workers who form a strip troupe such an enduring story?
“It’s the writing,” he says, without hesitation. “Simon Beaufoy [who also wrote the award-winning film] really gets that balance between comedy and heartfelt truth. You have drama and big moments and then on the next page you find hilarious comedy. He is so clever at that light and shade. Also at writing in a way that means that actors and directors connect so readily with the material that it makes the process of getting it on its feet so easy. It’s all just there.
“A breath of fresh air”
“And it endures because of its truth. You can take off all the clothes in the world but if the audience hasn’t been on the journey and believed every moment then it won’t amount to a thing. You’ll never get that incredible reaction. At that final dance they don’t just think ‘Yay! We’re at a strip show!’ The audience has followed these characters and they’re watching Lomper, Gaz, Dave and the boys. They’re with them and they believe them.”
And he won’t stand for any of the lads overplaying that final scene, no matter how vocal the audience is.
“My hand is extremely tight on the reigns when it comes to the cast staying in character and forgetting the audience completely,” he says, a note of sternness creeping into his voice.
“But I have cast some amazing actors and so as a director I don’t have to get too mechanical; the boys bring an authenticity to the rehearsal room that is a breath of fresh air.”
“Protective and proud of it”
Joking that, having directed Calendar Girls and now The Full Monty, I can see a theme developing, and asking if he is known as the go-to director for any show that involves actors getting their kit off, in response Jack throws back his handsome head and laughs.
“If anyone hears about a play that has nudity in it they ask if Jack Ryder is directing! But actually I was involved in The Full Monty on stage at the very start of its development, which is why I feel especially protective and proud of it.”
His pride is more than justified. Moving me to tears one moment and then to helpless laughter the next, this is a show that absolutely deserves its ‘not-to-be-missed’ reviews.
Needing to return to rehearsals to work on the scene in which the boys remove their ‘undercrackers’ for the first time, before he goes I ask Jack what he does for fun and relaxation.
“I don’t get much down time, but when I do I spend it with my family and developing little projects. I’ve just written a novel,” he shrugs, suddenly shy, before saying goodbye.
Unpretentious and a genuinely lovely guy. Mr Ryder, the pleasure is all mine.
‘The Full Monty’ is at Leeds Grand Theatre, November 28 – December 3, 2016