An Interview with Richard Winsor
By Gail Schuster
Richard Winsor has had a varied career in theatre, film and television including a three-year stint in the drama Casualty. He is currently on tour in the musical Saturday Night Fever in which he plays the lead role of Tony Manero. The show is coming to the Grand Theatre in Leeds from 27th to 31st August, 2019…
The new tour of Saturday Night Fever opened this week – how have the first few nights been?
Yeah, they’ve been great. We did it last year when we created this brand-new production of Saturday Night Fever, we did three months last year and two months earlier this year. But now everyone is new, apart from about four people, including me. It was a real challenge to get everyone up and running. We only had two weeks rehearsal to get back in with all the new people, but they have all taken to it really well. There’s some fantastic talent in the cast. Audiences have loved it.
How true or different is this production of Saturday Night Fever to the original film?
I would say it’s relatively true. The reason that kind of got me on board really was Bill Kenwright, the director and producer, approached me and I was really interested. But then he said we want to do it quite dark and real; gritty like the film. I was like, that’s exactly how I would like to do it as well, so I was more than happy to get onboard. So, we have achieved that. Obviously, it’s a musical so it’s got to be light and crowd pleasing as well but we have struck the balance very, very well.
“I wanted to make him my own”
John Travolta’s Tony Manero is an iconic role. Were you worried about expectations? Have you tried to emulate it, or have you brought your own version?
Yeah, I didn’t want to emulate, I didn’t want to imitate, honestly. I wanted to take what the character was, the character of Tony Manero himself; what he is about, where he has come from, his surroundings, his relationships with his family and as an actor play the character rather than try and imitate John Travolta and make a carbon copy of his version. I wanted to make him my own, but John Travolta himself is iconic and hugely charismatic. I wanted to take a few of his things and take them on because obviously, that’s what made the character, but you have to find your own way otherwise you are just an imitation artist and that’s not what I want to be.
Do you have a favourite scene or routine in the show?
Some of the family scenes I like, they are quite dark; I get to flex a little bit of a muscle there, drama muscle. As a dancer, the dance routines, the end of Act 1 is quite amazing. The whole company come together and dance, I do a solo and the music is fantastic, we have got the band on stage with us, the Bee Gees are singing; wonderful a really great atmosphere.
Dance has been a large part of your career; did you always want to be a dancer?
Yeah, my mum had a dance school actually, in north Nottinghamshire, for a long time. I wanted to be an actor as well, and I managed to meld the two paths along the way so far. It’s been really good fun. I’ve always loved dance, I’ve always had a great physique for it, so yeah, it seems to work for me.
“He’s a storyteller”
You have been in film, theatre and TV in your career – do you have a preference?
I love being on stage, I really do, I love being in front of an audience. I love the buzz and the adrenaline and getting up and doing it and not knowing how it is going to play out. But I like the minimal discipline of TV; that naturalism I love of television. I’m lucky enough to have had experience in both and I couldn’t say a preference, to be honest, from one to another at the moment.
When you were in Casualty was it gory at all?
Yeah, very, very much so! I was alright with blood and all those kinds of things, puss, gashes and open wounds that was fine. It was more when they had to fake vomit, that’s what really got me. I couldn’t stand it. So, they’d have a mixture of apple juice, Weetabix and carrot and all that and then they’d go fake vomit and I couldn’t watch, I couldn’t do it. Even though you know it’s fake, I couldn’t bear it.
You were the principal dancer in Matthew Bourne’s company, how did you manage to transition into acting?
I went with Matthew Bourne’s company for a reason and that’s because he’s a storyteller. He’s not necessarily a choreographer, because the company and the creatives with him come up with the movement. He’s primarily a storyteller and director, and a wonderful one at that. He creates and puts together beautiful narratives and great characters. Now for me as an actor-dancer to go and do his work was the only step professionally, because I got to play characters, got to research roles, especially when I started playing the lead roles; really get to the grittiness of the characters and what they were about, but all through movement. It’s acting and storytelling as much as it would be in a play but instead of words there’s just movement. Therefore, the transition for me was always happening from the start. It was always what I wanted to do. I got quite well known from his work and that helped me go into some other TV and film. I was lucky, but it was also a planned route. And I would love to go back and do some more stuff with him. He’s like family, honestly, so hopefully I will in future.
“Real mystique about it”
If you could travel in time, where you go and who would you meet?
Wow! Travel in time… Let me think! It would be going back to 1950’s, 1940’s Hollywood and going to the set of an Alfred Hitchcock film. Having a good old chat with Alfred Hitchcock and watching that all play out and seeing how they did it in those days in old film. There’s something kind of romantic about old Hollywood and that era. Seeing how the studios worked, the big old cars and how people were stars. There wasn’t the internet, so it wasn’t in front of us all the time, there was a real mystique about it. That kind of vibe, I think.
Is there anything in your career that you would really like to do?
I would love to do a nice two- or three-part drama on the BBC that has a hard-hitting beginning, middle and end, a nice compact story. A really interesting dark character.
Production images: Pamela Raith