Interview: Joe McFadden Talks “The Mirror Crack’d”

The Original Theatre Company’s production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mirror Crack’d” is just around the corner for York folk. The show plays York Theatre Royal next month (4th – 8th October 2022) with Joe McFadden playing Jason Rudd. Winner of “Strictly Come Dancing” in 2017, Joe’s stage credits include “Priscilla – Queen Of The Desert” and “Torch Song Trilogy”, and screen credits include “She Loves Me”, “Holby City” and “Heartbeat”. Here, Joe chats about taking to the stage in an Agatha Christie classic…

Tell us about your character Jason Rudd in The Mirror Crack’d.

He’s a film director who put his career on the back burner because his wife, Hollywood star Marina Gregg, is going through a hard time. Now he’s going to make a film about Henry Vlll and his wives with Marina as Catherine Aragon. He manages to tempt her back with a script that he’s been working on for quite a long time. You’re suspicious of his motives. There are so many people circling around Marina, this Hollywood star from a bygone era and you ask yourself: Why are they so interested in her? What are they getting out of it?

Your CV is a good mix of theatre and TV – and, of course, you won Strictly Come Dancing in 2017.

I feel very lucky that I get to do musicals and to do plays – and to do the odd bit of telly now and again. It’s really an actor’s dream in that I’m not stuck doing the one thing. The usual thing is that you either do plays or you do musicals or you do TV, and it becomes hard to break into the others. I feel very fortunate I get to do all of them.

What have been your favourite roles?

I couldn’t pick a favourite honestly. It’s brilliant doing a play because you get a lot of time to sit down, as we have during The Mirror Crack’d rehearsals, and talk about the story. Working on something like Agatha Christie it’s absolutely necessary because it’s so textured, so layered and there’s so much in there. On the face of it it seems a simple whodunit but they’re all such complex characters. Nobody is really what they first appear to be?

What’s the enduring attraction of Agatha Christie stories?

They are so rich, there’s so much in there and it really keeps you guessing. It’s not so much a whodunnit as a social commentary. The Mirror Crack’d is, as I’ve discovered this week, about mental health. At the time it was written Agatha Christie was very much ahead of the curve. It’s a real examination of this movie star Marina and how when you get to a certain age you’re not in the running for the parts and are cast aside. It’s about the tragedy and unfairness of that.

My character adores Marina and will do anything to protect her. We discover he’s been there for her in the past but you’re not sure what his motives are and, as is the way with Christie, discover he’s not all he seems to be by the end of the evening. So it’s really great charting how much you show to an audience and who the red herrings are. Quite exhausting really mentally.

Have you gone back to the book, the TV versions or the film?

I haven’t really read the book because some details have changed. Rachel Wagstaff has done a wonderful adaptation. It’s kind of confusing for me because I’ve watched the Julia McKenzie TV version and the Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor film version – and they are all slightly different. What you do get from them is a feel for the period, the style and the characters.

It’s difficult when you’re so familiar with the other source material because you’re torn between what you’re doing and what they’re doing. I feel like I don’t need to read the book or watch the films again. Not at the moment. Perhaps when we’re all finished I will.

Is this your first Agatha Christie?

Absolutely my first. My mother was a massive mystery fan. She loved a sleuth, Murder She Wrote, Poirot, all the detective shows. So I was brought up watching these films and TV shows. I do have a real fondness for them because they get you involved. You’re not passive when watching, you’re actually trying to work out whodunit. And while you’re working it out, you’re being entertained and getting a real insight into these human beings and their particular circumstances.

This production of The Mirror Crack’d reunites three of you – co-star Sophie Ward and director Philip Franks are the others – who’ve been regulars (although not all at the same time) in ITV’s Yorkshire set series “Heartbeat”, right?

We’re having a great time reminiscing and comparing experiences. I’ve done a number of long-running series and there’s something to be said for knowing the other actors and knowing the crew. It’s nice with a job like Heartbeat or Holby City where you have a shorthand with people and a relationship with people. Those were particularly lovely jobs to do. I was happy to do them for as long as I did – two years of doing Heartbeat and five years in Holby. I’m sure every job is not as happy as those but I was very happy to do them for so long.

What made you sign up for Strictly Come Dancing in 2017?

I did agonise over the decision to do it because back in the day, 20 years ago, actors didn’t really do reality TV shows. It was a new thing. I thought long and hard about it and took advice from various people, friends in the industry, but ultimately my reason for doing it was I wanted to learn how to dance. I wanted to have this world champion teach me to dance. That opportunity only comes along once in a lifetime. I felt it would be silly not to grab it with both hands.

And it all worked out for the best – you won.

I am so glad I did it, not because I won but because it was such a brilliant experience. It was about saying yes to things and not being afraid of the unknown. As human beings we like the familiar, the same thing, and that’s a dangerous place for an artist to be because you want to challenge yourself and challenge people’s perceptions of you. Strictly was good for that.

What was the hardest part?

Being myself on screen which I hadn’t really done before. The most daunting thing was all the speaking and the live television but even that stuff ended up being massively enjoyable. Talking to Zoe Ball on BBC’S It Takes Two became one of my favourite parts of the week because she made it so lovely. The fans are so appreciative and so warm that you feel the love everyone has for that show, something I perhaps wasn’t aware of going into it.

What’s your advice to celebrities taking part in the new series of Strictly?

Just to enjoy every moment because you never know when it’s going to end and get as much sleep as you possibly can because the tiredness is like nothing you will have experienced in your life. Just enjoy it because it will be over in a flash. It goes so quickly. Don’t take it too seriously, throw yourself into it and do exactly as your partner tells you.

Any dancing in The Mirror Crack’d?

We do a bit of a waltz. I’m trying to dredge up from the corner of my mind how to do it.

How do you feel about the prospect of touring?

I toured with Priscilla – Queen of the Desert for seven months and toured with two different Ghost Stories before that. I love touring. As an actor you either love it or hate it. I try to get out to see places and not stay in my digs all the time. The great thing for Priscilla is that I didn’t drink for the whole time I did the show which meant I got up in the morning, went to the beach, did the museums.

I love the fact that we get to go to these places that you never would at any other time. This time, for instance, I get to go to Oxford which I’ve never been to and am massively looking forward to. The great thing about touring is getting to see all of these places you wouldn’t do otherwise.

So there you have it! “The Mirror Crack’d” plays York Theatre Royal from the 4th – 8th October 2022 and you can find more information and tickets here.

Q&A courtesy of Steve Pratt.

Images: Ali Wright

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