Roger Allam: ‘Playing is easier than life – you have something to do and you’re trying to achieve it’

Roger Allam, 68, starred in the BBC show The thickness of it and HBO game of thrones. His stage roles include Falstaff in Henry IV and Inspector Javert in the original production of Wretched. He has won three Olivier Awards.

What was your childhood or your first ambition?
To be a train driver. At that time, there were very impressive steam trains, and if we went on a trip, my father would take me to the front of the train to see the machine. Being the driver looked wonderful and glamorous.

Private school or public school? University or straight to work?
Christ’s Hospital, a boarding school near Horsham, Sussex, a kind of charity school. We had to wear a 16th century uniform in honor of its charitable status. I was miserable at first, because I was away from home, and I was behind in school, because the only way to take advantage of the entrance exam was to miss my last year of primary school. But it got better over time. There were great facilities, lots of music and theatre, a smart atmosphere. Then the University of Manchester, where I read plays and had a wonderful time.

Who was or still is your mentor?
I don’t think there is anyone.

Are you in good physical shape?
I try to stay in shape – not very well.

Ambition or talent: what matters more to succeed?
I would put luck above those two.

How politically engaged are you?
I don’t belong to any party, but I read a lot, I think a lot and I donate money to causes. What I pledge politically is that the government and the politics of this country will do everything possible to provide full, well-paid employment, so that people can have decent housing, be warm, have enough to to eat, to have access to education — so obviously, I’m on the left.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently own?
A better view. I used to live in a flat in Stoke Newington that overlooked the trees and the sunset – I dream of a view like that.

What is your biggest extravaganza?
Exit. One of my oldest friends, Jeremy King, is a great restaurateur, and one of the good things about that is that I can still get in. I like to treat people to dinner.

Where are you the happiest?
Probably the kitchen.

What ambitions do you still have?
Continue as long as possible, as best as possible.

What motivates you ?
That’s what I do. I know where I am when I’m at the theater or on a film set. Playing is easier than life – you have something to do and you’re trying to achieve it. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. And in the theater you can do it again the next night and get better. In life you only have one shot, the game is much better organized. And I love the social aspect. I like the speech of the actors.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Somewhat later in life, in my 40s, having children and an extremely engaging and long-lasting relationship.

What do you find most irritating in other people?
Incivility.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would it think?
He would be happy that I managed to stay an actor all these years and had a fairly varied career.

What item you lost would you like to still have?
My parents were great walkers. When I was young, we went on a family vacation to Scotland, and we stopped at a youth hostel. There was a man there who had these two oblong metal things and you could play them like you play spoons. He showed me how to do it and he gave it to me. I played them a lot and was deeply upset when they got lost. Although I always suspected my parents weren’t as passionate about my game as I was.

What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Don’t destroy the planet.

Do you believe in life after death?
Not really. But I do not know.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would your score be?
My God, I don’t know. Seven eight? Eight. I think it takes a certain amount of dissatisfaction to continue.

Roger Allam stars in “Murder in Provence”, now available on BritBox

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