Oliver has just finished playing Haemon in Antigone directed by Inua Ellams and Max Webster at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. His other recent theatre credits include All My Sons at The Old Vic alongside Sally Field and Colin Morgan. Oliver has also worked with acclaimed director Dominic Cooke on recent film The Courier starring Benedict Cumberbatch and On Chesil Beach starring Saoirse Ronan. Currently Oliver Johnstone is starring as Henry V at The Globe. Henry V is performed in the intimate indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for the first time from 10 Nov – 4 Feb, directed by Headlong’s Artistic Director Holly Race Roughan, exploring the single-minded pursuit of Henry V, and what it means to be ‘English’.
What does it mean to you to be playing Henry V, and what excites you the most about the character?
Obviously Henry is a brilliant character, but I’ve tried to shake off the notion of it as an “iconic” role and approach the project as if we were doing a new play. It’s tricky at times – some of the speeches in this play are so well known and ingrained in our national identity. We’re not presenting a historically accurate depiction of the historical figure, nor are we presenting an exact and faithful replica of Shakespeare’s play. We are using Shakespeare’s story of this complicated man and reframing it to tell our own story that speaks to now. That excites me.
And what have you found most challenging about taking on the role?
Well, it’s a war play; a play about an invasion, death and destruction, violence and power. We have all had to go to some very real and dark places. That’s been challenging. Fortunately, the group that Holly (our director) has put together is incredible. So despite all the dark stuff it’s been a very fun and supportive rehearsal process. We play volleyball or crossbar challenge in the breaks. It’s great.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Henry V?
If you’re in the market for a political/psychological/action thriller performed by a really talented bunch then come on down to the Playhouse this winter ….
Is this your first time performing in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse / The Globe? What is it like to perform in such an iconic venue?
I’m a London nerd. So performing right on the river in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of Bankside is fun. I was told that the Globe was the first (and presumably the only) thatched building to be built in London since the Great Fire of London. That’s very cool to me. And the Playhouse itself is beautiful. It is extremely intimate, which is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. And obviously it’s all candle-lit. So we get a lot of atmosphere for free. We also have four fantastic musicians accompanying us.
What are you enjoying most about working with the cast and creatives involved in this production?
I’m going to sound like a right luvvie now, but the team on this are a really kind, brave, funny, compassionate and talented group of people who all want to make the most daring, thought-provoking and relevant work possible. I feel very lucky to be able to come into work every day and spend time with them.
How did you get into acting, and was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?
I was lucky enough to be taken to the theatre a lot when I was growing up. I remember seeing Peter Pan at the National when I was about seven. I thought I was Captain Hook around that time anyway, because of the Disney film, but I think the experience of seeing it live was the beginning of a realisation that a job existed where you could be Captain Hook for a living … I went to RADA after leaving school and then signed with an agent in third year who I’ve been with ever since.
What’s your career highlight so far?
Playing George in All My Sons at the Old Vic. When I was younger I was more interested in American drama and films than anything else. And as I’ve mentioned I love London history. So the experience of doing a classic American play in one of London’s most historic theatres, with an incredible cast, was special for me. But, equally, I’ve found playing Henry V very complex and fulfilling. So this could top it …
Who are your influences and inspirations?
I have too many influences to mention them all here! But, when I’m working on something, I usually find myself watching The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson. I love all of his films. But Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performances in that film really influenced my opinion of what acting could be and how radically different styles can work together. It’s an acting masterclass.
What’s on your cultural radar at the moment?
I’ve been pretty immersed in this so have been living in a bit of a vacuum. I tend to watch and listen to things that could fuel what I’m doing in some way. But I’ve been enjoying season one of The White Lotus. And I’m really excited to see Sons of the Prophet at the Hampstead Theatre. The Hampstead are programming some really exciting work at the moment.
See Oliver Johnstone in Henry V now at The Globe.