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“I love the theatre, but it has become more terrifying over the years” - An Interview with David Tennant

Image © David Tennant via Facebook

We speak to Doctor Who and Broadchurch's David Tennant about adjusting to fame and stage fright.

The former Doctor – and veteran of various acclaimed stage performances – is set to take the eponymous lead in Patrick Marber’s Don Juan in Soho at Charing Cross’ Wyndham’s Theatre until early June.

The term ‘national treasure’ gets thrown around a lot these days, but with a CV that boasts one of Britain’s most iconic TV characters, a starring role in one of the nation’s favourite crime dramas – Broadchurch, David Tennant has a far better claim than most to the approbation.

“It’s always good to be appreciated not just for your work but as an individual,” says the 45-year-old. “Some actors attract attention for behaving badly or for being perceived as arrogant and I’ve never wanted to indulge in any of that. I try to be a good person and I hope that I am – although I never feel that I am as open and giving as I would like to be.”

While Tennant’s Doctor will rank among fan favourites for years to come, his latest role – on the stage – is somewhat of a break from his glittering public image. The Bathgate-born star is playing the titular lothario in Patrick Marber’s Don Juan in Soho, a modern adaptation of Moliere’s 17th century tale running at Wyndham’s Theatre in Charing Cross.

Though the sight of Tennant as a womanising hustler may seem incongruous with his affable off-screen persona, the star’s chameleonic ability to take on any role is a testament to a glittering theatrical career that has seen him draw praise from all quarters – most notably for a recent turn as Hamlet at the Novello Theatre. But despite his many celebrated roles, and status as an integral member of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, Tennant still battles demons when it comes to treading the boards.

“I love the theatre, but it has become more terrifying over the years,” he reveals. “Things have reached a point where every time I do a play I say to myself at the five-minute call, when there’s no going back: ‘Never do this again. This is stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! It would be better to work in a shop. This is horrible!’

“I think every actor who goes on stage is a lot closer to never being able to do it again than you might imagine. You still have some nights when your brain is telling you you’re about to forget the next bit!”

This apparent lack of confidence may surprise fans of Tennant’s confident work in Doctor Who and Broadchurch, but it hints at a life off-camera that is the complete opposite of his latest lustful character.

“I’m not the most outgoing of individuals, so it does take time to adjust to being recognised and stared at constantly,” Tennant says of his relationship with fame. “You strive for recognition as an actor and obviously the visibility that comes with your profession is usually a good sign. You need to learn to deal with the public as you go along and sometimes that can be daunting, but you get used to it even if you’re never completely comfortable with the idea of being under such scrutiny.

“People are very gracious and kind for the most part and I try to deal with the attention with as much humility and gratitude as I can. Sometimes you might not be in a receptive mood when you’re sitting down and drinking your coffee and people want to take a picture with you, but you understand that it’s a privilege to be in your position and you accept that.”

Tennant’s reluctance to inhabit the limelight may not stand in the way of him always being “on the hunt for interesting jobs”, but those assured performances on stage and screen hide the fact that the star is “driven as much by fear of failing and not living up to expectations as anything else when it comes to my work”.

“I’ve rarely given myself the luxury of feeling any strong sense of security when it comes to my work,” he reveals. “But I’m very happy with how things have gone and I hope it all continues. I’m very grateful for the roles I’ve been able to take on. I’m glad things are going well for me now, but never allow myself to become too pleased with myself – it’s not in my nature. I’m always worried that my good fortune might not last!”

You can catch David now in Don Juan in Soho at Charing Cross’ Wyndham’s Theatre.