Oliviers host Michael Ball says theatre ahead of film world on diversity
Michael Ball has hailed the theatre world for leading the way over the film industry on the issue of diversity.
The award-winning musical theatre star was speaking ahead of the Olivier Awards, the UK's most prestigious stage honours, which he is hosting on Sunday.
Theatre is in "rude health" at the moment, the 53-year-old said.
"There's a lot of new writing and it's wonderful that we're so much more diverse," he told the Press Association.
"There was a big hoo-ha at the Oscars about diversity, well there's no such problem in the theatre. I think we're doing all right."
Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton leads the way at this year's Olivier Awards with eight nominations overall, the most of any individual show.
Oscar-winner Mark Rylance is nominated for Farinelli And The King and leads a best actor field that includes Benedict Cumberbatch for Hamlet and Kenneth Branagh in The Winter's Tale.
The star-studded ceremony celebrates its 40th anniversary as the world prepares to mark 400 years since Shakespeare's death.
It is being held at London's Royal Opera House and broadcast on ITV.
"There are some categories I can pretty much call," Ball said. "There are others where it's wide open and I won't know until the same time as everybody else."
He added: "Best musical, best comedy, and best actor is really open this year. It will be interesting to see if Mark Rylance can do the double - the Oscar and the Olivier."
Worcestershire-born Ball's illustrious career in the West End and on Broadway in New York has spanned more than three decades.
He took home an Olivier for best actor in a musical in 2008 and 2013 for Hairspray and Sweeney Todd, respectively.
"It's such a lovely feeling," he said of his wins. "It's a pat on your back and a hug from your peers and from the people who go to see the shows.
"I really appreciated it, especially for the two I won it for because they were such fabulous shows to be a part of. It was the icing on the cake, I was just thrilled."
When asked if a theatre background is advantageous for actors, Ball is unequivocal on the subject.
"It's the greatest training that you can get," he said.
"In television in America especially, and in film too, so many British actors are getting opportunities over there."
He continued: "Actors that started off in British theatre. That live performance, that immediacy of understanding what an audience is feeling, how they're responding to what you're doing.
Ball praised the foundation common in many of today's acclaimed British stars as "a fine tradition".
"Drama schools are doing a great job providing a good grounding for people entering into the business," he said.
"It's interesting that when people have huge commercial success in movies and in television, they all want to come back and do a theatre production when they can because nothing will give you the excitement that the theatre does."
:: The Olivier Awards will be broadcast at 10.15pm on ITV.