Q&A: we catch up with experienced actor Shaun Williamson
Ahead of his return to the Grand Opera House, the prolific actor recalls his death in EastEnders, working with Ricky Gervais and his family down in Co Fermanagh.
You're returning to Belfast next week to star in Anything Goes at the Grand Opera House. What's your role in the show?
I play yet another hapless gangster. I've played a series of them. I was in Guys and Dolls as Mason and then Ladykillers as Louis and then Charlie Clench in One Man, Two Guvnors. This time, I'm Moonface Martin, who's apparently public enemy number 13, so he's not up to much. During the course of the show, he's overtaken by tooth decay, so he gets knocked down to 14.
You've appeared at the Opera House several times now. Is it a nice venue to visit?
It's lovely, it really is. It's a bit special. Sometimes you appear in these modern, state-of-the-art venues that are geared up for music events, but it's great to go to somewhere like the Opera House, which is a proper, old theatre.
You're a prolific actor, both on stage and on screen. How do you decide what projects to sign up to?
If it isn't getting my kit off, I'll pretty much do it. No, seriously, it's always the script, followed by the director, really. In Anything Goes, the director is Daniel Evans, who's pretty hot stuff. He's got American Buffalo on in the West End at the moment, with Damian Lewis and John Goodman. It's great to work with these people.
Ricky Gervais cast you as a comical version of yourself in Extras and Life's Too Short. Were you happy sending yourself up?
Yeah, I was. I'd never met Ricky, but I loved The Office and I realised that after something like EastEnders, you have to try to keep the ball in the air. You have to have something to go on to, otherwise people dismiss you as a one-trick pony. He said, 'Come and meet me and Stephen (Merchant),' and he warned me, 'It's all a big p***-take.' I went along, and he said, 'We've got Kate Winslet as a foul-mouthed nun and Ben Stiller as a real narcissist,' and I thought, if these people are going to send themselves up, it's the least I can do, really.
Speaking of EastEnders, your character Barry was memorably killed off in 2004, but would you return to the show if they found a way to bring you back?
I think that'd be pushing it. I'd go to another soap. I could stagger into Take the High Road as Barry, couldn't I? Because he got 'killed' in Scotland. Maybe he got lost and has amnesia...
And finally, will you be seeing any of your Northern Irish family members when you're over next week?
I haven't seen much of them lately, to be honest. My dad's an Enniskillen man, and his whole family moved over en masse in the 50s. It was a huge family - 11 kids, and mum and dad. We used to pop back every 18 months or two years and meet distant family and have a knees-up. They're a smashing crowd. If any of them want to present themselves at the stage door and come and see the show and go for a Guinness afterwards, I'd be well up for it, no problem at all.
- Anything Goes is at the Grand Opera House in Belfast from May 26 to 30. For details, visit www.goh.co.uk