UK/London Underground Metro; January 25, 2005
Transcribed by Naomi
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The real star of US teen smash Dawson’s Creek tells BEN SLOAN why he’s ready to tread the boards in the West End
If you were a young, photogenic North American actor, the place to be in 2002 was the West End. Kenneth Lonergan’s slacker master class This is Our Youth saw Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Summer Phoenic and Hayden Christensen in its various casts, like a live equivalent of those ‘young Hollywood’ Vanity Fair covers.
‘I really wanted to do This Is Our Youth,’ says 26-year-old Joshua Jackson, slightly bearded and under cover of a baseball cap after rehearsal. ‘The ladies [producers Clare Lawrence and Anne Waterhouse] offered it to me twice. But because of the Dawson’s Creek schedule I always had to go shorten my rehearsal period, and I was too nervous about being on the West End to do that.’
I’m glad he mentioned Dawson’s Creek; I can ask about it now. For six years Jackson appeared in the Sunday morning student favourite playing Pacey Witter- the guy who stole the show (and the girl) from the title character. Without it, he might not be on the cusp of his West End debut, having last trod the boards in a school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Will he ever escape Pacey’s shadow?
‘That’s what I’m in the process of trying to do. That’s a pop culture show, so the memory will date pretty quickly. It will turn into the Beverly Hills 90210 for my generation. The next show’s already out there- The O.C. So we’ve been replaced. People fall by the wayside and when they do that they usually deserve to. If that’s as good as I get, then so be it. It will suck for me, but there are plenty of mediocre actors out there. I just don’t want to be one of them.’
And his efforts have led him, via films and a directorial stint on Dawson’s Creek, to David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre. A witty, two-hander, it’s the episodic portrait of two actors; one young and on the up; the other, played by Patrick Stewart, watching as his career peters out.
Interspersed with the backstage scenes are glimpses of their various plays- little nuggets of a shipwreck drama, a war piece, a medical play and others, which should provide pleasant relief from the truncated verbal sparring for which Mamet is equally loved and loathed.
‘There’s all kinds of fun to be had,’ says Jackson. ‘You’re not just two guys talking- you’re this guy as a soldier then as a doctor, then as a British knight. I think it’s Mamet making fun of other writers, because there’s a lot of poorly written plays within the play.’
A Life in the Thatre is directed by Lindsey Posner, the man behind last year’s Mamet adaptation Oleanna. And Oleanna did my head in. If I never hear the phrase ‘Do you see?’ it will be too soon. So how is he coping with…
‘…the dialogue?’ he interjects. He’s thought this through, ‘I have the advantage of being a North American English speaker so I just need to dovetail my natural speech patterns into a very particular manner. There’s no grace in the language, you can’t mess with it. Lindsay said it today, “What makes Mamet brilliant is the way he says so much with so little”.
So will this be treated differently to Oleanna? I ask hopefully. ‘It’s much more alive. In 26 scenes we have 19 changes; we’re upstage, downstage; we have the real audience, a fake audience. It’s a gymnastics trick.’
And is he learning from the veteran actor? ‘To have a guy with Patrick’s experience, sharing that and allowing me the learning I need is fantastic. We both recognize these characters- actors can be completely ridiculous creatures. So it’s the most fun I’ve had in years; just me, Patrick and Lindsay sitting around swapping stories. Just don’t tell the producers that.’