Lenny: 'I'm terrified of Shakespeare role'

Henry's fears about playing Othello

Lenny Henry has admitted he is ‘terrified’ of appearing in his first Shakesperean play next month.

The comic will make his debut as a serious stage actor when he takes on the role of Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds from February 14.

But the 50-year-old says the experience is so far removed from stand-up and TV work that he’s petrified by the process – but insists it’s something he just had to go.

Henry took a break from rehearsing the play with the Northern Broadsides company, which was set up by Barrie Rutter and performs Shakespeare in a northern accent, for an interview with the Yorkshire Post

He told then: ‘Okay I’ve been on stage before, but I’ve never done this. I’m just a little kid at the minute and Barrie and the rest of the crew are taking me by the hand and showing me the way.’

‘This is my first time doing this. I’m terrified. Have you seen that brilliant bit at the end of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid where they’re standing above a huge drop into a river and Sundance says to Butch that he can’t jump ’cos he can’t swim and Butch says, “The fall’ll probably kill ya”? Well that’s how I feel. The fall might kill me, but I’m definitely gonna jump.’

He also says that he is not deterred by any potential criticism about him taking such a weighty role. ‘Why should I not do it just because someone is being snooty about it?’ he said. ‘Barrie believes in me, so why do I need to listen to someone being snooty?’

He said he hoped to follow in the footsteps of Robbie Coltrane, Hugh Laurie, Steve Martin and Billy Connolly, who have all become successful dramatic actors after comedy

He added: ‘I love TV shows like The Wire. I loved Hill Street Blues, The Sopranos. They’re all great shows because the actors in them have done lots of stage. Basically, anyone good has done lots of theatre.

‘If you’ve only ever done telly, then you can only ever give a telly performance. Stage gives you something that you can only get from having actually done work on stage.’

Published: 26 Jan 2009

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