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Adrian Lester

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Adrian Lester is well known for his work as Michael 'Mickey Bricks' Stone in the BBC drama Hustle, but since leaving the show he has strapped on his theatrical tights and helped Kenneth Branagh as he attempts for the fifth time to translate the great bard onto the big screen with an adaptation of As You Like It.

DS chatted to Lester about what it was like working with Branagh, whether he might return to Hustle, and found out what it was like to star alongside Brian Blessed on the big screen.

How faithful is this latest version of As You Like It to the Shakespeare original
"We stay very faithful to the play, so we don't change the story. It's still the same, it's set in Japan, all of those themes for people who know the play. All the themes of brotherly hate, that drive the story forward and force the girls into the forest and force Orlando to run and all of that stuff that happens and is still very much there. But we try to give it a lightness of touch, while we don't lose sight of the fact that you do need a bit of drama and dirt and darkness and depth to make the comedy and fun work."

How do you think the capabilities of cinema affect the presentation of the play?
"There are some things that you see in the film that you don't get to see on stage, that you don't get to see in the play because you can just spend screen time looking at it. Some of the bits where Oliver is regretting his hatred of his brother and the fact that he tried to kill him can be seen in this version, where as before, in the play, you get a bit at the beginning and you get a bit near the end when someone comes in and says your brother is this and that and the other and he's had a big change. Whereas in the film, you can actually see it run alongside the main plot, you can see the development of the character and what's happening to them because you have the visual element to tell that."

You're obviously well known for your work on the TV show Hustle. Which do you prefer - the theatre, films or TV?
"They are all different kinds of the same thing really, two sides of the same coin. I don't prefer one over the other, I think the stage has greater strengths over the cinema or over television, and TV and cinema have great strengths over the stage. I think your big theatres, your big theatrical houses, that the only way they can beat cinema now is if they go for something that really relies on a theatrical feel. So people talking directly to the audience, people feeling like they are right there at the moment of the drama, all that stuff actually makes you feel like you are actually at the theatre and not cut off from that box because believe me, you can do it a lot better on screen - if you want to do a story in the box and remain distanced from it just go to the cinema. You've got to go to the theatre for a different experience and I think the directors that know that and remember that are the most successful now."

How was it working under Kenneth Branagh?
"It was good, we worked together before on Love Labours Lost and he's a great person to work for and he's nothing if not bold on his takes on films and Shakespeare and bringing it to the screen. This is his fifth one now and in every single one he's done something outstanding really, I think. He hasn't just gone for a very, very safe journey through the play, and with As You Like It you can set it in a forest but you can make sure you're not too far away from your ale and steak and kidney pie and eels and a very English sort of take on a very English playwright. But no, he's gone somewhere different and he's set it at a time which was dangerous and he had removed it from many of the things we know and take for granted and given you this version of the film."

What keeps attracting you back to work on Shakespeare?
"I like to work on all sorts of things. Yeah we should spend lots of time talking about how many bullet-stopping moments there are in a film and how much the explosions cost, great, but we should also spend time showing people the brilliant things people can do. We should make Ghandi, we should make a film about Martin Luther King, we should do all of these things to actually show that there’s another side of human nature to explore, that is to do with being in love, or having empathy, or understanding more than we feel we should, and sticking to our convictions. And I think that side of it, the heightened poetry, the living life now because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next ten seconds, that element of life is shown in As You Like It and I like being involved in that kind of work as well. Being involved in the kind of work which shows the other side of human nature."

Do you think it's more difficult to produce something new and exciting that people want to see when it comes Shakespeare, because people will generally already have their opinions about it?
"I think this is definitely something new. First it's Shakespeare that people want to see and want to understand. They want to know what the buzz is about with this guy, so there’s this thing, where, ‘I'm going to go and see this because I want to see what all the fuss is about with this Shakespeare bloke’. And the other thing is that nowadays, if you make films where people spend a lot of time talking to each other, that's different enough really."

The legend that is Brian Blessed stars in the film. How was it working alongside him?
"Yes, he's quite...he's known for being an outrageous character and there is a side of himself that he plays up, but if you watch his performances in Z Cars or you watch some of the more quieter moments that he's got... He's got an awful lot of power there, and Ken said, 'I want the other Brian Blessed. The Brian Blessed that comes to Shakespeare with that laser-like precision and the guy who is really disconcerting when he looks you in the eye and starts speaking to you'.And Brian went ‘Ok rightio’, and he went and did that. And the kind of Duke that you get is that bloke who stands in front of you and you're like, ‘God! What’s going to happen now’, and that's what you get from him.

"And plus you get Alfred Molina being as theatrical and outrageous as he possibly can with Janet McTeer. Kevin Kline is doing Jaques with a real sense of sadness about everything he does and Bryce Dallas Howard is, she's kind of, she's just beautiful really. I'm looking at the poster as I'm saying this and her green eyes are staring at me. I mean not at me, I'm not mad, I'm not her stalker, but on screen and acting with her, she has this lust for life. Like paper-thin skin, underneath which there is this light on. Do you know what I mean? She was one of the best actresses I think that could play the kind of joy and living essence that this film needs for its heroine.

Your character ends up with Romola Garai in the film, how was she to work with?
"She was great to work with. If you get actors who come together to do a bit of acting, that's one thing, if you get actors coming together to do a bit of acting and the language is Shakespeare, I think that's another skill all to itself. Just as it is if you want an actor to come and tap dance - I think it should be regarded like that. Nowadays we are just so used to playing attitudes, you have an attitude on a line and an attitude on look but the attitude only lasts one line or two lines, so that’s all you have in many films, one or two lines of dialogue and that's it. That's all you need to say what's needed to be said. Therefore if you ask an actor to carry 18 lines or 20 lines, they need more than an attitude to carry it. They can't just rely on being happy and beautiful, and all the actors involved in this had that about them. Romola was great to work with, you're working with Ken, so you're not going to muck. Because you know it's a hard thing to do and you have Mr Shakespeare directing you - you don't f*** about really!"

There are rumours going around that you may be returning to Hustle, are these true?
"We were talking about that quite recently, me and the blokes at Kudos, the peeps. Their ideas for Hustle are in discussion, so the Hustle back as it was, I certainly feel it just got a little bit too ‘light’ and I certainly feel at that point I thought I had to take a side-step because I needed to do something else, be associated with something else. But I think that, that is now being mooted, by all concerned, so we shall see."

And what else have you got coming up in the pipeline? Any more films?
"There's a film called Starting Out In The Evening, which comes out later on this month – an American, low budget, independent film, set in New York with Frank Langella, Lili Taylor and Lauren Ambrose and then after that it is Case 39 set in Ireland next year, which is a psychological horror film with Ian McShane and Renee Zellweger. And then later on after that, there’s a thing called Doomsday which is a sort of fantasy action horror and that's got John Pertwee, with various other Brits all over that, Bob Hoskins and others, and that's set in the future in Britain and that's directed by Neil Marshall."

As You Like It is in cinemas nationwide from this Friday

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