James Nesbitt returns to the stage for the first time in 14 years for the Chichester Festival Theatre summer season opener, Tim Firth’s musical This Is My Family.
“14 years… it is just the way it has worked out,” says James, known to millions for screen appearances including Cold Feet and The Missing.
“I went to the Central School of Drama and I did a lot of theatre when I first started and then television took over.
“I have done a lot of long-running TV series. It was a question of fitting it in. I have been filming so much and I have never been able to commit to the duration of a play.
“But then about three or four years ago my agent said that (current CFT artistic director) Daniel Evans (who is directing the show) had got in touch about this. I read it and I loved it and I met Daniel and I met Tim Firth, but I was just filming. I didn’t get the opportunity and then I thought the opportunity had gone away.
“But then about six months to a year ago, they came back. They had held on for me for quite a while, and I just thought that I have got to do this.
“It was a great opportunity to work with Daniel. I had heard so many good things about him, and in fact, I had worked with him as an actor in The Passion which was about ten years ago.
“I just felt that it was too easy to become… well, not complacent because I am someone that works very hard.
“But I just thought that I wanted to do something different, to explore why I went into acting in the first place, to explore my theatre roots and to be able to challenge myself. And so far it is seeming to be the right decision!”
And it is also a reminder that TV acting and stage acting aren’t remotely the same thing.
“It has been lovely to have six weeks to pick apart the part and really investigate it, but there are lots of things to learn.
“But it is great to have the discipline of the rehearsal room. I would not say that film is not so focused, but it is the idea of having to retain it longer in the theatre.
“You film a scene and that’s that, but with this I will be exploring it for six weeks and then playing it for seven weeks.”
The piece tells of a spirited 13-year-old who has entered a magazine competition to describe your family. The prize is a dream holiday for the lot of them, anywhere in the world.
Except… Nicky’s family isn’t the blissfully-happy bunch she’s described. More like the contestants in a gladiatorial arena, in fact. Where on earth can she take them that might make her wishful thinking a reality?
“I loved the play. It is very accessible. That’s the thing about Tim Firth. He is very sophisticated and intelligent, but he is also very accessible. It’s about a family that people will recognise. It is exquisitely funny, but it is also painfully truthful at times. It is about how families can start to operate down different tramlines without interweaving… and I think the songs are really wonderful. Tim has that great ability to go from speech into song so well.
“I have always sung a lot. I used to sing at festivals when I was a kid.
“My first job out of drama school was a musical, but I haven’t done a musical for years. I have done musicals, but not for a very long time. It is just a question of getting your voice back to strength, by just training and doing it really.”
The show is in the Minerva Theatre from April 20-June 15.