Hypocrite. Bigot. Not the image most people have of Ballykissangel's STEPHEN TOMPKINSON. So, now he's taking to the stage in Moliére's Tartuffe, is it a case of 'no more Mr Nice Guy'? Nah.
Words: Brian Donaldson
STEPHEN TOMPKINSON IS intent on becoming a man you will be seeing no matter where you turn. Television has been the favoured launch-pad to imminent superstardom for this tall. 32-year-old Teesider — notably the award-strewn Drop The Dead Donkey and Ball_\'kis.s'angel. in which he stars with his real life fiancee Dervla Kirwan. However. his performance alongside Ewan McGregor in Brassed Off proved that there was much more meat to him than prankster journo Damien Day and kindly Father Peter.
Coming soon are two new lTV productions. Oktober sees him as a Swiss- based English teacher ﬂeeing from a multi- national pharmaceutical company keen to turn him into a walking weapon of war and destruction. Grafters. on the other hand. has him as a dysfunctional painter and decorator opposite his equally unstable brother. played by Robson Green.
‘I've known him on and off for about ten years. when we were always going up for
20 THE U31 2—16 Apr 1998
Moliere than thou: Stephen Tompkinson in Tartuffe
parts together — it’s currently 2-] to him.’ reminisces Tompkinson, though his defeat for the role of Jimmy in Casualty still gained him a minor ifjuicy part. ‘It’s always the way in Casualtvf he says. ‘You‘re driving along with your best mate and saying. “Would you be godfather to the unborn child of my heavily pregnant wife?” “Yeah. course I would — oh. look out for that acid leak.“ And I get half my face burnt off. Marvellous. I spent three hours in make-up getting all this burns stuff on me. I’m in a ditch in February while it was snowing. picked up by a bunch of firemen. stripped to the waist. being hosed down by cold water because hot water was too steamy for the camera. and the director came up and said
’I entertained thoughts of the priesthood when l was about nine or ten. Then between the ages of eleven and sixteen, you discover cricket, girls and Guinness m- not neccessarily in that order.’ Stephen Tompkinson
“You will remember to scream. won‘t you?“ No acting required.’
With the much-trumpeted success of Brassecl Oﬂ behind him. the film offers which previously leaked in his direction are positively ﬂooding in.
‘I was asked to go to Hollywood and meet the casting directors. but I‘m not packing my bags to go over there and start again. because things are going so well for me over here.’ admits Tompkinson. ‘I'm a bit disullusioned with all these huge blockbusters and the $20 million club. Once you hire one of those fellas. you have to justify it by getting the special effects boys from Industrial Light and Magic. I think audiences are turning to the independent sector to get stories told and. thanks to films like Brassed ()ﬂ‘. Secrets And Lies and The Full Monty. this is a good place to be.’
And stories. of course. get told in the theatre. Tompkinson has been travelling the country in Christopher Hampton’s translation of Moliere’s Tartuffe. a man described within the first few pages as a ‘rascal’. ‘bigot'. and ‘carping hypocrite’.
‘It’s because I’m so unlike that. that I thought, “Oh. that’ll be a challenge”,’ he mock-theatricalises. ‘No. I‘d read the play a couple of times at drama school and I’ve seen different versions of it — one in rhyming couplets, which I found a bit heavy going — but this translation has a great sense of period yet is incredibly accessible for a modern audience.
“It’s two hours long. and I get the ﬁrst half hour off and everyone talks about me. I get a free painting and the title is my character. Some of the language is beautiful in that first scene with Isla [Blair] — “the indescribable tenderness of your divine expression“ — not something you say everyday. But I might consider it in the future.’ And he gets to wear a big brown cassock. ‘It may look like hessian. but it is actually raw silk, you know.‘
Garbs of a similarly ecclessiastical feel could well have replaced the cloak of characterisation which destiny has deemed he wear. ‘I entertained thoughts of the priesthood when I was about nine or ten.’ recalls Tompkinson. ‘But my dad took me to one side and told me to wait. Then between the ages of eleven and sixteen. you discover cricket, girls and Guinness — not neccessarily in that order. Hats off to those who can do it and shame on those who abuse it like Tartuffe. The play still works now. with stories in the tabloids every week of people who abuse that position. Tartuffe is a con man under the guise of religious instruction.”
Stephen Tompkinson: the clergy’s loss. our gain.
Tartuffe is at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. from Tuesday 14—Saturday 18 April. See Theatre listings, page 63. for details.