Ogilvy has been living and working in the United States for many years, but is at last back in the West End, starring in Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue. Theatrenow went to meet him.
Welcome back to the stage! How long have you been away? "I haven't been on a British stage for about 14 years. I've been working in the States, mainly in television, though I've also acted in the theatre over there — including in Sleuth. I've been in five plays during that period."
Did you ever meet Anthony Shaffer? "Yes, but a long time ago. It was connected to Sleuth, actually — it's a play I've a long association with! I was in it in Hong Kong, of all places, playing the younger role — Milo — whereas now I'm playing Andrew, the older one.
"It was in the mid 1970's, nearly 30 years ago, and Sleuth was being performed as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, in rep with a production of Shaw's Arms and the Man. Nigel Stock, a very good actor, now sadly dead, was playing Andrew. Anthony Shaffer was passing through Hong Kong, came to see it, and took us out — with his wife — to dinner. He didn't talk about the play at all, and when we eventually couldn't stand it any longer, Nigel asked him what he thought of our production. He just said, 'Pretty awful,' then changed the subject!"
You're in a very different production of it now . . . "Yes, it's been modernized, made more minimalist as it were — certainly in terms of the set, which is very chic and modern. As a play, I think it holds up very well, and we get a great audience reaction each night." Once you've finished the run of Sleuth, do you have any other stage roles lined up? "Not at the moment, but my agent's looking! I'd love to play more stage roles back in England."
When you were starting as an actor, were there any theatre stars who you saw as role models? "There were a lot of great actors around, whom I enjoyed seeing on stage: Gielgud, Olivier, Paul Scofield, Robert Stephens. Peter O'Toole's Hamlet was stunning . . . but not role models as such, no."
Do you prefer modern roles or would you like to try the classics? "I'm not really a classicist, and certainly never had any great Shakespearean ambitions. I'm what my friend Simon Williams calls a cuff-shooter — what they used to call a boulevardier. Someone who prefers more modern plays, though by that I include late nineteenth-century and all of the twentieth century.
"While I'm in Sleuth, I'm staying in a street in Chelsea where Oscar Wilde used to live — I pass his blue plaque every day. I've enjoyed acting in Wilde's plays — I was in The Importance of Being Earnest at Chichester and was in a television version of Lady Windemere's Fan. He was a wonderful writer, very witty, and the British are very good at that sort of period drama."
How do you find American theatre differs from the British? "I think that they developed a theatre tradition at a very different time, and much more recently, than we did, so it has a different dynamic. They didn't really have all that much of an American theatre tradition, in terms of great writing, until the twentieth century, and given the background and problems of that century, their greatest playwrights — Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neil, for example — tend not exactly to be a laugh a minute. Whereas our greatest playwrights — like Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward — are really very funny.
"That's not to say Americans don't have a sense of humor. They do, and they write much funnier sitcoms than us, but their humor tends to find its outlet more on television than in the theatre. There are, of course, American playwrights who are funny, but it's more a part of the tradition and background of British theatre, in my experience."
Did you find it hard to get work in America, given the Equity restrictions on foreign performers? "No . . . I was spotted because American television series pilots were often filmed in Europe, so I got a lot of work over that, and when I decided to try to work there, it wasn't too hard. Fortunately, I'm now an American citizen, as well as a British one, so there's no problem with green cards or whatever. I enjoy both cultures very much, so I get the best of both worlds!"
Ian Ogilvy is starring in Sleuth, which runs at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, until Feb. 8.