He may have explored deep space via "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," but for the past several years, actor Simon Jones has limited his terrain to a mile radius in Manhattan. Of course, that turf encompasses Broadway and Off-Broadway, where Jones has found a home playing upper crusty fussbudgets (Private Lives, The Real Thing) to avuncular friends (Waiting in the Wings) to slightly ominous and judgmental figures (The Herbal Bed). Nearly as ubiquitous these days on New York City stages as co-countryman Brian Murray, Jones is currently on view in Passion Play, playing a fuddy-duddy hubby who, embarking on an affair, finds himself coming alive in his heart while coming apart in his marriage. The revival of Peter Nichols' 1983 comedy-drama received positive reviews and may prove popular with audiences — if the subject matter doesn't hit too close to home and scare them off.
PBOL: It's not exactly an ideal "date play." Any horror stories?
Simon Jones: We did have one smash up. It was at a Friday preview, and my son's math teacher was sitting behind this couple. The man mentioned that he, too, had been a little unfaithful. This was not a good idea. They had a terrible row in the foyer and never returned in the second half. So life can imitate art can imitate life, etc. I expect there are lots of folks sitting in the audience thinking either, "Been there, done that" or "There but for the grace of God." It isn't like, say, Moon for the Misbegotten, where you have an experience but it's pretty vicarious. You don't feel you've been there. On Passion Play, all the actors decided whether to let their spouses read the play. My wife, Nancy, and I know the play quite well, so it wasn't a real issue with us.
PBOL: A lot of New York performers pine for the British actor's life, since the layout of London allows them to move easily from TV to film to theatre and back again, whereas here you have pick one (i.e., NYC vs. L.A.) to make a living. Why did you opt for a New York theatre career?
SJ: Had I stayed in the UK, especially after "Hitchhiker" and "Brideshead Revisited," I could have done all three media: theatre in the evening and do a movie in the day. You don't have to commit to one medium. But I married an American lady who managed the Monty Python troupe. We met on their last movie, "The Meaning of Life." She was doing publicity; I played a few odd characters in it. So I came over here. And I assumed, "Well, it's going to be all butlers or lords from now on. To my amazement and delight, I realized we do a lot of stuff I can do here. I proceeded to stay here because I kept working. I'm better known here than I am back in England now.
PBOL: So why New York theatre instead of Hollywood film?
SJ: Here was a choice between New York and L.A. Is there a choice? I mean, I've done movies and TV. It's not that I'm so totally dedicated to the theatre; I'd love to do three movies a year and nothing else, but it doesn't happen that way. I need to keep working, and this is the way I do it. Otherwise it's sitting around waiting for the phone to ring by the pool. I couldn't make a living that way. Besides, New York's halfway between L.A. and London anyway.
PBOL: Was acting always in the cards for you?
SJ: Certainly not from my first experience onstage. I did the Nativity Play at school. I was the Third King — and Christine Prosser locked me in the bathroom. Fortunately, a teacher was passing by. Only my cries managed to get me released in time to get on?¿