The Interview: Jason Donovan

Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue). Credit Hugo Glendinning
Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue). Credit Hugo Glendinning
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He made his name in Neighbours and now Jason Donovan has been getting back to his roots in the stage adaptation of The King’s Speech, which will be in Manchester Opera House from March 30. LAURA WILD caught up with the former teen idol

It’s been a long time since Jason Donovan was melting teenage girls’ hearts when he played opposite Kylie Minogue in Neighbours as Scott Robinson.

I am very grateful to Neighbours, it has given me a great life

Jason Donovan

But he has never forgotten where he came from, or the life the show gave him.

It would have been remiss not to ask him about the programme, especially as it is now celebrating its 30th anniversary.

And even though he speaks fondly of the soap, he admits he has no connection to it in 2015. After all, life moves on.

But he does recognise the opportunities the show afforded him, and as he takes to the stage in the tour of The King’s Speech, he makes no bones about wanting to do more acting.

“It’s a long time ago. It is something I am very grateful for,” he says. “I am really grateful to be part of something people still hold very dear to their hearts – that doesn’t happen to some people in a life time.

“I am very lucky – it has given me a great life.

“But if you’re asking me if there is a connection in 2015, there isn’t.”

Of course after Neighbours he went in to music, and he has had lead roles in a number of West End Musicals over the years, including Chitty Chitty Bang Band, Sweeny Todd and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

And not forgetting he showed off his skills on Strictly Come Dancing in 2011, coming third. But now he’s ready to get his teeth into TV.

Before he gets there though he has a very important role in The King’s Speech, which comes to Manchester this month.

For the Australian is playing the speech therapist tasked with treating King George VI’s speech impediment.

The King’s Speech tells the iconic story of King George VI’s relationship with his speech therapist. As the world stands on the brink of war, King Edward VIII sparks controversy with his love for married socialite, Wallis Simpson. As Edward’s position become increasingly untenable, his brother Bertie, who has previously shied away from the public eye because of a chronic stammer, is thrust in to the spotlight as his likely successor. With the support of his wife Elizabeth (the much-loved future Queen Mother), Bertie meets maverick speech therapist and failed actor, Lionel Logue, at an office in Harley Street. Together they embark on an unlikely journey to prepare Bertie to lead his country as King George VI.

The play is the true and heart-warming story of one man’s struggle to overcome his personal affliction and, in his country’s darkest hour, deliver the now iconic speech broadcast across the globe to inspire his people. Jason plays opposite Raymond Coulthard who plays the King. He is taking on the role his fellow Australia Geoffrey Rush did for the film.

And being in a serious play rather than a musical is proving enjoyable for the 46-year-old.

He says: “It’s going well, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a very good show, it really has a lot to offer.

“I am cautiously optimistic that it is going well. It’s an opportunity for me to be seen in a different light.

“It doesn’t surprise me that this is maybe a career change,

“Acting has always been the base where I sprang from, I feel this is the start of getting back to my roots.

“Musicals happened to me by default really, I am happy I have had that opportunity, now I want to do other stuff.

“I am not missing doing eight shows a week and worrying about my voice.

“It’s more intense, I find the stress level of musicals a lot more demanding.

“The singing is very stressful for me, I don’t just wanted out on stage and sing - I don’t know many people who do.

“I enjoy musicals but this is a different opportunity.”

Featuring Colin Firth, The King’s Speech became the most successful independent British production ever at the UK box office, and went on to earn £250m worldwide as well as major Oscars for best picture, best actor and best director, so the show has a lot to live up.

And Jason explains the stage show isn’t a mirror image of what was in the film, so it has more to offer the audience. He says: “It’s more political, the film was a little less. The film was more about the friendship between the two.

“The play really deals with the politics, the abdication and the effect of that and Winston Churchill.

“The politics of the time builds up the drama and the fear - the stakes are a bit higher.” And he has plenty of praise for the strong cast he is working alongside.

“We have different roles to play, there’s some great actors, there’s some solid performances. The reviews have been favourable in that sense, there’s not a weak link in the whole show.

“I would agree with that. Roxanna [Silbert] the director cast it really well. It’s a great play on a number of levels. It’s not just about a stutter, it’s about friendship, fear, a lot of things.” Just like any actor with any role there is a certain sense of ‘getting into character’ and Jason says the Australia culture, the laid back, relaxed attitude, is something which is hugely important to the role.

He says: “I did read a book on him which was very interesting. With all these things fact and fiction tend to blend. A lot of it is absolutely accurate. You only place yourself in that position as you see it.

“I am not reliving that guy’s life to a tee. I am Australian, I understand about the culture.

“The thing about Lionel is, the king is very stiff and reserved and he is trying to open him up and be Australian and relaxed. The juxtaposition provides great drama.”

The show is touring all over the country and he hopes it will also make it to London. “

“It started in Chichester, it’s nice that we get to travel around. We have a week off then it’s 10 weeks on the road.

Being away from his family can understandably be hard but it sounds like there’s a routine to it after all these years of work. Aside from the show Jason also presents a show on a Heart Radio.

He says: “It’s not easy, but that’s what we do. It’s the life I live. We’ve got used to it. It is part and parcel, we just work with that. “I get home at the weekend. I keep myself busy. I do a radio show on a Sunday night which I do a lot of research for.”

So what’s next? “I would love to be able to do more straight TV in particular, this is a play, it’s a good showcase for that sort of stuff – whether that is forthcoming or not we will see.

“I would like to try and work on TV stuff, like drama. A nice meaty part on House of Cards – that sort of stuff. I am aiming high, let’s see.”

The King’s Speech runs at the Opera House from March 30 to April 4.