We speak to Cormoran Strike actor Tom Burke
PUBLISHED: 13:13 16 November 2018
Actor Tom Burke talks to JUDI SPIERS about his production of Don Carlos staged by his own theatre company Ara, in association with Exeter's Northcott Theatre
“Would you chair a panel to discuss Schiller’s Don Carlos, starring Tom Burke?” I was asked.
Would that be the same Tom Burke who as Dolokhov had his wicked way with a maid on the kitchen table in War and Peace?
The Tom Burke who brooded magnificently as Athos in The Musketeers?
The same Tom Burke who breathed life into J.K. Rowling’s rugged, one-legged private investigator Cormoran Strike for the three-part BBC Series?
It took me all of five seconds to answer.
I gulped a bit when I realised the other panellists included Gadi Roll, the Israeli director, and Exeter University’s Professor Gert Vonhoff, a leading authority on Schiller, but for Tom Burke…I’d do it!
As he walked across the lawn at the university to meet me I was struck by how tall, slim and elegant Tom is, and much younger than Strike, the last production I had seen him in.
Now, I have been around long enough to realise that when you meet Tom Hanks he is not going to be Forrest Gump and that Sigourney Weaver will in no way resemble Alien’s Ripley. Although to be honest when Jack Nicholson rounded the corridor of the Dorchester Hotel to meet me it could have been a scene straight out of The Shining and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had shouted “Here’s Johnny!”
But nevertheless I was hoping for a ‘bit’ of Strike. There were flashes of him. The cocking of the head, looking out from under those eyes and the feeling that he might just be toying with you. But after all Tom Burke was in Exeter to promote Don Carlos, described as “A magnificent tale of passion and power set against the chilling backdrop of bloody and ruthless Spanish Inquisition.”
In it he plays Rodrigo Marquis of Posa, Don Carlos’s closest friend, a champion of the oppressed. A man who as Tom says has “a megalomaniacal element to his character”.
I found Tom to be very thoughtful, serious, verging on intense. He speaks a lot about inclusivity in the theatre but is all too aware that this passion he has might come across as being, as he described it, “Messianic.”
As if reading my mind he says: “I think I overthink things”.
Ironically that gave me the opportunity to use the only Schiller quote I know: “He who reflects too much accomplishes little!”
Apparently Tom’s late godfather, Alan Rickman, was always talking about him having an ‘iron gear stick’. “To know when to change, when to move forwards,” he admits. “I am only just starting to feel like I have one.” I began to be concerned that I wasn’t going to get much more in the way of amusing or personal anecdotes when he mentioned that appearing on the likes of the Graham Norton Show made him very nervous.
“The pressure isn’t only to tell a funny story but the person next to you telling their funny story and you having to look fascinated! The hangover to it can last up to a week.”
“In an ideal world” he adds “nobody would talk about their work or themselves!”
I needn’t have worried. Like a true pro the iron gear stick shifted as soon as we had an audience that evening.
He told of how he named his theatre company Ara in honour of his late grandmother. Apparently, a beauty in her youth often compared to Garbo, MGM offered her a career in Hollywood but her parents wouldn’t allow it.
Warming to the subject he went on to tell how in latter years when she was in a care home with her husband, and the warden was quizzing him about his career as a novelist and biographer, she became bored. On turning to her and asking what she had done she replied: “I ran a bordello in Torquay!”
But the real insight into Tom’s character, for me, came afterwards in the bar with a group of ladies who call themselves Tom Burke’s Burketeers. No silly, wide-eyed girlies, but dedicated theatregoers who know their stuff and just happen to love Tom Burke too!
He got a drink, sat right down and fell into easy chat discussing everything from an early production of Romeo and Juliet to Schiller.
When Tom says “It means a lot to me that my work has found an audience and that people take something from it.” I know he means it.
He parted happily dispensing hugs and kisses – though I had to make do with a handshake!
Ten things you might not know about Tom Burke
- His father is David Burke, who played Dr Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes.
- His mother is the actress Anna Calder-Marshall, who played Cordelia to Olivier’s Lear.
- His grandfather, the novelist and biographer Arthur Calder-Marshall, wrote scripts for MGM.
- As a youngster he performed Victoria Wood sketches with his parents and neighbour Jan Francis in the village hall.
- At school he struggled with dyslexia.
- Before going to RADA he enrolled in the Margaret Howell School of Dance.
- A keen artist, he once took an art course in Lyme Regis in preparation for a part as an obsessive doodler.
- His dream role is Tintin’s Captain Haddock.
- He loves the American TV series Goliath.
- He describes blank verse as being “like having a box of chocolates after living on a diet of rice and water.”
Don Carlos was performed at Exeter Northcott Theatre in October 2018.