Downton Abbey star would love to play home-city Chichester stage

Ed Speleers (Charlie) and Mathew Horne (Raymond) CREDIT Robert Day
Ed Speleers (Charlie) and Mathew Horne (Raymond) CREDIT Robert Day

Chichester-born Eragon and Downton Abbey star Ed Speleers is making his stage debut in a new touring theatre version of Rain Man.

Based on the Oscar-winning film, which starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, it plays Brighton Theatre Royal (0844 871 7650) from October 15-20 and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (01483 440000) from October 22-27.

“Theatre was something that I had wanted to do, but it was never really on the path that I was on to do a play,” Ed says. “But it was always a question of finding the right role and also being able to commit to being away from the family for a long time.”

And then along came Rain Man which provided exactly the right role: “It is the journey that Charlie goes on that is so interesting.”

When self-centred salesman Charlie Babbitt discovers that his long-lost brother Raymond, an autistic savant with a genius for numbers, has inherited the family fortune; he sets out to get ‘his half’.

Charlie ‘borrows’ Raymond from the institution where he has spent most of his life, and the two brothers embark on a trip across America where Charlie soon discovers that Raymond is worth more than he could have ever imagined...

“The role was a chance to understand what makes someone like Charlie so deeply unhappy and such a volatile character. It is about trying to understand what makes someone tick, which I find really interesting. He is very unappealing. Somebody wrote that I was particularly unappealing in the first act, and I was thinking ‘Well, that’s good then!’

“Charlie comes from this affluent background, but he is so unhappy… A lot comes down to the way his father treated him, stonewall unemotional, no sensitivity. He felt very isolated very young, and there is a particular incident that is revealed that really broke the camel’s back. He felt completely unloved... and this is a play about love and tolerance. Once you get through the first part where you are in Charlie’s world, it is Raymond that changes him.

“I am having a great time. Touring has its own tricky elements. Every theatre turns up a new type of audience, but you get to go on that journey with the audience. They respond to what you are doing, and you feed off them, and it is amazing just how emotional that can be. And it gives you confidence in what you are doing.”

The piece tours until the end of November: “And there are elements that are changing. I like to be able to play a little and throw things up in the air... which is fine as long as you keep coming back to the truth. There are elements that will change and elements that will come back. There should be flexibility in what you are doing. It just can’t be the same every time.”

Ed was born in Chichester and admits that a dream would be to play at Chichester Festival Theatre: “We used to go there a lot when I was at Dorset House or with my mum quite a lot.

“My dad had a pub in Chichester. He had the Nag’s Head. That was late 80s, early 90s. He had a couple of other pubs as well. My dad was a publican.”

Ed went to school in Arundel and also at Bury. He lives in Bristol now and is dad to a three-year-old and a three-month-old. He no longer has the family connections to Chichester.

“But I would like to do more theatre now, probably once a year, and I would love to perform at the Festival Theatre or in the Minerva.”

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