An exceedingly good Cake
Deborah Ross talks to Jonathan Cake
"Thank-you," he says. "But I don't think so." You don't think so? "I was very chubby as a little boy. My two brothers used to get me on the floor, grab the fat round my tummy, and shout `FLAB!' That sort of thing never goes away." You were traumatised, then? "Oh no. I don't despise the way I look. It's just not a particular source of joy." Actually, I say, now I think about it, you're not so great. Probably, you should take what you can get which reminds me, it's Valentine's Day tomorrow and, strangely enough, I seem to be free in the evening. "Me, too!," cries Nicola, the photographer, who may be quite a bit blonder and thinner than me. Nicola, don't you have another job you need to rush to NOW. "No. Why?" Jonathan Cake, 30, was a member of RSC. Then he was the black polo-necked Cadbury Milk Tray Man in the telly ads. Now, he's Oswald Mosley in the Channel 4 four-part drama that began last week. There's been a lot of fuss about this series. It's a revisionist, glamorised account, many Jews have claimed. It concentrates on Mosley as a dashing, charismatic womaniser (... all because the lady loves stiff salutes?) and a gleaming-eyed lounge lizard, rather than the monstrous anti-Semite and fascist he was. In short, if it's Mosley the blackshirt, then it's Mosley in the Ozwald Boetang blackshirt. Still, Jonathan's very good, and immensely up-and-coming. Does he like the attention? It's quite scary, actually, he says, especially when the tabloids start pursuing you with some vigour. Yes, he's been pursued a lot over recent weeks. During the filming of Mosley, he fell for his co-star, Jemma Redgrave, and so ditched his long-term fiancee, the actress Olivia Williams, just a few weeks before their wedding. He can understand why people are interested. "It's like Elton John once said. You pick up The Sun. The front page says: `Elton John has sex with hamster, page 2. Pictures of Elizabeth Taylor's naked bottom, page 6.' You think: `It's outrageous. I'm going to sue. But before I do so, I'll just have a quick look at page 6.' It's just human nature."
Reports that Olivia was "distraught" are not true, however. "We phoned each other up and had a good laugh about that." Reports that Jemma is yet another of those luminously beautiful Redgrave girls against which someone like me stands no chance whatsoever are possibly true, though. Still, it's a nice sunny afternoon and Jonathan's about to open a bottle of wine and if you can ditch once, you can ditch again and Nicola might be thinner, Jonathan, but take away her tripod and she's nothing. Some of the attention has been nice, yes. Indeed, just the other morning, he got to do Richard and Judy, which was fun. "A man with a didgeridoo was on." Oh, that will have been Richard, I say. "Plus Gilbert O' Sullivan was wandering around somewhere." It wasn't too arduous. "Almost as soon as you're on the couch you're off, because they have to cut to an item on impotence."
Talking of which, there's a scene in this week's episode of Mosley when Jonathan has to trot naked out of the sea. Although it's supposed to be San Tropez, it was actually Plymouth on a cold, September afternoon . "And you know what very cold water does to the male genitalia." I do indeed, I say. I was sent that episode on tape and, funnily enough, when it came to that particular scene I happened to fall on the freeze-frame button. "Oh God! You didn't!" It was an accident, I explain. "Funny business, this," he sighs. "I mean when I next go to the gym, is everyone going to be thinking that's the bloke of the telly with the tiny penis? If he has one at all, that is? OH God ..."
Jonathan doesn't have a home as such, although he's looking to buy in north London. Meanwhile, he's staying in the top half of actress Maria Aitken's house in south London. He's cat-sitting while she's in New York. The cat is Molly, who is fluffy and a gorgeous smoky grey and spends all her time at the French windows, mewing coquettishly at passing toms. "Terrible tart, Molly. She'll show her pencil sharpener to anyone." Maria's son, the actor Jack Davenport who starred as Miles in This Life, lives in the basement flat. I interviewed Jack here last summer. He's a lovely boy, too. Jack's promised to come up for a drink, says Jonathan. Nicola says, "ohhh, lovely." Nicola, haven't you FINISHED YET? "No. Why?" Cake's his real name, yes. No, he doesn't know where it's from although he should find out, because everyone's always asking about it. He was born Jonathan James Cake in Rye-on-Sea which, he says, is just along the coastline from "the hotbed of political intrigue that is Worthing". His father was an importer of glassware until he retired and embarked upon an English degree at the same time Jonathan was studying English at Cambridge. "He'd phone me up and say: "Now, about Yeats ..." His mother was an administrator at the sixth-form college he attended in Worthing. We reminisce about growing up in the Seventies. "Our house had a white, leatherette bar with bar stools," he boasts. Yes, going out to eat did always involve avocado vinaigrette followed by a steak and a big slice of black forest gateau. "I'm still quite a sucker for black forest gateau," he confesses. Like I said, cake rarely disappoints. There were no obvious theatrical influences. It wasn't a theatrical household. Neither of his brothers were ever remotely interested in drama or anything (The older one is now a lawyer while the younger one is an English teacher in Brazil). Jonathan's first theatrical experience? Seeing Christopher Biggins in panto "where I was called up on stage, and given a plastic daffodil". And you found Christopher Biggins inspiring in some way? "Actually, I have nothing but respect for Christopher Biggins. He's the Sultan of The Turn." We talk a bit about Windsor Davies, who plays Lloyd George in Mosley. I'm sorry, I say, but every time he stands up in the House I expect him to say: "Sing Lofty, you lovely boy," before breaking into "Whispering Grass". "Really? I think he's brilliant! I'm very sad to hear you say that." He looks truly upset. He seems very generous-natured.
He was one of those kids who loved the sound of his own voice, was this chubby thing always reciting poems and all that. He went to weekly drama classes locally, then, as a teenager, spent his summers in London with the National Youth Theatre. He became horribly actor-ish for a while, he says. "I was the Donald Wolfitt of my sixth form, always spouting this horrible, bombastic rubbish." He got a good degree at Cambridge - a 2:1 - even though he spent most of his time either acting or playing rugby. He was a Blue. He didn't deserve to be a Blue, he says. "It's just that Andy Macdonald, who went on to be an international, left and they needed a quick replacement. As the local paper put it: `Deprived of the meat of Big Mac, we'll have to make do with crumbs of Cake.'" He eventually gave up rugby because there's only so many auditions you can turn up for with a bashed-in nose. He still keenly watches it, though. Plus he loves football, and Arsenal. But he's not a lad. "I look at Loaded and just don't get it." He never found Men Behaving Badly funny. The other night, he had a dinner party, and made "capriccio of beef on a bed of rocket with truffled oil". "Ohhhhhh," I go. "Ohhhh," goes Nicola. Honestly, I can't tell you how annoying it is when you're busy laying the groundwork only to have this other person butting in all the time. Nicola, do you need money for a taxi or something? "No. Why?" He has retained his love of literature, and seems to be quite highbrow. He loves the metaphysical poets, he says, and Yeats. Does he write himself? "Yes. But only crap things." Like? "Crap poems. Crap short stories. I like modern American novelists. I tried to write an English novel in the style of Raymond Carver, but then, sadly, realised you had to be Carver to do it." He is fond of literary references. His first ever sexual experience? "It was with a girl called Jane. Fantastic! I was late for my English O-level because we were off doing something from an H.E. Bates short story." He is quite clever, I think. After university, he did two years at drama school in Bristol, a few seasons in rep, and then went into the RSC. He was accepted into the company even though "one of my audition pieces fell right on its arse". What audition piece was that? "I did my imitation of bacon frying in a pan." He does his imitation of bacon frying a pan. Frankly, it seems to involve little more than going "ssssss" while slipping down into a chair. It's less like bacon and more like me after eight gins and a snowball. Still, he was accepted. At some point, I suggest, Terry Hands must have turned to Adrian Noble and said, "whatever else, this boy does good bacon." He thinks not. As far as he can recall, they just looked on, aghast. God knows why they took him on. His time at the RSC was OK, but not especially fulfilling. He only ever received small parts. A small part in a Shakespeare is fine, he says, because just listening to the words is so divine. But a small part in something like Marlowe's Tamburlaine is, actually, a crashing bore. Still, he didn't complain. "I could have tried to be windswept and interesting and moaned a lot, but I didn't see the point. I just got on with it." They didn't ask him to come back after the end of his two year contract. A disappointment? "It would have been lovely to have been asked back as, say, a juvenile lead but, realistically, I knew it would never happen. I've never been a twentysomething actor. I've always looked 48 and been big." Does he rate himself as an actor? "I have great misgivings," he says, "I never think I'm good, only that I've failed less badly." Perhaps that's your motivation, I suggest. "Perhaps, yes, but it would be nice if it weren't so. I'm not tormented or anything, but you are miserable a lot of the time when you think in these kinds of ways." He did the Milk Tray ad while at the RSC. He needed to for the money, yes. "I've always been rubbish with money. I've always lived way beyond my means. I spend it all on taxis and going out." He thinks he was about pounds 15,000 overdrawn at this point. But he also did it because he thought it would be fun. Trouble was, it was the Milk Tray man updated for the Nineties, so he never got to do any of that abseiling, speed-boating, jumping from helicopters stuff. Did you feel cheated? "Horribly! I just got to walk in though some French windows!" I say I've never been visited by the Milk Tray man, but I am visited twice yearly or so by the Video Man, who comes in the middle of the night and goes off with the video. Do you know Video Man? "NO, I don't actually." If you ever come across him, would you offer him an orange cream to go bother someone else? You wouldn't miss an orange cream. No one ever eats them anyway. "Or the lime barrels." Yes! Whoever at Cadbury came up with the lime barrel must have had a grudge against the human race, I say. He says: "Or there could be a Mrs Cadbury, who just loves them. Lives for them, even." After a year touring in Shared Experience's superb production of Mill On The Floss (in which he played Stephen Guest) he got the part of Mosley by going up for it along with a lot of other actors. The auditions were held in the teeny London flat of Lawrence Marks, the co-writer of the series along with Maurice Gran. Everyone was there. Lawrence. Maurice. The director. The producer. The casting director. Oswald Mosely's son, Nicholas, on whose books the series is based. Nicholas's wife. Nicholas's sister, Vivien ... No, he didn't do his bacon, even though it might have been considered suitably anti-Semitic. He did Mosely's big resignation speech. He heard he had got the part when he was walking down Wardour Street to meet his friend, the immensely gifted young actor Toby Stephens, for a drink. The news made him "happy", yes, What did Toby say? "You're late." He is currently working on The Jump, a drama for ITV about an Essex boy made good. And then? He doesn't know. He's getting loads of scripts though, which is nice. Any chance you'll star in a remake of the The Man Who Would be King?, I ask hopefully "No. Why?" Because then I could say: "Mr Cake makes exceedingly good Kipling." "Oh, orf, orf," he goes, like I'd just made a rubbish joke or something. Jack never turns up. Jack also liked me a lot when we met, obviously. Anyway, Jonathan has to go because he's meeting a friend in the West End. They're going to see Ice Storm. "I haven't seen it yet," I say. "Neither have I," adds Nicola. Nicola and I leave together. Unfortunately, Nicola trips on the top stair outside the house, has a nasty fall, and gets a tripod in the eye. Any rumours that a leg of mine was somehow involved in this unhappy accident are entirely untrue.
`Mosley', Thursday nights, Channel 4, 9pm
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