The 5-minute Interview: Robin Soans, Writer and actor

'I'm actually more shy and obsequious than people expect'

Robin Soans is best known for his docu-drama 'Talking to Terrorists', based on a series of verbatim interviews from people around the world. As an actor, he has also appeared in 'The Queen'. His latest play, 'Life After Scandal', opens at the Hampstead Theatre today.

If I weren't talking to you right now I'd be...

In rehearsal offering encouragement to the cast and being critical of the script. The minutiae is terribly important; it's vital to get the meaning clear and to help the actor as much as possible. We rehearse from 10am to 6pm – it's longer than many assume.

A phrase I use too often...

Do you know what I mean? I just think it's important during conversation that everyone is up to speed, in order to carry on; do you know what I mean?

I wish people would take more notice of...

History. I believe there would be fewer mistakes.

The most surprising thing that happened to me was...

Being a verbatim playwright. I was acting in a show and afterwards went for dinner with [the director] Max Stafford-Clark. He told me he was doing a new verbatim play and that I was going to write it.

A common misperception of me is...

That I'm an urbane, city person. I'm actually more shy and obsequious than people expect, but obviously a thinker and philosophical. The truth is I'm happiest in my woodland garden, pruning trees.

I am not a politician but...

I'd abolish making it a prerequisite for political advancement that you must toe the party line. That's why people of real merit don't go into politics.

I'm good at...

Mowing. I have six acres of garden that I mow all by myself.

I'm very bad at...

Backing winners at Beverley race course. If Nijinsky and a donkey raced there and I backed Nijinsky, the donkey would win. I'm good at other race courses, just terrible at Beverley.

The ideal night out is ...

A stay at Coombe House, an Elizabethan manor in Devon. I'd have a walk round the park and supper with friends. They allow dogs so Fizz, my border collie, comes too.

In moments of weakness I...

Drink too much wine.

You know me as a playwright but in another life I'd have been ...

A gardener, woodman or charcoal burner. I do these things already – they're very therapeutic.

The best age to be is...

The age between wisdom and experience. There's a point in your life where you're too inexperienced and there's a point where the body and mind start to decline – the best years are the ones in-between.

In a nutshell, my philosophy is this:

There was an owl sat up an oak, the more he heard the less he spoke, the less he spoke, the more he heard; oh that we were all like that wise old bird.

Amy Salter

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