Like many an actor before him, Laurie Davidson knew it was time to get serious about acting when he hit his stride with Shakespeare.
“I did a Macbeth dagger speech for an English Shakespeare speaking competition, and I won it,” the actor recalls of his school days, “and then the head of acting there was like, ‘You should be in some plays.’”
The school plays morphed into professional ones, and now the twentysomething thespian is set to take on the role of the man who kicked off his career, with his portrayal of a young William Shakespeare in TNT’s new series “Will,” out Monday.
“The difficulty with Shakespeare is that he can be quite alienating to a lot of people; it’s this old, academic subject,” Davidson says. “When I heard about the concept I was like, ‘This is not what I expected at all.’ And trying to explain to people, ‘Well, it’s Shakespeare, but set in a kind of punk rock, Elizabethan London, set to a contemporary soundtrack, and these guys are like the rock icons of their time, and are wearing like skinny jeans…but it feels Elizabethan.’”
Davidson, born in South London’s Dulwich neighborhood, attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, after which he landed a part in a production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” which his now-agent came to see him in. And then came the Bard.
“I had a kind of rough-around-the-edges look — I wasn’t totally well-kept, like Will is, and I think they saw something in me,” Davidson says. “I was in Budapest with my girlfriend on holiday and they were like, ‘We need you to come back and do a screen test.’ So I flew back, did the screen test, went back to finish my holiday with my girlfriend.”
The series is directed and written in part by Craig Pearce, who adapted Shakespeare for Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Having watched loads of creative pieces and other films by Baz Luhrmann, they’re exceptional at taking a period of history and making it current and kind of a fusion of styles; look at ‘The Great Gatsby,’ which was set in the Twenties but you had people with boom boxes, so the audience can connect with it instantly on a contemporary level. That’s something that Craig’s brought to this project as well.”
Up next he’ll star in a BBC film called “Diana and I,” where he plays a honeymooning journalist in Paris who happens to be there when Princess Diana dies. Beyond that project he remains mum for fear of “jinxing” his auditions.
“My friends, we’re all very theatrical, and they take the mick out of me. They’ll be like, ‘You’re playing the Bard?’ Just after I found out [I got the part] one of my friends was in a production up in Stratford-upon-Avon and I went and it’s Shakespeare land: every pub has the Anne Hathaway thing, there’s pictures of this guy everywhere, and I’m like, ‘This is so surreal.’”
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