Scottish actor Michael Nardone on the joy of giving Macbeth his native tongue

The UK tour of the National Theatre’s Macbeth touches down in Norwich next Tuesday (October 30) following a recent successful run at its Olivier Theatre. Known as the Scottish play for its Caledonian setting, its 19-strong touring cast, which features a host of top stage and screen actors, is led by a Scot, Michael Nardone, in the role of Macbeth.

Michael recently played Frisky in BBC One’s Emmy Award-winning series The Night Manager. His work on stage includes King Lear and Gagarin Way at the National Theatre; Black Watch, and Men Should Weep (National Theatre of Scotland); and the title role in Peribanez at the Young Vic (also directed by Rufus Norris). On television he has appeared as Jonas in BBC One’s Rellik; as DCI Whiteside in BBC Scotland’s River City and as Mascius in HBO’s Rome. His film work includes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Child 44 and Tulip Fever.

He is thrilled to be able to use his natural accent as part of a cast whose regional voices represent all corners of the UK, from Fife in Scotland to Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Is it a joy to be able to bring your natural accent to this part?

Well it is because you don’t often hear Shakespeare in regional voices. I think the way Shakespeare is presented predominantly in this country at the moment flattens the language. But there is a strength, a muscularity, a robustness there which for me is a joy because the Scots accent is a very robust accent. I think it is extremely important to do it in your own voice. It is one of the pre-requisites of this production being a touring show. We are going all over the country so it has to be accessible to everyone, man, woman or school-child, whoever is coming, they have to feel part of it. They have to hear it in their own voice, and it allows them not just a way in but also it allows them a moment of self-esteem. This is something that is being done in their accent.

Macbeth is a very intense play – how do you manage to give that emotion to your performance? What do you draw on?

I could easily say it’s the job, but what informs us as actors is all the baggage that  you carry with you through your life. Every day you bring something else to it, you add other feelings, emotional things, whether you’ve had children or family, it doesn’t really matter. All of your experiences are your ammunition. It’s a sub-conscious thing, but when you’re focussing and preparing for a performance, all of these things are already in your body. And it is part of the job too – we train for it.

Shakespeare is full of all human emotion – there is a lot there in every line…

There’s a lot there. The language appears at first hand to be dense, but when you break it down it’s not as dense as you think. However, it is so nuanced with multi meanings within the lines because of the words he chooses. His command of the language is superior and so he could easily choose a very simple word but he chooses to elect a very difficult word which might have multiple meanings, so therefore the fun is in how you interpret it. But, of course, it is for elimination and agreement and eventually you settle on the one that you think is going to fit the narrative best. So the research process is a real kind of mining process just with the language.

It’s a National Theatre production – do you feel the weight of responsibility in playing the title character?

When you are playing the title role there can be a certain amount of leadership that you feel that you want to bring to it. I‘m very happy to go on the road and fly the flag for the National Theatre – because it’s our national theatre – in this play with these people.  If I can do that in a very cohesive group and we can do that together then we win every time, so I think we all bear responsibility. But I am very happy to lead the line, absolutely. It’s a privilege.

Michael Nardone as Macbeth. Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg

You toured internationally with another iconic Scottish drama, Black Watch. Tell us about that?

Black Watch was ten years ago. It was written by Gregory Burke who was at school with me, so there’s my first connection with it. It’s about the Black Watch regiment which is now part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. It was a very unique military unit in itself historically and predominantly the recruiting grounds were Fife around Perth and Kinross, so that area where I was brought up, so there was a lot of connection to the play and it was very important for me to do the play.

You’ve also done a fair amount of television – recently in The Night Manager as and also in HOBO’s Rome, plus you were in a Star Wars movie – do you enjoy the filming process?

What’s not to enjoy about that! Those jobs don’t come up very often. For The Night Manager, we were filming in the most salubrious places. We kicked off in Switzerland at the Matterhorn in the snow, and then we went off to Devon and there were some sequences in London and Marlow down on the Thames, and we spent six or seven weeks in Marrakesh, in Casablanca, and then the same again in Majorca. Rome was filmed in Rome in the studios of Cinecittà. It was a wonderful time and I spent a year and a half living in the city; and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was fun but it was bloody hard work! I was on set in a massive green screen studio at Pinewood and nothing to play to because there is nothing there. You just have to stretch your imagination.

Are you looking forward to going out around the country on tour with Macbeth?

Absolutely – I haven’t toured for a while and if you are going to do an extended tour of the country, it has to be something that is not just worthwhile but worthy. Part of my reason for doing this is taking this out to perform for school-kids. I have four children myself – they’ve all studied one Shakespeare or another, whether it was Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Macbeth. So I understand how necessary it is they see not just good theatre but that it’s going to make them ask questions, so they go in the next day and speak with their teacher and say ‘well wait a minute, what have we seen that is going to provoke a debate about the play and the setting and the content’. That for me is the most important part of this tour, apart from getting to play in Edinburgh because I don’t often get to appear in the theatre in Scotland.

Michael Nardone as Macbeth (right) with murderers Brad Morrison and Helen Katamba. Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg