One Man, Two Guvnors - London

Richard Bean's hit comedy heads to the West End.

Daniel Ings on Winning Laughs as an Over-the-Top Actor in London's One Man, Two Guvnors

Daniel Ings is an actor playing an actor (the colorfully named Alan Dangle) in the long-running Richard Bean comedy One Man Two Guvnors, and the 27-year-old Englishman is especially winning in his first prominent West End part. A graduate of Lancaster University and the Bristol Old Vic drama school, the altogether engaging Ings spoke to as he neared the end of his lengthy run in the play, which continues at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, with a (mostly) new cast debuting on February 4, 2013.

You’re an actor playing an actor in this play: is this a classic case of act what you know? Or who you are?
Yes, although I think it’s more complicated than it might have been. What Richard [Bean, the writer] did was come up with this stock character of the over-the-top dramatic actor who’s also this hot-headed, aggressive lothario, and what Nick [Hytner, the director] was keen to do was resist the clichés of that as much as possible. So, yes, Alan is over-the-top, and all the gestures are there, but there are more challenges than simply playing what you know: They were keen to find the truth of the role.

It’s a gem of a part: You get to be swoony and self-dramatizing and all sorts of fun things.
It’s all about keeping it in check so that the performance doesn’t go too nuts. The temptation is always there when you’ve got a live audience and you’re getting that feedback: “Oh, that worked, so I’ll do it a little bit bigger next time.” One has to be careful.

You were part of the cast that came in when the original company transferred to Broadway, where James Corden won the Tony for Best Actor. Was there a worry that any subsequent cast might not live up to the first one?
I think that definitely ran through our minds, and it would have been foolish for us to go into it just assuming that we would have as much success as the original production. But at the same time I think we always felt comfortable and confident in the fact that we had the same creative team and, of course, the same script—because at the end of the day, it does come down to the script. We had confidence, knowing that we were doing something funny, and that if we could serve the play, it should be just as good.

Did you get a chance to talk to your predecessor in the role, Daniel Rigby?
Danny came to see the show with Oli and James and Jemima [original cast members Oliver Chris, James Corden, and Jemima Rooper] quite early on, and then he came back to see us during the Broadway run when he was over here filming something. He didn’t pass on any advice, but he was very encouraging, and it was nice to get a chance to chat with him. It must be quite a weird thing watching someone else do the part that you developed.

Your character, Alan Dangle, is a classically trained actor, but is he actually any good?
[Laughs] That was the tricky gray area: Am I playing an actor who thinks he’s good but actually isn’t? That’s where it gets a little bit complicated, and it’s something I continue to wrestle with.

Do you have actual actors in mind when you play Alan every night?
Well, Danny Rigby, of course, because he really made an impression on me when I first saw the play at the National, but also the actors in England in the early 1960s [when the play is set] that Alan would aspire to be like—Richard Burton or Alan Bates or actors who were in films from that era.

You’re leaving the show in January to head out to pilot season in L.A. Are you going to connect with your Frankenstein colleagues Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch?
I e-mailed Jonny [who films Elementary in New York] and sent Benedict a message to see if they’re around. If so, I’ll try and hang out with them, This will be my first time in L.A. not as a tourist but as a working actor, and I’m just hoping it will be an amazing experience, unlike anything I’ve done before.

There’s certainly no shortage of British actors on American TV!
It doesn’t surprise me, since America undoubtedly produces some of the best TV and some of the best independent movies. I guess I feel that the sooner I start building some contacts over there, the better, though I’m not looking to find the next Wire overnight; it takes time to build a network.

You actually have done a Hollywood blockbuster, the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean film.
I had a tiny role, but I was there for six weeks and it was extraordinary watching how all that works! My first day I was doing my little bit with Johnny Depp and Keith Richards and the next minute I had a blood bag strapped to my back playing a British Redcoat for a chase sequence around Greenwich toward the beginning of the film. It wasn’t exactly a starring role. I did spend quite a few days sitting in my trailer playing Angry Birds on my iPhone!

Tell me about your surname, which is very striking.
“Ings” is a Viking name and it’s an actual word referring to a marshy swampland. There’s actually an Ings town—several in —in the north of England. I went to one that had a pub and that’s about it, and I got my picture taken next to the sign saying “Ings.”

Given your obvious connection, did you ask at the pub for a free drink?
They weren’t too keen to offer.