The young actor on the thrill of standing on stage


Richard O’Mahony: When did you first see your name in lights?

Alfred Enoch: It was last summer in London at Wyndham’s Theatre on Charing Cross Road, right opposite Leicester Square. It was for the play Red, about the painter Mark Rothko. We were still in rehearsals for it when I received a message from a friend with a picture of my name up on the banner alongside Alfred Molina’s! As a kid I used to travel past Wyndham’s every day on the No. 24 bus going to school, so to see that was surreal.

RO: How would you say it compares with stepping out on stage?

AE: Well, that’s a very powerful feeling. To be the single point of focus in a space with an audience – there’s no comparison. It’s that collective sense of anticipation. You and the audience entering into a game together: “Let’s play make-believe.” But often, being under stage lights means it can be difficult to see the audience.

RO: And you’d prefer to be able to?

AE: Yes, because that’s what you get up on stage for. It’s not theatre without an audience. And when you can’t see them, they’re just that bit more unreachable. But you can sense them, though, and feel their attention train on you. The second play I ever did was Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens at the Olivier Theatre in 2012. I must have been 23 and I played a servant, but he had a soliloquy! So, it was just me, on a bare stage, standing in my spotlight, and I turned to address the audience. Now, the Olivier’s stage is designed in such a way that the sweep of audience goes right to the edges of your peripheral vision – you can see everyone in one go. It was like jumping out of an airplane!

RO: Is it still the same for you now? I mean, you’ve been a professional actor since you were 11 years old.

AE: I don’t think I could ever get bored of it. The thrill and the freedom of it get me every time. Even after several months into a run, I still get that hit.

RO: Is it hot up there?

AE: It can be. Theatre stages tend to be hot because of the lighting, but also because of all the people in the room and the energy in the space. There’s a level of focus and adrenaline coursing through you that means even if the character I’m playing is at 20 per cent, I’m always at a hundred.

Here, and throughout, Alfred is wearing clothing by COS. He was photographed near his home in north London.

RO: How are you at finding your light?

AE: I think I’m quite bad at finding lights and marks, actually! I understand its importance as an acting skill better now than I did earlier in my career, because ultimately it allows me to play more freely and change things around within performances. It’s especially true of screen acting, because the frame has its own logic. A fractional move of your head in another direction might not play the same way.

RO: Do you enjoy being in the spotlight?

AE: In my school reports it would always say I was the class clown – I was permanently in trouble for showing off. So, I think the answer to that would be yes!

RO: Which do you enjoy more, stage or screen?

AE: I’ve always had the opportunity to do stage and screen, and I’d like to continue with that as both allow me to exercise myself in different ways. The main building blocks for my work and how I approach texts and characters are rooted in theatre. A lot of that comes from my dad – he’s also an actor and was my first teacher. But in terms of visibility or reputation, theatre can’t even begin to compare with screen performances, like when I was in the Harry Potter films or How to Get Away with Murder.

RO: Was fame part of your desire to be an actor?

AE: The notion of fame is not appealing to me. It’s only attractive insofar as it can be a measure of your potential or success as an actor. I’m not talking about talent, but in terms of your ability to get something made, to get something financed, to get bums on seats. But I don’t think of myself as famous. Most people don’t know who I am and that doesn't bother me.