Age; hometown: 33; Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
Current role: Scoring laughs in his Broadway debut as posh gangster Stanley Stubbers in One Man, Two Guvnors.
Play’s the Thing: Given that he's starring in a ridiculous Broadway comedy, it's only fitting that Oliver Chris doesn’t take his job too seriously. “I hate when actors talk earnestly about acting,” he says. “It’s so annoying! You have to take it seriously when you’re doing it, and you have to try quite hard, but any other time: F**k it. And you can quote me!” But he can also be quoted describing his whole life as, “Consumed with thinking about acting. Acting, booze and girls,” he jokes. “It’s a real mess.” Chris credits his parents with getting him into the theater. They took him to his first show, Peter Hall’s Animal Farm at the National Theatre, when he was six years old. (“I’ve had this deep and unerring suspicion of pigs ever since.”) At eight, he was mesmerized by a group of actors who entertained at a party his parents threw, and Chris decided acting would be his career, too. “I fell in love with these guys and couldn’t believe you could do this for a living, showing off and shouting and mucking around. It was brilliant.”
But Seriously, Folks: Fresh from studying theater at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Chris veered toward TV-land when he got a role on the BBC sitcom The Office. “I’d never really done comedy before. I used to loom over people and look sinister,” he says. Over the next seven years he appeared in shows like Green Wing, Rescue Me and According to Bex, but he missed the theater. “There was a point where I was offered both a TV show and a play,” he says. “I chose to take the play. That marked a real change for me.” That career-changing role was Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and since then his impressive credits include two shows with legendary director Peter Hall. One of those was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, playing Bottom opposite Judi Dench as Titania. “To have Judi Dench deliver some of Shakespeare’s greatest poetry while she’s cradling my head, you can’t buy a ticket to that,” he gushes, all joking aside. “For someone who is desperate to be accepted by the theater establishment, to work with these people, to become a part of that history in a tiny way, that’s a price beyond rubies.”
One Man Wonder: Chris got involved with One Man, Two Guvnors in its early workshop days, and “relished it from the first second,” he remembers. “My character is a piss-take of a stereotype of a very English aristocrat and I love that. I love anything that’s rude and a bit weird, where I get to swear and say stupid things and grab people by the balls.” London audiences loved it as well, and Chris earned an Olivier nomination. But the actor credits One Man as more than just a professionally rewarding laugh riot. Two weeks before the London opening his fiancée, actress Rachael Stirling, broke off their engagement. “The sad and honest truth is that I think the play saved me,” he admits. “It was hideous, but the play gave my life the dynamic it needed to get through with a minimum of sobbing and listening to sad songs and growing a beard.” Two months before coming to Broadway, he met an actress friend of a One Man castmate and fell head over heels. “It was terrible timing,” says a clearly smitten Chris, “but it made this whole trip better because it’s turned into a sort of teenage Dawson’s Creek, lovesick pining.” Bringing his over-the-top character to Broadway ain’t bad either. “It's the most awesome thing in the world,” he says of One Man's New York run. “I’m so proud to be part of it.”