Rufus Hound has made a sizable name for himself as a comedian on the British stand-up circuit and recently starred on screen in The Wedding Video. Now, the 34-year-old Englishman is spending the summer as the title Man in the long-running West End hit One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s commedia dell’arte rewrite of A Servant of Two Masters at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The funny and voluble Hound (born Robert James Blair Simpson) spoke to Broadway.com one recent morning about taking over the role created by Tony winner James Corden and a certain well-known musical he would like to tackle.
After years on the stand-up circuit, you’re playing the harassed Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors. Does this feel like a very different kind of assignment?
Actually, I’ve found that being Francis Henshall is quite a lot like being Rufus Hound [laughs]. It’s true that I’m playing a commedia dell’arte archetype, but there is so much talking to the audience and dealing with people you don’t know that the line between Francis and what I’ve spent my life doing as Rufus overlaps.
It’s interesting the extent to which British comedians, including Lee Evans and Eddie Izzard, often end up doing theater.
That’s all to do with the perennial psychological thing about “the grass is always greener.” These are not people who are shy about making other people laugh or playing stadium arenas or breaking records on tour, but their decision-making process is based on the fact that after you’ve achieved all that, what’s next? What else can we do?
Is that what you felt?
Not necessarily in the same way, in that I haven’t played enormous arenas or headlined my own tour. But I think I was increasingly frustrated with my own abilities, which became about being increasingly frustrated at the entire world.
That’s fascinating. So, performing a play is comparatively calming?
As a stand-up, you write your own material, and I found that what I was writing were long diatribes, which had become about channeling serious anger rather than telling jokes. I did think with this play that spending a chunk of my life falling over and being stupid would be better for my mental health than just plowing on and being miserable and cross [laughs].
Sounds like doctor theater in action.
They often talk in our business about “finding your clown state,” which has to do with achieving an innocence and a purity to performance. I haven’t had time to get into all that too much, but this play is kind of a shortcut for me—it’s about being in a show that I love a great deal as a kind of therapy.
Did you know the play before deciding to star in it?
I’d seen it once with James [Corden] after it transferred from the National Theatre to the West End. I’d heard amazing things about it from my in-laws, actually, and they were the ones who told my wife and me to see it.
What appealed to you about the play?
The feeling I had when I left the theater was that if James were ever to stop doing the role, it would be the right sort of thing in which to cast a stand-up comedian. I thought, in fact, that Francis Henshall should be played by a comedian. It seemed to me that the fun of Francis fell within the spectrum of the farces I had seen and enjoyed.
The play certainly has broad appeal.
Absolutely! When I’m given the job of “selling” the play, I tell the story of my mum’s husband, who is a concrete engineer from Yorkshire and doesn’t like the theater, and he came to see the show and told me with tears in his eyes that it was one of the best nights out he has ever had. So if the play is doing anything, it’s that: it’s such good fun and charming and at the same time accessible.
People like him are the best spokespersons you could hope for.
And they are why the play will keep running and running! Those people leave and they tell half a dozen people who themselves would never go to the theater, and on it goes.
Have you lost weight performing the show on tour, and now in London? I gather that the “Francis Henshall diet” is turning into a genuine one.
It is! [Laughs.] I basically eat crap most of the time, and before the show I really pile it in. I’ve found myself on some nights eating like an absolute moron because of the speed that the show demands. Every night you are doing a two-and-a-half-hour cardio workout in a wool suit, so you can’t help but lose weight.
Has this experience made you want to do other plays?
I am! I’m going to Chichester [south of London] to do a new production of Tim Firth’s Neville’s Island in September. As for Beckett, I’m certainly no stranger to him, and he’s one of the writers I would love to do. But I’m not sure I’ve reached the right age yet. I’m very happy to wait for Beckett in the same way that I am waiting for Godot .
Any prospects for a stage musical? Do you sing?
It’s funny you ask: As a child, I had five years of singing lessons as a chorister, and one of the things this show has done is reconnect me with that skill set, so yes, I think a musical would be huge fun to do. It’s another of those “life dream” things. I was basically raised on Les Miserables because my mum loves that show, so if I’ve ever had a total lifetime ambition, it’s to play the innkeeper Thenardier. Hopefully Mr. [Cameron] Mackintosh [the producer] will read this, and we can sort something out [laughs].
Finally, is it true that you got married in Las Vegas? Is your wife American?
Not at all, she’s English, but had been living in L.A., and we had this whirlwind courtship that went from a first kiss to marriage within four months. The hilarious thing about getting married at the Little White Wedding Chapel [in Las Vegas] is that they stream everything over the internet, so the wedding party got to take photos of themselves huddled around computer screens. My brother still holds it as the best wedding he ever went to because he could drink solidly throughout!