Stephen Mangan in The Norman Conquests
Hometown: London, England
Currently: Playing the appalling yet appealing womanizer Norman in Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy The Norman Conquests. Each of the three plays is set in a different location of a country house the dining room in Table Manners, the living room in Living Together and the garden in Round and Round the Garden over the course of a single weekend.
What I Did for Love: Mangan didn’t set out to be an actor. Though he performed in school plays, he says acting didn’t feel like a career option. “My dad was a builder, my mom worked at a pub—I might as well have said I wanted to be an astronaut or the Pope or a high-jumper or something,” he exclaims. Mangan studied law at Cambridge, but soon after he graduated, his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. “She died some six months later, and there I was at a crossroads in my life. I didn’t really want to be a lawyer, and I started thinking that my grandmother died at 47, my mother at 45, so I haven’t got the best genes in the world. I thought, ‘God, if I’ve only got 20 years, why don’t I do something I really love?’” He auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and got in. “That was it: I was suddenly an actor; I’m an actor now. It’s possible.”
Mangan is widely recognized in the U.K. for his television work, most notably the series Green Wing, but he started out as an animal of the theater. “For the first five or six years of my career, I refused to do any television or any film. My agent kept e-mailing me saying, ‘Why don’t you want to make some money?’ I just wanted to do the great classical parts.” He trooped around the country doing Shakespeare, Shaw and Moliere. Eventually, he made his agent happy and landed his first film: Billy Elliot. “I had a very small part,” the actor says of his blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in the 2000 hit as the doctor who examines Billy at the Royal School of Ballet. "I had very big sideburns on.” Now he and Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry are part of the same Broadway season. “In fact, I bumped into Stephen Daldry at something last week,” Mangan laughs. “I asked him if there was a Dr. Crane in the musical, and he said they wouldn’t be able to find anyone to give the part the weight and the dignity that I had in the film, so they cut it. And I understood. It was hard for him.”
Being Norman: The title character of The Norman Conquests is a 1970s-era assistant librarian with a lusty heart, a wild mop of curls and a tiny pair of tennis shorts. “The shorts are my Liz Hurley Versace dress,” the actor deadpans. “They could catch on, I’m telling you.” Norman is incredibly pleased with himself and yet remains lovable even when he’s behaving horribly. “What is it about Norman that appeals to these women?” Mangan marvels. “He’s a liar, and he’s not particularly attractive.” And yet he’s seductive. “Put it this way,” Mangan says of kissing many of his co-stars, “if there are any colds going around the cast, I get them.” “He’s the kind of guy that’s all fun—boundless energy, effervescent, nonstop—like a randy tiger, running around totally without ego. He’s a complex character, and it took me a long time to get my head around him. I suppose Norman today would be in a clinic for sex addiction or on medication. He’s just desperate to connect with people.”
Marathon Man: The three plays of the Norman trilogy can be enjoyed separately or all together on so-called “trilogy days.” Performing three plays in one day is a long haul for the six actors in the cast. Mangan says he normally eats for energy and naps between shows, but he fears the sleep makes him more tired, so he recently tried a new strategy: On a weekend when there were back-to-back trilogy days, Mangan went for a five-mile run between the middle and last show on Sunday. “It was totally counterintuitive, but it really worked,” he declares, “I felt great for the last show.” Soon he'll have a more personal pick-me-up or a new reason to be tired, depending on your point of view: His wife, actress Louise Delamere, and their 19-month-old son, Harry, will arrive from London for a two-week visit timed around the Tony ceremony.
Commander of the Broadway Empire: Mangan says garnering a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut has “ruined my ever coming back to Broadway again, because how can anything top this?” Unlike some of his colleagues, he does not pooh-pooh the idea of competition. “The purpose of the awards is to generate interest for the show,” he reasons. “In the U.K., you can become Lord Olivier or Dame Helen Mirren, but over here you don’t give out titles. These awards are the equivalent for Americans. If you win an Oscar, you’re forever known as an Oscar winner, and it’s the same for the Tonys.” Mangan says all six performers make Norman work and admits disappointment that all were not nominated. “I don’t there’s any way you can say four of us are better than the other two. It’s nonsense.” But in the end, he’s thrilled by the hubbub around the nomination: “You learn some lines, get on a plane, put some silly shorts on, and you get a Tony nomination?! How wonderful!”