meet Colin Baker backstage at the Grand Opera House in Belfast
during the final stages of the pre-West End run of a new stage
adaptation of Dracula. As the interview begins the first
calls are being made over the Tannoy system for the performers.
During the course I can hear Richard Bremners voice as Dracula
softly in the background, and our conversation is interrupted
sporadically by assorted messages. Colin is playing Van Helsing,
having taken the role over from Christopher Cassanove half way
through the plays run. Hes not due on stage until
50 minutes in. Tomorrow the company goes back to England for the
final two weeks.
is best remembered for his colourful and somewhat short-lived
tenure as the sixth Doctor Who, and before that for his
performance alongside Kate OMara in tv series The Brothers.
Ive resolved beforehand to talk mostly about the Dracula
adaptation that I saw the day before, and if possible to get through
the interview without mentioning Doctor Who once. The plan
works for about a minute and a half. And its not me that brings
NOTE ON THE INTERVIEW FORM:
Im never quite sure whether to present a straight
transcription, or edited highlights. As we arent limited
by space, and I thought you might enjoy it, Ive presented
the interview moreorless as was. A few comments have been cut,
and some asides. Just as we were wrapping up, we ended up going
back into the interview, and so there is more on Dracula towards
the end. I was very impressed with the show (my review should
be elsewhere on the site shortly), and was interested to talk
about the practicalities of his work.
what attracted you to the role of Van Helsing?
Baker: The script. Id had a couple
of scripts offered to me for touring, and I was on the verge of
accepting a kind-of bog standard thriller when this Brian Lavery
Dracula adaptation came through the door. And it was significantly
different from what one might expect in terms that its written
in an almost blank verse style. So it kind of mirrors and echoes
the original Bram Stoker, in the sense of the storyline is the
same; and the language is kind of heightened, but nonetheless
it was set in the modern day, so it was quite a fascinating project.
Youve done quite a lot of different things over the last
year; this is what, your third time in Belfast in the last year?
Yeah, in the last couple of years. Yes I did a play called Corpse.
Yes I missed that one.
Which was a 1930s comedy/thriller. Which was great fun. Which
I did with Louise Jameson, and Peter Duncan. And HMS Pinafore
Which I did see
You did see
about 8 months ago. So, its very different. The
first one I was playing an inept assassin, it was basically a
con-man. Then Im playing the Lord of the Admiralty, again,
inept [laughs], so I obviously collar the inept part. And now
Im playing Van Helsing who is the professor who fights evil
its a bit like a certain other character I played in
Yes. I was hoping to get through the interview with you without
mentioning that [Colin laughs heartily]. I guess its a fair
point; I was looking at the posters outside and its emblazoned
starring former Doctor Who, Colin Baker. Is
that something you find that dogs you now?
Dogs implies I object to it, no, its a fact, I did
it. I was proud of it and if by putting it on a poster they help
the theatre sell more tickets then it doesnt b:other me
in the slightest. I know there are actors who on and on about
[adopts grand voice] oh, thats something I did 20
- in my case it is twenty years ago, but you know what other job
do you get credit for something you did 20 years ago?
Youre still doing it
So, Im very happy to.
Its a role youre still playing on, for Big Finish.
Yep. Yeah, I enjoy doing those, theyre great fun the Big
Finishs. You dont have to learn it. The monsters are
really scary, cus theyre restricted only by the imagination
of the listener really, and the ability of us too. Cus if
we say Look at that, its 10,000 ft high, and those
tentacles are 16 miles long, then they are. Whereas if you
try and do that with special effects for television youre
stymied. And a lot of the writers have very sensibly been used
by Russel T Davies for the new series, in fact I think all the
I think so
for Big Finish are now writing for the tv series, and quite right
too because they write some thumping good scripts.
Do you find that being associated, that role in particular has
maybe influenced decisions that directors have made since, you
know, you maybe havent had the full choice open to you -
of parts? In the sense of you are capable of doing a lot more,
Ive always been very lucky in the kind of breadth and depth
of roles Ive been offered. So, I think its restricting me
from being used in television, because rightly or wrongly producers
dont want those watching their program to go [adopts Cockney
accent] Oh isnt that Colin Baker who played Doctor
Who?!. I dont think audiences are that unsophisticated,
I think they accept people playing new parts but its certainly
true that the balance of theatre and tv has shifted. I used to
do a lot of television and a bit of theatre, now I do a lot of
theatre and a bit of television, but, thats the nature of
this job anyway.
I was going to ask if you found it easier to get the theatre work
C: Theatre work, yeah,
comes along pretty regularly. And of course a theatre job lasts
for months, whereas a television job - Im doing a guest
spot, for instance, in Little Britain in three weeks time, and
that will take me one day. So thats one days work,
nice work, but I have to get 35 of those to equate to six weeks
work in the theatre.
This play in particular, you said that for a change youre
not playing an oaf [Colin laughs softly] after the last couple
of plays. Van Helsing - hes quite stand offish I think
One of the things I wanted to ask you about was Van Helsings
character and Mina - there seemed to be something strange going
on when I was watching yesterday, but couldnt quite work
out what it was.
[enthusiastically] Thats exactly what we intend you to be
thinking. And so at the end of the play, theres question
marks hanging, I dont want to go into too much detail because
of spoiling it for people who come and see the play, but theres
a large question mark at the end of the play which involves Dracula
and Van Helsing and Mina and Jonathan Harker and
part of it. Its an ambivalent relationship. Dracula is the same
Dracula from 200 years earlier, is Van Helsing the same Van Helsing?
Is Mina the same Mina? And, its kind of a banal comparison but
if youve seen the film The Mummy. In The Mummy theres
this, are they reincarnations of people whove been through
this battle before? Or, are they the same people? Or are they
just descendants of those people who happen to have some genetic
memory of past events, and we leave that for the audience to fathom
out. Bit of cheat really.
At least I know now if I was on the right track in my head.
So Bryony, the writer, did make the relationship between Mina
and Van Helsing ambivalent.
Shes very uncertain of it anyway, as to the whole relationship.
Van Helsing certainly seems very aware
Interestingly we have an understudy going on this afternoon playing
Mina and she plays it differently, and perfectly valid. And its
a bit clearer with this Mina whats going on.
I wish Id seen it today! Its quite a frenetic paced
play as well, do you find that difficult to learn and to
Its hard to learn, but as with all things, once youve learnt
it, youve got it under your belt, and the mental and physical
muscles as well. This set, cus the set is a sort of 45 degree
ramp with bits sticking of it and its a very
.its a muscle
destroying set and various members of the cast are carrying the
Mina [Laura Howard] had a bandage yesterday, I noticed.
She twisted her ankle fairly early on, and needs the support to
get round. And there am I, the oldest, overweight member of the
company and Im scampering about it like a good un.
Its certainly an interesting set. I dont think Ive
seen a play thats been staged quite that way before.
And the scenes flow into one another, so you can barely tell when
ones finished before one starts.
Youve got to be very aware of the spaces.
Which works fine when youre doing a film of course, because
cutting can be controlled. Youve got to hold an audiences
attention with you when you go to a new space. It works extremely
well for Dracula, because he does literally vanish several times,
and some of the times he vanishes are so devastatingly simple
in terms of illusion its all about making an audience look
at something, and audiences do do things together, youve
got to be iron-willed, when theres a loud bang for instance
on the left hand side of the stage, not to look, and while youve
looked somebodys legged it. [laughs]
Tannoy comes on for the fifteen minute call. Im very aware
of the time, but Colin happily chats away
I know there were points when I was watching yesterday - I know
its probably all very simple when youre standing there
on the stage - but I was watching and Draculas suddenly
not there, and he used the coffins and that kind of clever staging
C: Yeah. Scott Penrose,
who is a Magic Circle magician who did the special effects
[he did] the conjuring tricks on Jonathan Creek, so hes
a good guy. He designed two or three of the things like the decapitation
and blood-letting of the poor girl whos a vampire and that
sort of stuff
Its certainly cinematic. I think thats the word for this
production. How do you prepare for a role like this?
You learn it. [Laughs]
You dont look at other performers versions or anything
No, no. Because what Im being employed to do is this version.
And of course Ive seen various versions over the years.
Im aware that Peter Cushing has played it, and Anthony Hopkins
has played it, people like that, but this time its me, and I want
it to be my version, so in fact I studiously avoid
I came to see, cus Ive only done the second half of
the tour, Christopher Casenove did the first [half]. I did come
to see that, and our performances are very different which is
good. Chris made some choices and Ive made different choices.
And its an adaptation which makes that possible. Ive got
a kind of, as you interestingly said, a detached
detached touch perhaps.
Its hopefully transferring to the West End as well isnt
I dont think it will happen on this [run]. I think it needs
more work, I think we all acknowledge that, and Bryony hasnt
had time to spend as much time with us as she would like. It needs
to go back to the drawing board a bit. Some people have said it
either there was too much humour, or you should
have gone for more humour, or its not scary enough and those are
things we have to take onboard and in order to go to the West
End it would have to address some of those issues and make some
Yeah. If it does transfer to the West End would you be looking
I love to carry on playing Van Helsing yes, I dont think
Im ideally suited for Dracula. Dracula tends to be, like
Richard Bremmer, tall, slim, cadaverous and mean-looking.
Hes very intimidating to watch from the audience, whats
he like to work with?
Hes, well hes not intimidating, but he is onstage
and thats what he should be. And he has fantastic malevolent
The whole cast seems to come together well. The version I saw
yesterday seemed to come together very well.
It does, theyre a good bunch.
Certainly your point about the humour
its something that
sits a little bit uneasy perhaps.
Yes, the humour has to be
its the humour of Dracula,
and its the humour of arrogance. Hes so arrogant that
he can be flip and dismissive, but you have to - and its
not his fault - you have to earn the right to do that by being
bloody frightening in between. And it needs to concentrate on
that a bit more.
Its certainly I guess, not that dissimilar to your work on Doctor
Who where that humour
is necessary to put the audience at ease and then give them
Yes. For instance, watching the new Doctor Who, I think
its fantastic and I think its beautifully cast, beautifully
acted, beautifully written, and the special effects and the pacing
are all fantastic. And the one thing, a lot of it is, Yup,
thats Doctor Who, and the one thing that is
new for me is the Doctors glee. Whenever he sees an alien
spaceship arriving, instead of going Oh my God, theres
nasty aliens here! he goes Goody. Aliens. And
I thought, why didnt I think of that. That is fantastic,
to actually relish the battle, and to have a kind of unholy glee
at it. Thats great, and in a sense maybe something that
could be investigated with Dracula too. That there is a
Richard and I have been trying different endings, cus without
giving too much away, golly gosh, Dracula gets beaten at the end
or does he, question mark. And its how we deal with that.
tried a shock ending where he appears to die and then sits back
up again, and says a couple more lines and grabs me, and weve
jettisoned that at the moment for an actual genuine reaching out
and touching of hands at the end. A bit like any couple of boxers
at the end of a bout saluting the defeated. Interesting.
It was certainly quite touching. I think it shows Van Helsing
has a real human side to him. But it shows at the same time, he
I felt that you were enjoying the chase as much as anything
else, because there was that Ill tell you later
side of things, when you could reveal the hand and you dont.
Its a choice that
And guiding these young children through, cus he doesnt
actually do much himself. He gets other people to hammer the stakes
in, and reads the odd prayer, but he doesnt use his own
Hes quite controlling and manipulative maybe.
Yes. Interesting. Its very interesting.
Very. Whats next after this then?
After this I go to Australia for a month with Sylvester McCoy.
Were doing a kind of whistle-stop tour of Australia and
New Zealand, doing kind of shows where they show clips of Doctor
Who and we talk about it and get interviewed and sign a few autographs.
So were visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra,
Perth, Christchurch and Auckland, which should be quite fun. So
that takes me up to the middle of August, and then I dont
know. In the autumn, wait and see.
Youre back here for a day arent you, for a
Im doing a
one day convention.
Im doing a one day convention in Bangor, in middle, just
after I get back from Australia. So that will be nice. For my
friend Colin Dowling.
Thats the second or third of those youve done here
Second I think.
event (Banopticon 2005 has now been postponed indefinitely
as of July 2005)
talk about the play and future plans dying down, I start to wind
things up. Im already over my allotted 20 minutes. Just
as were chatting we get talking about the Hammer site and
horror films, and Colins own experience with the horror
also features Patrick Mower, Ingrid and Stephanie Pitt, and Robin
Asquith. Its yet to see the light of day in the UK, but
has been made available on DVD Stateside
I was really disappointed, because I was acting in the 70s,
and I never got asked to do a Hammer horror and I would love to
have. I did a horror film about four years ago
Asylum. Have you seen it?
Ive got it.
Youve got it, I wish I had it. How did you get it.
I bought it from America.
Ahhhhh. Cus I thought it was rather good.
Its interesting. Its a shame it hasnt been released
I dont think its had any kind of UK release on dvd, video
It hasnt at all. It was only released in America, I cant
imagine why, because I thought it was a really good film of its
genre. And I enjoyed my part. Ive always wanted to die horribly
in a horror film, and I finally got to do it. It was edited down
a bit, I filmed a lot of time crawling about in blood, whimpering
and begging, and perhaps they felt it was a little too pathetic.
It was a bit similar to, whats the film, The Zero Imperative
[produced by Bill Baggs BBV company in 1994, written
by Mark Gatiss a Doctor Who spin-off video], I think
with that whole similar situation.
The old asylum.
Yeah. That place was scary as well.
Dunhead in the south of Croyden.
Was it an actual asylum then?
It was an actual asylum. Its going to be redeveloped and turned
into flats, but I wouldnt want to live there. Cus
some of the cells were exactly as theyd been left. The notes
of the patients are hanging outside, they were cells, they were
Ladies and gentlemen of the Dracula company, please note that
Miss Maria will be firing the gun onstage at the end of the show,
and Jane will be on standby in the wings. Thank you.
Cus the Mina you saw ruptured her eardrum firing the gun,
the blast has perforated her eardrum. She was away for a week,
shes back now, but she has cotton wool in her ear as well.
It is quite loud and surprising when it happens.
Its in the wings. Shes been firing it in the wings, so she
hasnt actually been firing the gun. Ecki [Maria] is playing
it today. Shes very interesting isnt she, its
a very passionate performance that she gives, and in some ways
its more interesting for Van Helsing because shes very touchy-feely.
Quite nice, I enjoy that.
Is film work something you want to do more of?
Yeah. I enjoy film, I like being able to spend the amount of time
to get the detail right. I did a French version of Three Musketeers
last year which I filmed in Canada with Emmanuelle Beart
I had a kind of pseudo-love scene with her, but she killed me.
She was playing Milady in Three Musketeers, and I like
being able to get it right, you know, which you can do in film,
cus theyve got the time to do it..
And I like the fact that that camera gets schwooomp, straight
in there and you can tell if
. On stage you can get away
with blue murder, but you cant on film
Ladies and gentlemen of the Dracula company, this is your five
minute call. You have five minutes.
This is your call Christopher, thank you Christopher.
I have a little more time than that.
Youre not on for about fifty minutes or something?
Time to rest. No. Asylum was a good film, its a shame youre
not getting a chance to do any more
And its a very different kind of acting as well. Its em
some people say its more subtle, but its not in a way, its just
Yes it is. Its
A lot of theatre is quite hard actually to
bring it down small enough to be
. The best film actors are
people like Michael Caine, people like that. [indicates his face]
Nothing happens on there at all, absolutely nothing. And even
if I think Im doing nothing Im doing too much I find.
Youre becoming [as I look for my words very carefully, worried
hell take this question the wrong way] I think youve
become quite a gregarious performer in your
Yes I am. Im kind of
big. [C&R laugh] Not as big
as Brian Blessed, but big.
No. Definitely not. Who youve worked with as well a few
Well I took over from him in a play last year, I did a play called
The Haunted Hotel. And he collapsed on the first night,
and two weeks later I took over, and did practically the whole
Big boots to fill.
That was a, yes, that was a [in Blessed tones] bombastic
actor manager which I managed to fill.
I look forward to seeing more. Im just seeing if I have
anything else I missed out [flicking through notes]. [I wanted]
to talk to you about what interests you
as a performer.
Just doing something new and different all the time really. Erm.
Ive reached a point in my career where, when I started I
very definitely lived to work, I just adored the job. But now
Ive got a family, four children, I work to live. Its
a job I enjoy, but if someone said look, well pay
you twenty grand a minute to stay at home, Id take it gratefully.
Are you thinking about retiring then?
I cant. Actors cant retire. Ive got no pension
to speak of, so I must keep on.
Not that theyre worth having these days anyway.
C: Exactly. I mean,
fortunately I bought a house way back when thats worth a
bit so if things get bad I can always downsize, but I shall be
working, well my youngest child is thirteen at the moment, so
Ive got at least another eight years yet, having to earn
Do you not find it difficult to be away from home so much?
Yeah. I dont enjoy it. Im looking forward to going
back to see them tomorrow.
I was reading an interview you had done, it must have been last
week, saying I think you were thinking about visiting Cork, youve
family down there as well.
I decided not to do that. Thats ancestry. Ive got
heavily into digging up my ancestors, not literally of course,
but in terms of information, and Ive ground to a halt on
the internet in Cork with my paternal great-grandparents. So I
naievely thought Ireland is terribly small, Ill be able
to pop down to Cork in half an hour, and of course its not like
Its not at all.
Its a little longer than that. So Ill have to leave
that for another time.
I did read a book by someone once who obviously had never been
to Ireland, and I talked to him about it later on and he hadnt,
but I think he thought it took three days to get from Belfast
to Dublin. [Colin laughs] So he had the other perspective of this
island [Colin laughs louder], that its huge. Which its not.
I suppose if you walked it could take you that long.
Could yeah. I wouldnt fancy it.
ACT ONE call [huge list of names follows]
This goes on forever
Thats all these
peasants they have to pay. Im excused peasantry. I think
Im too identifiable. So they all have to dress up as Romanian
peasanats and wander around in that first section.
It was nice that they included those sort of sections in this.
Theyve really covered the
And the Renfield plot which gets missed out in a lot of Dracula
adaptations and which I think is a very strong and tragic little
sub-plot, the Renfield one.
Its very well done, and contained in that section of the theatre
as well. I also liked the use of mobile technology to convey the
origins of the novel and
Cus its so rooted in memos and diary entries, letters and
I wouldnt have though
. Now, Ill steal the idea
for a film version. But to use palm pilots and everything else.
Is mobile technology something you would use yourself a lot?
I do. Yes. Im a great internet user, I have my laptop that
I tour with, and I log in everyday and pick up my emails. I love
Do you read your own reviews then?
You do then.
Yes. Always. Ive never worried about that, cus Im
sufficiently arrogant to totally ignore the bad ones and bask
in the good ones.
Its the same then presumably with your own performances,
you would watch them on television if they were on?
Yup. And cringe, cus oh
.No oh You never like
when you mess up, I cant miss it. And I think everyone -
people who never read reviews, course they do. But if they say
they dont read them then they dont have to discuss
I do. I did some stuff a while back, and the first thing I did
was go straight for the reviews. Didnt let on I was doing
it! But I wanted to see what people say.
Its only natural.
I like to watch myself and say Oh, that was bad
And also, if you get the opportunity of monitoring your own performance,
you should take it, so you can do better next time.
I guess thats a shame why you cant, you cant
watch yourself back in a play.
There are some theatres where they do have, theres about
a dozen around the country, that have a monitor in each dressing
room, and occasionally Ive plugged in a video recorder and
recorded off those, so Ive got a copy for future use. Sometimes
you do a play again, its quite useful to have a copy. I always
do it with panto, cus you remember all the gags that went better,
watch it back.
See what works, what doesnt.
really enjoyed [the play]. Surprised at just how rich it was and
how well acted it was
Yeah. Its, interestingly, it pleases young audiences. And all
the theatres weve been to have said, weve had people
come to the box office who have clearly never even bought a theatre
ticket before. You can tell from the way How do we, what
do we? And theyre all young people, a really good
reaction from young people. Cus its a set book as well I
think in English.
I think so. I saw a big crowd yesterday of school-kids.
Yeah. And some adults are offended by little bits of it. But thats
okay. I think if you offend a few people and delight a few other
people its better than apathy. Id rather have polarized,
the reviews have been polarized as well. Some have really hated
it and some have really loved it, so that means were doing
I was reading some stuff this morning and I was listening to the
people behind me last night, yesterday when I was watching it.
Very mixed it was, peoples opinions the whole way through.
I think, you know, Christopher Lee is always harping on about
how its never been adapted properly, I think he should come and
see the play, and hed probably be quite impressed and wish
hed done it.
Oh, thats nice.
You know, I think he should, because its that kind of accuracy.
I think it would be really nice, if you could cut that somehow
its more filmic than a film is. And I think to convey that onto
celluloid or videotape is very difficult, but if you could then
I think youd have the adaptation of Dracula weve
all been waiting for.
Thats heartening to hear that.
I liked it, and it was fresh for a new audience, it was brought
up to date just enough, but still the same story.
Oh good. Well, thank you.
the recording ended here, Colin was kind enough to talk on about
his work, whilst we sorted out arrangements to get a copy of The
Asylum on dvd to him (which I have now done).
perhaps of no interest to most of the readers out there, but I
suffer from huge doses of stage-fright, and I asked Colin whether
he suffered from it. He told me that first nights can be bad,
but that everything was put into perspective when he heard about
Sir Laurence Olivier, who was very very sick when doing Hamlet,
and had to physically force himself to go onstage, having driven
half-way up the motor-way home.
was certainly a pleasure to interview, friendly and happy to talk.
The play finished its run just two weeks after the interview,
and is currently in redevelopment with a view to the West End
at a later date.