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Nick Sandys Interview

In October 2006, Remy Bumppo board member Terri Abruzzo had a chance to speak to Nick, who shared his thoughts on Tom Stoppard, his upcoming appearance in The Real Thing, and much more.

Terri Abruzzo: What a terrific time to get to interview you, as you are preparing to open The Real Thing, a play so loaded with powerful and interesting observations about love and marriage. Before we get to the juicy stuff, can you tell me how you came to be involved with Remy Bumppo?

Nick: Sure. I auditioned for James [Bohnen] during Remy Bumppo's very first season in the fall of 1995 for their production of The Seagull. I almost, but ultimately did not, get cast. At the time, I was working on my PhD in English at Loyola, which I never finished.

You're “all but dissertation”?

Yes. That's mainly Remy Bumppo's fault. In the fourth season, James decided to do Hapgood and I auditioned again, this time doing a monologue of Septimus from Arcadia. James guffawed through the whole audition and said, "Nick, where have you been for four years?" I said, "Working on my PhD" and that was the end of that! Hapgood represented a real shift - acting really started blossoming for me in Chicago.

When did you first become interested in acting?

I got hooked as a child. My mother was an actress and both my parents were involved in community theatre. My father is a professional classical singer. I remember at the age of five sitting in a box in the beautiful York Theatre Royal watching my father play Don Jose in Carmen. When I was seven or eight, my mother played Titania [in A Midsummer Night's Dream]. I remember seeing her in a scene with someone wearing a big donkey head.

Where did you grow up?

I lived in York from the time I was two until I was nineteen.

Is your family still there?

My mother is in Norwich and my father lives in a thatched cottage in the middle of Suffolk. He is the head of the parish council there. There is a beautiful Norman church in the middle of the village, which is how he knew of the place, because he took photographs of Norman and Saxon churches as a hobby when he was a teenager. I have a brother, Jonathon, who has cerebral palsy but lives on his own, with his fiancee, and is doing very well.

Can you tell us a little more about your educational and theatrical backgrounds?

I have an MA in English Literature from Cambridge and an MA in English Literature from Loyola. While I was at Cambridge, I got hooked on Tom Stoppard. I did my dissertation on him.

What was your thesis?

Essentially, that Stoppard sets up these intellectual matrices of interlocking ideas, but the one thing that is missing, the missing element in all of it, is the heart. And it is the emotional journey of the characters that is most important. In my first year at Cambridge, I was cast as George in Jumpers. Cambridge was a great environment because there was a huge amount of theatre in all of the colleges there. That summer, I went home and started a company with friends. We did The Real Inspector Hound. I actually met Stoppard that summer when two of us took the bus to Oxford for the Oxford University Drama Society 100th anniversary. Stoppard gave a talk before the matinee of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. He had wild, crazy hair and his shirt collar turned up and looked like a graduate student. Then, my second year at Cambridge I played Lenin in Travesties at the Amateur Dramatic Club, the University's downtown theatre. I left Cambridge in 1985 and spent the summer contemplating whether I wanted to be a teacher. I decided what I would like to do was go to drama school and my mother said, "Then that's what you should do." So from 1985 to 1986, I went to drama school at Guildford School of Acting and Dance.

Who has taught you the most about acting?

Watching great actors actually doing their thing has probably taught me the most, but if I had to name one person it would be Julia Carey - a ballsy, hard-as-nails female teacher I had in drama school. She made me realize the intensity of the work actors do.

How did you end up in Chicago?

I came to the States for a three week vacation in 1986 and stayed. I spent some time in New York where I got in with "the fight guys." I am trained in fight choreography both in the English school, which used to be based on competitive fencing, and the American school, which is more historically accurate.

Where did you meet your wife, Patrice?

I met Patrice at the Virginia Shakespeaere Festival in Williamsburg, VA.

When did you get married?

We got married in 1989, a day after we closed Blithe Spirit. Patrice had played Elvira, the ghost, and she still had on her powdery white makeup, and I still had my little 1930s David Niven moustache. The cast and crew were there, and we had the song from the play "Always" sung for the ceremony. We celebrate our 17th anniversary next week.

You're pretty busy right now, aren't you?

Yes, my schedule is unusually crazy right now. In addition to The Real Thing, I have six other shows going, including fight choreography for five shows.

Where did your interest in fight choreography come from?

It replaces my longtime love of sports, which I don't really have time for anymore, so this satisfies that.

Between your schedule and your wife's schedule as an actress and a teacher, how do the two of you find time to stay connected?

It's a constant struggle and balancing act.

How would you describe Henry, the writer you play in The Real Thing?

Henry is romantic, which equals impractical. As his first wife Charlotte says, he's "the last romantic." In many ways, he's an innocent. He loves the idea of being in love, being a lover and having a lover. He can talk about it brilliantly but the practicalities of it day to day seem to be beyond him. In fact, it's his naivete about the realities of love that makes him incapable of authentically writing about it.

In what ways are you like Henry? Don't worry, I'll also give you a chance to tell me how you're different, too.

(Laughs) I'm a romantic like Henry - I'm a Pisces - with all the good and the bad that comes with that. Like Henry, I love words, language, wit. This is where I live in the world. I'm also a big softie like Henry. Henry deals with that vulnerability by setting up his own rules to maintain distance. He creates this shell of distance.

In what ways are you different from Henry?

I'm not as smart as Henry. I envy his quickness. My father's intelligence is more like Henry's in that they both demonstrate flashes of great brilliance. I am more like my grandfather in that I'm methodical and will follow an idea through to the end. I do live in my body more than Henry. Theatre is about being inside and outside your body at the same time. I don't think I'm as selfish as Henry. Bernard, the character I played in Arcadia, is more like Henry in that way.

Have you read any good books lately?

Yes. The last good book I read was 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, by James Shapiro.

How about any good movies?

Jet Li's Fearless. The fights are terrific and it is beautifully filmed.

Last question, Nick, since you're being summoned to rehearsal. What is your favorite acting role?

The one I'm working on right now.