The days of quiet drinks down the pub are long gone for Owen Teale. His face has been well known for years from country saga Ballykissangel and sci-fi series Torchwood (both BBC) to crime drama Murphy’s Law (ITV). But a certain HBO drama took being noticed to new level.
“It is amazing to be a part of Game Of Thrones,” says the Welsh actor, who plays ruthless Ser Alliser Thorne. “You go into a pub and somebody will recognise you straight away and ask for a photo.
“If they are a big fan they’ll tweet it and the pub will fill up with massive Game of Thrones fans.”
Such recognition is good going considering the total cast of the four series runs to well over 250. In fact when Owen was told about the scale of the production he had his doubts.
He’d been in a big and acclaimed HBO production previously, playing German judge Roland Freisler in Conspiracy, detailing the Nazis’ organisation of the Holocaust.
Big bucks epic
“I thought Game Of Thrones was too big for itself,” he admits. “When we were filming in a quarry in Belfast, they were also filming in Croatia and getting ready to film in Iceland.
“I thought ‘how can they quality control something of this size?’ But they did, and they do. That’s part of the genius of it.”
The big bucks epic is a world away from his current work in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, which visits Plymouth next week.
From warring factions on two continents we switch to life in a Welsh seaside village, courtesy of Clwyd Theatr Cymru.
Croesi – welcome – to Llareggub. Meet blind Captain Cat reliving his seagoing days; Mog Edwards and his sweetheart Miss Price: Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, nagging her two dead husbands; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his music, and Nogood Boyo. Walk along Coronation Street, Cockle Row and Donkey Street, down to the harbour and back to Milk Wood. Their lives, hopes and thoughts are explored in the dreams of a night and the rhythm of a day.
Director Terry Hands’ new production marks two anniversaries: the centenary of Thomas’s birth and 60 years since Under Milk Wood was first produced in Britain, as a radio play by the BBC.
Owen plays the narrator, a role taken by Thomas himself when the work had its world premiere in New York.
The author was due to repeat that duty for the BBC version but was taken ill – so one of the greatest British actors of all time, Richard Burton, stepped in.
“You do feel the pressure, but not necessarily because of them (Thomas and Burton),” says Teale, 52. “I had to make it my own, not go back to what they did.
“I love the narration but I feel a sense of responsibility. I can’t afford to muck it up.
“It is such beautiful language. It’s a poem, really, which is a compression of life, as Thomas described it.”
As well as a busy TV CV, Owen has long list of theatre work to point to. His stage debut was in a tour of Cabaret, which visited the Theatre Royal Plymouth in 1984.
“I was a dancing German,” he recalls with a laugh.
The TRP also saw him as Torvald opposite Janet McTeer in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which earned him the 1997 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play when the production reached Broadway.
He is an associate of Clwyd Theatr Cymru, the arts centre in Mold, North Wales.
Under Milk Wood is peopled with Welsh actors including Kai Owen (also of Torchwood) and Steven Meo (Baker Boys, BBC Wales), and there is the occasional Welsh phrase.
Is there a danger that the whole thing is ‘too Welsh’?
“I think all the Welsh actors give it authenticity,” says Owen. “It is about the sorts of things that happen in any small, rural community. It’s probably typical of the whole world.
“People come out saying, ‘I laughed and laughed, so why did I cry?’.That’s what it’s like being Welsh. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but there is that deep melancholy.”
Under Milk Wood is at Theatre Royal Plymouth, from Tuesday to Saturday, May 27 to 31.