John Gordon Sinclair is about to tackle the iconic role of Jeeves on stage, but he tells Chris Broom how his growing writing career almost led him to turn it down.
Jeeves and Wooster, PG Wodehouse’s peerless comic creations, are quintessentially English characters – the bumbling toff Bertie Wooster, forever being helped out of scrapes by his stoic valet Jeeves.
But when Jeeves and Wooster come to The Mayflower later this month in the duo’s first-ever stage adaptation, Perfect Nonsense, the role of the tireless aide will be played by a Scotsman – renowned actor John Gordon Sinclair.
With his tongue firmly in cheek, John explains: ‘You’re right, I’m Scottish, we don’t read PG Wodehouse and we don’t watch the cricket scores on TV, so it does seem a bit of a strange role for me to be doing.’
And he says that a major factor in taking the role was because of the director on the project.
‘I worked last year with the director, Sean Foley, when I did The Ladykillers (playing Professor Marcus) in the West End,’ he says. ‘And I nearly worked with him the year before doing something at the RSC.
‘He asked me if I wanted to do this, and I knew if he was involved that it was going to be good – especially when it comes to comedy and directing comedy, he’s a bit of a genius.
‘It’s so different from what you’re expecting.
‘If you come in expecting a cosy period comedy, you’re going to be, I wouldn’t say disappointed, but it wouldn’t be what you’re expecting – in a good way, hopefully.’
John is joined by James Lance as Wooster (pictured on the cover and on the right with John), and they’ve been in the West End for three months before taking the show on a 10-week UK tour.
Fortunately the two stars are getting on perfectly well off stage:
‘It’s a real fledgling bromance, we’re getting on really well, and he’s got great comic timing.
‘With Sean it’s all about the gag – if you get the gag and make it work, Jimmy has that approach as well – he’s very inventive.
‘There’s no ego getting in the way, which is quite refreshing.’
To millions, Jeeves and Wooster were captured by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie when they starred in a successful TV version that ran in the 1990s. But John made sure he not only avoided the TV version – but also Wodehouse’s original stories.
He says: ‘The Fry and Laurie’s version was such a long time ago, and I only saw a couple of episodes, and I also deliberately didn’t read any Wodehouse, or dig out any of the Fry and Laurie things.
‘With all of these things I want to bring something fresh to it. When I read the script, I want to think: “can I make this funny, or can I make this sad?” That’s what counts, rather than trying to delve into the history of it.’
But all of this talk about the play could have been moot if John had made a different decision. In recent years he has seen some success as a thriller writer. Seventy Times Seven came out in 2012, and his second, Blood Whispers, was released earlier this year.
And as John admits, writing is where his heart lays these days.
‘If it hadn’t been for Sean, I probably wouldn’t have done this play,’ he explains. ‘I’ve got a deal for a third book, which I’m going to start now. There was a long period of introspection about whether I should do this or not, and it was a very close decision.
‘It’s a very different thing. The start of rehearsals coincided with the launch of the book, so I was doing a lot of stuff, book talks and things like that. The shift over into acting mode again was quite tough.
‘After this, I don’t think I’ll do much acting for quite a while because I want to concentrate on that side of it.
‘The critical reaction to the first two has been amazing – way better than I had hoped for, and the third one I want to be really epic.
‘If I could pay the mortgage and take the kids on holiday once a year from writing, I would get stuck into that full-time.
‘I don’t want to sound churlish and complaining though – I’m absolutely not.’
For many people though, John will forever be associated with the 1981 hit romantic comedy, Gregory’s Girl. While not quite touchy about it , he is perhaps understandably tired of talking about it: ‘People keep saying: “Why do you keep talking about Gregory’s Girl?” And I say: “I’m not, it’s because people are always asking about it.”
However, get him on the subject of his role as a Navy Seal commander in last year’s all-action zombie blockbuster, World War Z and he becomes much more animated. He recalls some confusion though when he first heard about the project: ‘I was having these conversations with my agent, and I hadn’t seen it written down.
‘I thought it was World Warzie, like a onesie or something. Then I got all the stuff through and it was: “Ah, that’s what you were saying!”’
Although John has been in regular work throughout his career, this was his first time working on a major Hollywood movie.
‘It felt like a big blockbuster,’ he recalls, ‘even just seeing the catering tent and stuff like that. One of the first places we filmed was in Falmouth in this big kind of battleship down there.
‘There were these two huge tents full of crew and cast that were the size of Wembley, and it hit me that this thing was immense.
‘I spent five weeks on it. There were four other actors including Brad Pitt – just the five of us involved in these scenes in these underground bunkers. It was amazing – when you turn up for work and it’s just three other actors and Brad Pitt, it’s pretty cool.’
...his favourite band
I absolutely love Mogwai. I’ve been in touch with them, and I’ve said to them, if any of my books get made into films, I’m coming knocking on your door.
...his big break in Gregory’s Girl
I think I’ve said everything there is to say about it. I’ll forever be eternally grateful for it, and I think that when most people think of it, they do with a smile on their face. And if all I ever did was to put a smile on people’s faces, there would be no shame in that.
...his own musical aspirations
I’ve got a piano I like to sit at and make noises, you can do that with a piano. And I’ve got a guitar, but I haven’t picked it up for years and years.
Where & when...
Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is at The Mayflower in Southampton from November 18 to 22. Tickets are from £14.50 to £29.50, call the box office on 023 8071 1811 or go to