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INTERVIEW: Doctor Who's David Tennant Loves Spying and Shakespeare

The BBC veteran and Olivier Award winner spills all about his new miniseries, Spies of Warsaw, coming to the States, and why he worships the works of the Bard.

David Tennant
(© BBC)
David Tennant is one of the British stage's most popular actors, having won awards and acclaim for his performances in such shows as Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. Stateside, he is best known for his portrayal of the title character on the classic series Doctor Who -- and will reportedly take part in the series' upcoming 50th anniversary special next year -- and his work as Bartemous Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Currently, Tennant is focusing on movies and television, and recently filmed BBC America's two-part period miniseries, Spies of Warsaw, in which he plays Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a somewhat dashing, somewhat vulnerable, somewhat tough spy. TheaterMania recently spoke to Tennant about the miniseries, his hopes of doing theater in the U.S., and why he loves Shakespeare.

THEATERMANIA: How did you like playing this character in Spies of Warsaw?
DAVID TENNANT: It was great. He's the hero of the piece, but he is very much his own man. He's very much the military man following the orders of his superiors until he decides that's not the course of action he's willing to follow and then he becomes a rebel, so that's an interesting character plot to follow.

TM: He sounds a little bit like James Bond? Is he?
DT: When the script first came in, it was pitched to me as the French James Bond, with all that that entails. And as with Bond, he's a bit of a womanizer. Part of the reason for that is that he is quite damaged and quite introspective and isn't willing to share his life with anybody, so he has a succession of brief and uninvested love affairs.

TM: So you are going back and forth now between television and theater. Was that always the career plan?
DT: Yeah, that's the dream (laughs). It's working out so far.

TM Would you consider doing any theater in the US?
DT: I'd love to, yes.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate
in Much Ado About Nothing
(© Johan Persson)
TM: You are really enamored of Shakespeare's work, aren't you?
DT: I am on the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a huge part of what they do is education and outreach -- partly just to educate an audience for themselves but also just to teach that sort of language so kids can appreciate it. I think Shakespeare is one of those things that you get very excited about when you do it and when you love it and when you feel like you own that language. Often it's a difficult thing to teach to kids because it can feel like a slow and a difficult thing, but it can be really inspiring!

TM: What Shakespeare play best characterizes life currently?
DT: I don't think there's just one. I think what's extraordinary about Shakespeare is just every one of his plays seems to be eternally relevant. Maybe The Taming of the Shrew or The Merchant of Venice are a bit harder to spin these days, but certainly something like Hamlet feels like it was written yesterday and, something like Measure for Measure has extraordinary questions about how we feel about fidelity and sex. I mean, it's a very modern play.

TM: Which is easier for you to do, Shakespeare or modern plays?
DT: Sometimes it's easier to do Shakespeare than more modern stuff because you have the rhythm of it and because when the language is really good, really juicy, it's much easier to get behind it and join it up in your head. The hardest plays to learn are badly written ones, so actually Shakespeare is not as hard to learn as some scripts.