Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall's King Henry VIII, on Awards, Arrogance, and Family

The seasoned British actor (and sometime jockey) is champing at the bit to start his second stint on Broadway.

Nathaniel Parker burns through projects the way Henry VIII burned through wives. Having begun his career at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Parker went on to star with Dustin Hoffman in The Merchant of Venice on Broadway before making his mark on the public consciousness playing the lead in the BBC's six seasons of Inspector Lynley Mysteries. A fan of horse racing, Parker — who described his imposing figure as "not a jockey shape" — once undertook a daily exercise regimen to prepare to ride in a charity racing event.

Physically, Parker is much better suited to his current role, that of King Henry VIII in Broadway's Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two. Upon being cast in the Royal Shakespeare Company's premiere of this stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel's acclaimed novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Parker became sure the show would be "a hit" and, with characteristic gusto, immediately focused his considerable energies on Broadway. The result: Olivier and WhatsOnStage Award nominations for his role in the West End run…and a Broadway dressing room overlooking West 50th Street. Though Parker and his onstage counterpart share a similar lust for life, Parker is a much more committed family man; the only downside he sees to Wolf Hall's success is time away from his beloved wife and two daughters.

Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall.
Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall.
(© Keith Pattinson)

Congratulations! How are you feeling about your recent nominations?
I've always taken awards with a slight pinch of salt going, "Oh, who needs awards." But once you get nominated, you go, "Oh, oh, oh, oh, yes."

The nomination for the Olivier I got on the morning of our media day here. And I was actually late getting up — I'd been out the night before for the premiere of The Audience and maybe had one drink too many…and it may have mixed in with my jet lag. And if you don't know New York, going from one end of New York to the other isn't as easy as it seems. So, I ran down Broadway from the Lower East Side and I knocked on a cop car's window to find out directions. But luckily I was right outside the subway station, and I got there in time. When I was getting toward the building, I looked at my phone and my e-mails and there was a message from my agent saying, "Congratulations." I was thrilled. I had completely forgotten they were happening and I certainly didn't expect one.

What's it like to be back on Broadway after making your debut in '89?
It feels amazing. I wasn't quite ready for it. I thought, "Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can take it in my stride." And then I got here and the buzz of coming up Broadway, through Times Square, and past the theaters that are here, and the amazing talent that's already out here, is extraordinary. There's nothing like it. The West End is brilliant, and shows from Broadway want to go to the West End, but it doesn't have the core, the sort of immediacy that Broadway has.

How did you know Wolf Hall was a hit?
That's a bit pompous, isn't it? When I hear it like that. There was so much energy involved in it…You could see from the reading…You just sit there and go, "Yeah, this is a bloody hit." Obviously nothing is a given in this game, and certainly not getting to Broadway. But it felt to me that our focus had to be here, had to be Broadway. Getting to Broadway has become not just a focus but the aim. And I don't think I could have begged to be here with a better show in a better part. So [this is] thrilling actually, really thrilling. I'm having the time of my life.

You seem like a very optimistic person.
You've got to be optimistic, haven't you? But I think complacency or arrogance, there's no place for either. Sometimes when I read myself in print, I go, "Oh my god. I sound so arrogant." But actually all it is, is enthusiasm and optimism. I don't expect anything. I don't expect any favors, I don't expect any love or appreciation. I know I've got to earn it and I love trying to earn it. And there's nothing more rewarding than having a bit of appreciation once you've earned it.

I do acknowledge that I am one of the luckiest bastards on the planet. I don't know a luckier actor. With Wolf Hall, I have totally fallen on my feet with the best director I've ever worked with and company of people I have so much respect for and love and admiration for. So lucky is what I am.

Theater, horse racing—how do you keep up with so many interests?
Well, with the patience of others. My poor wife has to put up with an awful lot of me…But if you have a passion for something, you find time…It's best to make time for things you have a passion for. My family and my work are my two most important passions.

Is it difficult to be away from your family?
If I had my perfect life, it would be to be with them all the time. But they will come out for the opening. I can't wait. They love New York. And then they'll come right after exams for what will hopefully be the extension period of this show, if we get that far. I have a sneaking feeling we will.

Nathaniel Parker (front) and the men of Wolf Hall at their Broadway Meet and Greet.
Nathaniel Parker (front) and the men of Wolf Hall at their Broadway press meet-and-greet event.
(© David Gordon)

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