Interview: Actor Colin McCreadie on Democracy

Actor Colin McCreadie discusses his relationship with the play, Democracy

Michael Cox: Let’s talk about Democracy. Had you heard of the play before?

Colin McCredie: No, I hadn’t heard of it. I hadn’t seen it, so obviously that’s quite good, coming to it fresh. I’d been interested in the recent Deutschland 83 and I’d watched Bridge of Spies—the Spielberg film last year—as well. After watching those I’d looked up a few articles on the East/West German spy thing. It was a period I was quite interested in.

It’s just amazing that, in your lifetime—25 years ago—these changes all happened. It’s almost like a parallel universe: the Wall, the Eastern and Western Block, Berlin being split in two. I’ve been to Berlin since the Wall came down. It’s mental that this happened. And the drama within all that, the politics, are really interesting. It makes for a really good drama.

MC: Prior to watching Deutschland 83 and Bridge of Spies, had you been aware of the events depicted in the play?

CM: No, I didn’t know about Willy Brandt and the spy thing. Obviously, growing up in the 80s you remember the threat of nuclear meltdown and the British and American bases and all that. The Wall coming down, Perestroika and all that. I remember some of the names. It’s interesting going back and trying to understand what it was all like. I didn’t realise you could go from West Berlin to East Berlin as a Westerner—you could have gone and visited. It was how people like David Bowie could record their albums in the East, but obviously you couldn’t traffic the other way so easily. Westerners giving presents and money to Easterners. It was crazy.

MC: Who are you playing?

CM: I play Gunter Nollau who is the West German counter espionage chief. He’s actually from the East, and he came over to the West. He is trusted to find spies within the West German side, so he starts sniffing out the sleeper. I think it says in the play that they think there’s around 1,000 East German spies within the West German government, and he’s the one who has this link to a sleeper spy.

MC: So before taking the part you hadn’t heard of the man you’re playing?

CM: No, he’s not one of the more high-profile figures. He left East Germany under a cloud. There was suspicion he’d committed murder, so he’s morally dodgy as well. He could be a spy! He’s an East German in West Germany looking for East German spies. There’s quite a nice subtext in the fact that he has this thing looming over him, the alleged murder. That’s quite a nice thing to be able to play off of.

MC: Can you talk a little bit about the difference between acting in theatre and in film and TV?

CM: I prefer both. It’s just different. It involves different energy. In TV you’re doing a lot of short scenes and you’re repeating them over and over again and you’re saving your energy for when they say ‘action!’ The great thing about theatre is: the curtain goes up, and you’re on. It’s like a football match—you’re on 90 minutes nonstop, and you’re in front of an audience. You’re more engaged in theatre and you get an immediate response.

MC: You were on Taggart for a long time, weren’t you? What’s it like playing the same character over several years?

CM: I was in it for 15 years. So, what was good about it was you only did the job a year at a time. At the end of the year, you didn’t know if it was coming back. I didn’t know it was going to run for so long. And in the nature of it, because it wasn’t a soap, every five or six weeks we’d do another episode and there’d be totally different actors in it, and there’d be a different story, and there’d be a different director, so other than the core three or four cast you were always working with different people. And one episode might be set in the world of horse racing and the next might be in a radio station, then the next one might be a mining story. So you were always going to different places but you were a constant in it. You knew where you were and what the part was, but it wasn’t quite like being in Coronation Street for 30 years.

MC: Are you afraid audience might expect your Taggart character?

Well, hilariously, the Taggart catchphrase is: there’s been a murder. People ask me to say it all the time. And in the play, I have to talk about a murder: I’ll have to say the ‘m’ word. As the catchphrase took off, we’d always try to change it to ‘killing’ or something else. We always tried to change it. ‘Sir, there’s been an incident.’ Doesn’t quite work as well, does it?

© Michael Cox

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