LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with Andy Nyman about his role in the classic TV version of The Woman in Black
By James Whittington, Sunday 9th August 2020
Andy Nyman is one of the most popular and hardworking actors working today. From thrillers to chillers, from comedy to drama, Andy can turn his hand to any genre. Thanks to Network Releasing we are able to appreciate his first ever TV appearance as they release a remastered version of the acclaimed television adaptation of The Woman in Black. We chatted to Andy about his role in this legendary piece.
HC: Let's chat about this TV version of The Woman in Black, was it one of your first ever roles very first TV role?
AN: That was my very first TV role, I was 23, the same age my son is now. It is a shock, isn't it? I was like, when I saw it back I was like (laughs) "On my God!" because you kid yourself that you don't look that different, but then you look!
HC: You have a lot of dark, curly hair!
AN: Thank God I've not lost that; the hair still grows thick and fast!
HC: Had you read the book or seen the play before you went for the part of Jackie?
AN: I had read the book and seen the play which was at The Lyric in Hammersmith at that point which is one of the reasons we wanted to start Ghost Stories there. It has just come down from York the play and I'd read the book and I'd shot the film and then the play was there, so I went to see it, and it was just you know the place that maybe some piece of work yeah it is brilliant, brilliant piece of work properly frightening, properly creative and exciting theatre which really delivers. Shooting the film was just so exciting.
HC: Did you have to audition for the role?
AN: Yeah. It was my first ever TV audition. I was two years out of drama school, I went to meet Herbie Wise who I knew from directing I Claudius and thought, "Wow, he's a proper director for a proper film!". This is going back to when we just had three channels. It was the big film for Christmas Eve for ITV, big budget from Central Films who were probably doing Inspector Morse or whatever they were doing back then, it was proper pedigree and it was a good little part, you know, like it was like too good to be true and then I met Herbie Wise and he said, "I've got a couple of really nice ideas for the horror moments" and I said that I was a fan of horror and they sound exciting and then I got the job two hours later.
HC: Did you realise at the time the person wrote the script was a legend in his own right anyway?
AN: No, not at that point. It was only a couple of years later as I got deeper into the horror world just thinking, "Nigel Kneale? Oh my God!" and I put two and two together.
HC: It shines through that it is his work. He really puts his stamp on it.
AN: Absolutely and I know that Susan Hill has a funny relationship with this version of it, but I think that it's maybe because it's so obviously a marriage of her and Nigel Kneale's work. But I think what he brings to it is, I mean, I think her source material is amazing, what he brings to it is his perverse sensibility that is just so smart and so bold and mean-spirited it just takes it to the next level.
HC: It's got his classic format of "We've got this classic this story, we're going tell you everything about everybody so you really care for them as it goes on" so it just isn't about the "scares".
AN: Had you seen it before, this version?
HC: I do have a recording from the original broadcast on VHS, and the way Network Releasing have given this such a clean-up is amazing isn' t it?
AN: Unbelievable. It's really beautiful. Its aged brilliantly as well, it just breaths and takes its time, it pulls you in and, my God, it delivers.
HC: The shocks are just subtle and steady, there's a little one here, there's a hint of unease, something eerie etc that's the magic of it and that's what we need on television at the moment that sort of escapism isn't it?
HC: Everything from the cast such as you, nice and fresh faced and then we had all these established actors, we you nervous on your first day on set?
AN: Yeah. I was a mix of nervous and excited. Nervous because you're so, I mean you can see it, I'm like, I'm so excited I'm always excited to be I'm always excited to work and to do it in any form. I love it so much, but yeah, to walk on, I think it was at Shepperton, to be at a proper film studio, to have a car pick you up take you to a film studio, see for the first time in my life proper film cameras filming a set, hearing properly for the first time in my life someone say, "Action". To see a clapper board properly, I mean, yes, I was, I couldn't believe it's like a dream come true there is a dream come true and I still feel that every single time I do it I honestly do. But yeah, that first day was just amazing and the magic of the artistry and how brilliant everyone is at their work and that set is a thing of beauty. Then the amazing thing, you know, when there's been this fire in the office and how they distressed it just amazing, so I was a kid in a candy shop.
HC: How large were the sets?
AN: They were the size that you thought they are. It was like being in a lawyer's office or a solicitor's office. There were three sets you know there was Adrian Rawlins' (plays Arthur Kidd) side office, there was the main reception office that we (Nyman and actor Steven Mackintosh who plays Rolfe) were in and then there was David Ryall's (plays Sweetman) office and know what's brilliant about that is it means that if you set about camera with the track you're seeing all of that real world happen so you get him come out his office through the main office across and into the other office and it's it all feels like it's not a set.
HC: Were you tempted to take a souvenir from the set?
AN: Not from that but I have done so many other times (laughs) but not from that one. I was just so excited just like... the souvenir was being in it. I tell you what I have got is my ticket for the cast and crew screening from Friday the 6th of October 1989. I went on my own and I sat next to Pauline Moran (who plays the title character) and s**t myself (laughs). We had not seen it. We'd seen the odd bits and there's those moments when you just go cold.
HC: The scene with the screaming face at the bottom of the bed moment is just a magical part isn't it?
AN: Yeah, it's one of the greatest jumps ever filmed that.
HC: Did The Woman in Black directly lead into more work for you?
AN: Well, it is a funny thing that. Not directly it's just your career you're just building and building and building and falling back, building and building and building and falling back, and it's always the case that occasionally you'll meet people who'll say, "I saw that. Love that". What's interesting with the Woman in Black is it's become the stuff of cult mystery because, you know, it was broken into 12 parts on YouTube or everything mostly anyway you could see it so you know you've had for years with people saying that you must see it. The joy of it is it's not like one of those things you watch think, it's a bit, (pulls face of disappointment) you know? It goes above and beyond what you want it to be.
HC: You've recorded a commentary track for the release with Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman.
AN: Yeah, it was wonderful to do.
HC: What memories did they help to get from you?
AN: It was great fun. Here's a thing. I've known Mark 30 years probably because Jeremy Dyson is my oldest friend and I've known him since 1981. So I met Mark, I was going to Leeds and it would have been 1990 and Jeremy said you've got to meet my friend Mark and I met Mark and the very first words he ever said to me were, "Have you seen the new Chaplin, Mr Kipps? He eats his boots!" (A quote from Andy's character from The Woman n Black) and I think, "F*****g hell! That's amazing" and he was a huge The Woman in Black fan and just wanted to talk about it. So here we were, doing the commentary, that was just a joy to be able to talk like that.
HC: Would you have liked to have been in the Hammer version?
AN: Well, only playing the lead and I don't think I'd have been given a shout against Daniel Radcliffe! I thought it was terrific, again it's a different incarnation of it but I think that shows you the power of that source material is that you know Susan Hill's book is brilliant, Nigel Kneal's adaptation on the TV is phenomenal, Stephen Mallatratt's version for the theatre is amazing, Jane Goldman's version for Hammer is absolutely brilliant and they all have different facets. The Hammer one is a belting rollercoaster ride that delivers for teenagers and anyone else, the theatre continues to deliver 30 years on with its own thing, her book if people read it is good and finally people get to re-experience this in all its foetid glory.
HC: Ghost Stories and The Woman in Black are both steeped in atmosphere and chills. Do you have a favourite between them both?
AN: (laughs) I can't answer that! Which one is the best is impossible to say, but Ghost Stories wouldn't exist without our love of things like The Woman in Black because it's a homage to all those things. But equally I am extraordinarily proud of the fact, as is Jeremy Dyson that here we are into over a decade into the life Ghost Stories it has had its extraordinary theatrical life all over the world and a film that people love, it's wonderful that the two live side by side. The Ghost Stores film in particular, Americans wanted to make it and we wouldn't let them we wanted to do it our way and I'm very proud of the fact that it's part of that British horror world as is particularly the TV version of The Woman in Black because one of the things of the Hammer version is, rightly it has a global feel to it you've got a global superstar in the lead and it feels like a big glossy film whereas the TV film feels like drizzly England and that sensibility is very unique to us and it's wonderful to be part of that world.
HC: Andy Nyman, thank you very much.
The worldwide Blu-ray debut of The Woman in Black is available exclusively from the Network website on 10 August.
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