Film, TV and theatre actor Ricky Champ talks Game of Thrones and working as a dad
Ricky Champ is a film, TV and theatre actor known for working at the RSC and in HBO's hit show Game of Thrones.
Here he tells Mandy News all about his craft and career.
So, Ricky, if you could just give us a little introduction to yourself and a little bit about what you do in the industry.
My name’s Ricky Champ, I’m an actor. I graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama 12 years ago, and I’ve been working as an actor ever since. Luckily enough, across all mediums, mostly to start within the theatre, and kind of paid my dues in the RSC for a few years, which was life-changing, and then slowly got into TV, bit parts and then regulars and then films. I’ve kind of done it the layman's way, really. The honest way, I think, I’ve paid my dues.
How was it you got into the Royal Shakespeare Company? Or how did you actually get into theatre in general?
Guildhall is set up predominantly to prepare actors for a career in the theatre and it’s got a wealth of teaching faculty: Patsy Rodenburg, Wendy Allnutt, Peter Clough, Wyn Jones, Ken Rea, the list goes on and on. All amazing people, preparing actors for a career in the theatre. I think out of the whole three years we had maybe a two-week course on TV acting. That’s where my passion is, without a doubt. I will always go back to the theatre, always. That’s how I got really into theatre. I knew I always wanted to be an actor, I didn’t know what that meant until I went to drama school.
The RSC was my first big gig. It was a year contract followed by a year and a half contract, doing classical plays, obviously. Shakespeare plays, and modern ones as well, in the West End as well as on tour. I got to go to so many fantastic places. My first ever play there was Coriolanus and we took that to the stage at the Kennedy Centre, which was amazing. That was the top of the tree really. The cast in America was so looked after and treated like royalty. "Oh my God! Royal Shakespeare Company? Do you know the Queen?" There was lots of that going down.
We took it to Madrid, the Royal Theatre there, and Newcastle. When I saw Newcastle on the list of where we were going to tour, I was like ‘Oh, so we’re going to the states, we’re going to Madrid, and we’re going to Newcastle,’ and I was like ‘Oh, okay.’ We went to Newcastle, turns out Newcastle’s one of my favourite ever places. I love it, I had such a good time there and it was at the Royal Theatre there. The RSC, as well as being an absolute juggernaut of a theatre, it was the largest theatre company in the world for a lot of years, and I think Michael Boyd, who was the previous artistic director, he downsized it a lot. It was a bit of a monster, the RSC, for a long time, but Michael Boyd changed it to not make it the largest theatre company in the world anymore, which I think was a good move, actually.
They’re so prolific, the RSC, and it was a training as well, it was a training from training. You finished at Guildhall, and then it was training with professionals, which I was extraordinarily lucky to be around, those guys. I could list 50 actors for you, now, that all had an impact on me. I think I’ve been a bit of a thief throughout my whole career, as far as energy and technique and handling yourself professionally go. If I like the way someone does things, I’ll try to do that myself.
The transition from Guildhall to the Royal Shakespeare, was that how it went, straight from Guildhall to the Royal Shakespeare?
I had a couple of jobs first. The first ever job that I had was a film, in Thailand, with a German production company called Komplizen Film, really wicked little arthouse movie called Hotel Very Welcome, and it was Chris O’Dowd and it that was my first ever job, and I thought ‘This is what acting is, it’s a trip to Thailand these awesome artistic Germans,’ and it was completely improvised as well, talk about baptism of fire, acting for the camera, improvised. I think they shot 50 hours of footage over that month, for a half an hour episode in a film. Which they could have made multiple storylines out of, but I’m sure the edit was an absolute headache.
Then I’d done a play in the West End, with Daniel Kramer, playing a Nazi officer in a concentration camp in Krakow, it was hardcore. After those couple of gigs, I thought ‘That’s the job of an actor, a movie, and a play in the West End at the Trafalgar Studios, and what now?’ The next audition I had all those years ago, was with Greg Doran, who was an associate director at the time for the RSC. Turns out, he saw something in me and then the next six professional shows I’d done were with Greg. There was a lot of nurturing there, I thought. I felt like I was prepared enough from my training to work as an actor, but handling yourself professionally, I think that was the next stage of my development. I like to think that I still want to develop now, but in my infancy in acting, I thought that there’s no better place to learn, I felt absolutely blessed. That was that.
How would you say you then made that transition from theatre back to TV and film, or into TV and film, for a longer period of time?
Straight after theatre, I felt as though I had a really core understanding of I was supposed to do on stage. After the first film I’d done, all that camera time, it was great, but it was kind of a guerrilla camera unit setup, which has kind of followed me through my career, but it wasn’t a studio set like you’d see in a TV show or film studio. I needed to do more, I think, and I said that to my agent, that I’d had my fill of theatre, for now, so let’s start building up a career. I felt like I’d paid my dues on The Bill as well, I’d done The Bill, I’d done Family Affairs.
It was just building up those credits and then an amazing bloke called Richard Laxton got me in for a TV show called Him & Her. After the first four auditions that he saw me for, for the same part, and this was a regular on a TV show that had a lot of buzz about it, Big Talk Productions were- Russell Tovey was attached already, Sarah Solemani. Stefan Golaszewski, who wrote it, I think is a genius, as far as writing for TV goes, as far as writing goes. Again, I thought ‘I just haven’t got this.’ Fourth audition, fifth audition, they saw me five times, by which time I felt like I was going in and trying to think of new ways to do it to tip the decision over the edge enough. I knew the other actor as well, who was going up for the same part as me, we met each other all the time. We were mates by this time. By the end, it was a handshake, and it was like you’re a good man, whatever happens.
As ecstatic as I was when I actually got the part, I was a bit devastated for him, because I felt, that, yeah, that’s ruthless. In the theatre, generally with an audition they want to see a scene, something that they can work with, burgeon and direct and grow into the part through your rehearsal process. Generally, with film and television, they will see an actor, and they want to see the finished product in the room. They’ve got loads of things to think about and you sometimes get that. If you don’t nail it then you probably haven’t got it.
With auditions, I always try and say to myself, ‘Right, I’ve done the work that I wanted to do to go in here. I worked as hard as I could on this, so if they don’t want me then it’s not my fault.’ If I go in there slightly underprepared, or anything like that, then there’s a chance that because of me I didn’t get that part. I’ll beat myself up about that, but rejection a huge part of being an actor. If you can’t deal with rejection, then you’ve got to learn, because everyone has been rejected and got to the last two and it sometimes can be excruciating. As well, it can be beautiful.
Him & Her changed the game. After four series, four years of Him & Her, I realised that I’d started going up for meatier stuff in television, a lot more regular parts and a lot more guest leads and stuff like that, rather than bit parts. That kind of evolved really nicely for me, and since then I’ve been really lucky. I’ve got into some rooms with great people, some I’ve got, some I haven’t got.
Him & Her’s won a BAFTA.
The fourth series of Him & Her, in our fourth year when everyone knew each other really well and crew and director. We were all mates by this time, we all knew how each other worked, and if the readers haven’t seen the show, the first three series are all set in one bedsit, so you’ve got this camera going round and round in a studio setup and sometimes you’ve got cabin fever. You quickly got to know everyone. In a hot box, you get to know people quickly. By the fourth series, it was the wedding, and my character Paul has been married to Laura, played by Kerry Howard, magnificently, may I add. The wedding series won a BAFTA. I could not believe it, that was a dream night. I stayed at Sarah’s house and drunk all of her husband’s scotch. It was fantastic. In my posh suit, that Moss Bros gave me.
Was it after the BAFTA win that the roles started coming in, or was it from earlier on in earlier series, as you were the main character?
Slowly coming through. With something like that, a high profile win, it gets a lot of press and stuff like that. There was a window where I was going up for quite big stuff, and you feel it settle down a bit again and you start going back up for the jobbing actor. It’s always important, I think, or it has been important for me to keep an open dialogue and keep talking and keep carving a career out with your agent. Making your agent’s relationship with you is really important, they’ve got to know you, go to know what you want to go up for, what you want to play and achieve.
That’s always been quite fluid in my career, like, right, I’ll meet you for some theatre alright, I want to do some TV, this is a good time in my life to do a quick commercial, please, can I go up for a couple. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been able to do what I want to do, artistically, sometimes I just can’t do the play. Sometimes I can’t do it because I can’t afford it. The travel to London is with a year contract, it’s like the best of five grand for a train ticket for me, so you’ve got to think about these things.
Life changes, I’ve just had a baby girl. My whole life has changed again, she’s been beautiful and tough and all these things and I’d done, straight after Beatrix was born, was a film for television in Scotland. David Walliams wrote a series of children’s books, and he wrote one called Grandpa’s Great Escape, and John Cannon rang me up and said ‘Would you like to do it?’ He’s a casting director, and I said yes. I didn’t audition, I just got straight-up offered a job and it was working with Jennifer Saunders and Tom Courtenay, acting royalty for me. Jetted up to Scotland, done a couple of scenes on that, and then got back in time for the midnight feed. After just finishing that, it was a really great time in my life to do that job. That will determine what jobs you can do, it has done for me at times in my life.
Although it’s early days, how do you feel the addition of a new member in your family has affected or changed the way you look at your job and how you’re able to fulfill that?
Of course, there’s a seismic shift in reality, when you have a child and a lot of things come down to the bones of it. Jobs, right, I need jobs, I need to work, I can’t go through a lenient spell in the hope of having got a job in October, and thinking ‘I can hang out till January, till the pilot season comes around in America, I’ll take a gamble and not do this show.’ It does impact you, you need to make money from your jobs, which is a bit sad. I don’t think I ever really valued money, I knew what everything cost, don’t get me wrong, but I never really valued it. In fact, it was always quite dirty to me.
Then, having a child, it’s like right, okay, maybe I need to be a bit more of a Scrooge about things. After I got married last year, I suppose I did grow up a bit, in regards to budgeting and stuff. It is a pressure, you start thinking about a lot of things, for the child. For the future. Actors’ sole purpose, one of the ultimate things for an actor to get to do is to find what you’re doing in the moment. Be in the moment, don’t be thinking about something that’s just happened, don’t be thinking about what’s going to happen, live in the moment and then that looks really good on stage and looks great on camera. It transposes and traverses all mediums, that in the moment thing, and you have to look to the future with a child. Maybe I’m not as well prepared or trained at looking to the future as I should be, I’ve always been a bit caring, carefree and careless, really.
You recently worked on a film with Woody Harrelson, called, I believe, Lost in London, which I was very fortunate to be at the live showing of. Talk about living in the moment. Can you tell us more about the project?
Nothing is going to drag you into the moment more than a live-streamed set up going to 550 cinemas in the United States and a few in London, which equates to nearly half a million people seeing you, live, as it’s shot. One take, with a 90-minute film. It was like a bit of street theatre, a surreal experience for me, really. Starting from the audition in December, when I went in to meet Woody Harrelson, my agent said ‘I’ve got a really cool one for you. Woody Harrelson wants to see you.’ It was like, ‘No way!’ I went to London, the Umbrella Rooms, and met Woody. He was just sitting in a room, just the most chilled out man you’ve ever met in your life. He’s like an old hippy, like a lovely old hippy.
He told me that he had an idea for this film, he’d written it and he was directing it, he’s starring in it, producing it, and it’s going to be shot live. It was like, wow. He was like, ‘You’re going to be going up to this cabbie.’ I didn’t really know much about it, got the script in the room, read and thought I read well. I got the part. Unbelievable, I got the part, and a month and a half later I was driving a cab in London, this is my part, a cabbie, and there was a duologue with Woody in the back and a guerrilla camera crew, that I told you followed me through my career, in the back of this cab. In London, going down the Aldwych, real-time, number seven bus, real traffic and it’s so shaky.
it’s a heightened angry shouty scene with Woody Harrelson, you’ve got to be on it. We had a couple of days rehearsal and we never could do the actual route. Down High Holborn, down Aldwych, on the actual night we’d have a police escort round to do an illegal move at the top of High Holborn, and not go round the Aldwych, but we only had that on the night. Rehearsals, we couldn’t ever rehearse it. Of course, I needed to know the exact time it was going to take me to get from point A, where we get in the cab, to point B, where I have to drop him off, where the next scene begins. The scene itself took about three minutes fifty seconds or something, it’s nearly four minutes, obviously, if I get stopped at more than two traffic lights, we’re improvising for half a million people. It was so much pressure, but it was beautiful pressure.
We got friendly with Woody and that was part of his design, so we could riff a bit. He’s such a nice guy anyway, and I felt comfortable with him. He’s got bags of experience, and he’s quite a magnetic person. He’s the sort of actor that makes actors around him better. I learned so much from Woody, work ethic and how cool the dude is, really. That was an incredible experience, it really was, and a fleeting moment, February came around and I thought ‘Did I just fucking do that?’ It was crazy, brilliant.
It was incredible to watch something like that. We often forgot that we were watching something live.
One take. It was all at three o’clock in the morning. Apparently, there were some hairy moments, in it, you have got an absolute minefield of things that could go wrong. Just working in general, if you’ve ever been on a TV set, just in one take there are 500 things that can go wrong. One 20 second take, let alone a full movie. It was incredibly brave, to take on, incredibly brave.
I think for people who don’t live in a massive metropolis like London, or Manhattan, I’m sure you could tell people exactly what London is like, at any moment day or night, in terms of how busy it can be.
Absolutely ridiculous. The Aldwych is one of the busiest sections of road in Europe, it’s never quiet. I was worried about the traffic, and as well, you tend to not actually drive in film and TV stuff, you tend to be driven, or you tend to be in a studio if you have to do it. Or with controlled traffic or anything with a stunt driver in, but just one second actually on the night, it came into my head. Just one second, that I had to brake a bit suddenly just because a bus came across the front of me, and I just thought, in that one second, right, I could crash, kill myself, Woody Harrelson, the cameraman. Half a million people can see this.
That’s where I go ‘Chill out, breathe,’ I realised I was holding my breath and then I carried on. It was really intense, but we got through it, mercifully, and I know that I did get stopped at the first two traffic lights, on that night, and I thought to myself, whilst I’m doing the scene, coming in the back of me was ‘Right, if you get stopped at another one, you’re improvising, so put your foot down.’ Instinctively sped up, and sailed through to the end. In fact, it went so smoothly that, I don’t know, Bacchus or some God looked down on us. It went so smoothly that I had to slow down slightly to finish the scene before I got to the end point. It was gorgeous.
By that time, I’d gone past the point of any worry, and I was sailing in. It was delightful. Of course, I’m staying in touch with Woody after. He’s got this WhatsApp group with the cast on it, and he invited us all to his latest film screening of this film called The Glass Castle, which is out. I urge everyone to go and see it, great performances, and I just found myself in a hotel chatting with Danny Devito, and just thinking ‘Oh, man this is just so cool.’ I’ve never been one for schmoozing or working a room, I’m pretty crap at all that stuff, but standing kind of above Danny Devito, I’d been watching that guy my whole life, and Woody, I’ve been watching him since Cheers, so that was great.
It was the ball rolling for not the most financially amazing year of my life, but definitely one of the most artistically challenging and rewarding years of my life. Straight after Lost in London, I went to Bulgaria and shot a TV show for the states called Absentia, Sony Productions, playing a mental patient, which just took it all out of me. It was kind of weird and wonderful as well, Israeli film crew, Oded Ruskin was the director as well, who’s just this ball of energy you’ve got to keep up with. It was fantastic. That finished, and then straight into the theatre, Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s globe, can’t get better than that, I think. Romeo and Juliet, Summer of Love, Shakespeare, Emma Rice’s last seasons, Daniel Kramer directing. I played Tybalt, I died every night. I died every night and lived again mate. It was beautiful for me, that job, one of the most beautiful jobs of my career.
Fantastic atmosphere down there as well. It’s a lovely venue.
Of course, man, the summer was hot and I was walking. I’d done the commute, obviously with a pregnant wife at the time. I was commuting, which I thought ‘This could kill me,’ but no it didn’t. It gave me an hour on the train every morning to just go through the first act or the second act, and I was so prepared for it. I had to understudy Romeo, as well, which is absolutely insane, so by the first show in the Globe, I knew every beat of that play, every beat. I was a machine.
That’s almost a complete diametric opposite to having to shoot a live film before that.
It was quite a similar feeling, it’s a lot more in your face in the theatre, there’s like 1300 people and then 600 people in the Globe, I think, and they’re there. They’re right there, man. The groundlings stand up, there’s a little joke, an ongoing joke there, that after a performance you say ‘Standing ovation in the yard.’ They were standing anyway. That took a few months, four months or so, and then the baby was born and then I went to Scotland to do the film, for TV.
It’s been quite relentless, emotionally, for me this year. My bread and butter is baddies I think, but after an emotional encounter or a moment in your life, that changes you, you think ‘Maybe I’m not in the right frame of mind to be a murderer right now.’ Maybe I wouldn’t like to do that. That’s another thing that I spoke with my agent about, the film for TV is a children’s film, and it was really nice, even the baddies are soppy, like childish and childlike.
There’s nothing really dangerous about it, it was beautiful, but I love doing children's movies, I love it. I got to do Paddington last year, and the last year, Paddington 2, which is coming out this Christmas, and Peter and Wendy, I was a pirate. I was a pirate, man, in Luxembourg. That was wicked. That was for a film, Peter and Wendy, children’s film that was out last Christmas. Stanley Tucci was Captain Hook, and it was set in and around Great Ormond Street Hospital, and JM Barrie’s Peter Pan coming to life. It was wonderful, but I love doing work for children, I think it’s pure. And they’re brutal as well. If you’re not good, that’s it. No beating around the bush, if you’re not interesting, they will let you know, which is great.
You’ve been working on Grandpa’s Great Escape, which was written by David Walliams, and you’ve got Paddington 2 coming up this Christmas, so maybe a bit more about those two and just generally what you’re up to next. What’s next for Ricky Champ?
This is a good moment for this. Even though I’ve just spouted off lots of jobs that I’ve done, made it sound like a very successful career, there’s nothing on the horizon, nothing. I went up for a feature film, the other day, which was a self-tape, which is luck of the gods. Which, fingers crossed we’ll see, but at the moment the world is my oyster. Got a few things coming out, which will maybe get a bit of buzz going, get me back in the public eye a bit, like, I had nothing after I shot Game of Thrones a couple of years ago. Nothing at all, and as soon as that came out, I got like seven jobs on the bounce, so that does happen. Keeping in the public eye, striking while the iron is hot, is one thing you have to do as an actor. Your agent has to do it for you. We’ll see. I said to them that I don’t really want to do another long theatre run at the moment.
There was potentially a job going back at the Globe, from the end of November right through to March, beautiful job, but I just thought, Romeo and Juliet took up my whole life. I was so in that, from the commute in the morning and on the way home and then going back home, really tired, going to bed, getting up and going again. When the show opened, it was like sleep in the day, and go to work and then get back at three in the morning. I just think that another job like that at the Globe, my full attention wouldn’t be on it. At the moment, I don’t know if I want to miss, in effect, the next four months of my daughter growing up. Which I think I would if I’d done the same as what I did for Romeo and Juliet, in this next gig, that might happen. I might blink and it’ll be March, and I’ll be like ‘Blimey. She’s a different girl.’
That’s another thing about it changing. Changing your life, I wasn’t ready to do that again. That’s a shame, that one time, so maybe another couple of jobs before the year finishes, and a couple of little bits on telly. I don’t mind. Fine, whatever comes my way.
Sometimes, advice to younger actors, that’s going to happen. That is going to happen. There is going to be times where your phone might not ring for a month, and you’re like ‘Right, okay, I’m still alive here.’ There will be quiet times. In the quiet times, I think it’s very important to keep yourself. You have to be to be, an actor, to keep yourself busy, whether- do something else, do something completely different. Sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring, that way lies damnation.
I guess you can do a three or four month run in something that’ll feel like it went by in a day, and sit by the phone for a day and feel like it took three months to go past.
A hundred percent. Time is definitely distorted in this moment. Lost in London feels like an absolute dream. It doesn’t feel like it really happened, and it was over in a blink. Before you know it, after five months of the theatre, you’re in the last show. Last show in a long run is always really strange, and emotional and bittersweet and lots of different things. Relationships and friendships that you make as an actor, with other actors and other people you’re working with, are often brief and often intense. I don’t live in London, I’m like ‘Oh thanks guys, see you later,’ and then when people are going out and stuff I’m coming home. It’s a job, you have to keep reminding yourself of that, that it is a job. Sometimes you do have to leave work at work.
What kind of advice would you have for young budding actors, for the theatre, film, TV, whatever?
Remain open. Enter every project with innocence and then it’ll be yours. Then you can have some ownership of things. Always be open to change in any project. You could rehearse something fifty times and it’s just not right. Go back to the drawing board. Don’t be disheartened. Always make choices, always give the director something to direct and always be friendly. There’s no room for people being moody. You work in close proximity to people and close to their art, which sometimes is very tender. It’s a very delicate thing, people’s art. I think there’s a way of doing everything gently, nicely. If anything, it’ll get you employed again. No room for d***heads, guys.
An actor’s two worst enemies are arrogance and bitterness. If you are doing well, it is arrogance. If you’re doing bad or if the phone’s not ringing, which will happen, it is bitterness. Arrogance is a common flaw among the Jedi…
When I think about advice for young actors, my mind goes back to Guildhall. What did they say to me? If you want to do it, then you will do it. It will happen. Just keep going. Keep a good professional relationship with your agent. You want someone that is lovely to you and is a Rottweiler on the phone to everyone else. It’s a business. You are your business.
You had one of the most fun deaths in Game of Thrones and one of the best ever last words of any character. How was that?
Well, you know it was an absolute no-brainer. I went in and Nina Gold cast Rob. I’d done the audition and got the part. It was a murder. I was part of the brotherhood without banners. I was playing a character called Gatins and it turned out really good. I got to say the c-word in front of 35 million people. Actually shooting that, I didn’t have the greatest time. I got injured. I broke my foot during that scene. It was cold, it was in Ireland and it was quite hard to shoot. Take five and you’re knackered.
I was working with Rory, who plays the Hound, who’s getting on for seven feet tall. He’s a lovely guy. He just lives in Scotland and talks about ferrets. He’s really gentle. Looks an absolute animal in the show.
The nicest part about shooting Game of Thrones for me, was getting flown out to Ireland for a week and a half, straight away to do an intensive horse riding course, because there were a couple of scenes on a horse. Literally, we were just riding along the Irish coast on these beautiful horses. That was a lovely moment, for me.