Martin Freeman on Labour, Corbyn and why you should never call him an everyman
The star of ‘The Office’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Sherlock’ plays an ambitious MP in ‘Labour of Love’, James Graham’s epic new comedy about the Labour Party
You’re a Labour Party member – did that influence your decision to do this play?
‘It might help a little that I’m more Labour than anything else, but I just like good writing; it could easily have been about the Tory Party.’
What are the play’s politics?
‘What is put really, really well is the potential passion of the centre. There’s a great line: for us to get into power we’ll need all our lot to vote for us, and then some Tories too. This country is a “small C” conservative country – when we’ve had a Labour government it’s because we’ve had to reach across that border to the so-called enemy.’
What’s the story with your character, Nottinghamshire MP David Lyons?
‘It’s about his marriage, his work, his relationship with his constituency agent, who’s played by Tamsin Greig. She’s more traditional left, and when I come up in 1990 looking like a bank manager, I am a threat to everything she holds dear. What the play gives you is a great window inside what might have been the thinking behind New Labour. I remember being 17 and thinking: What is this bullshit? But obviously Mandelson wasn’t waking up thinking: I’m going to be a real twat today. He wanted to get Labour into power because he is Labour to his bones.’
Were you ever courted by New Labour?
‘No, not at all. I think “The Office” was a bit too hip for New Labour, it was a bit too BBC2; they were a bit more Noel Gallagher and Chris Evans.’
‘Blairite’ is a bit of a dirty word in Labour these days – how do you feel about it?
‘I think you can get too swept up in name-calling, I’m less interested in that than I was a few years ago. I just feel whatever works: if it builds schools and opens hospitals and funds the police and helps people with housing I’m like: yeah, fine, I don’t care what you want to call it.’
What do you make of Jeremy Corbyn?
‘When I voted for him to be leader I knew that all that T-shirt and badge politics was nonsense: surrounding yourself with people who agree with you is useless, pointless. It’s just that he happened to say things that chimed with me more than the other three. That was it. He said stuff I wanted Labour to be saying. I think he wants a fair country and that is the job of a Labour leader.’
You were last on stage as Richard III. Was there a sense of going against type in playing theatre’s most famous villain?
‘If somebody of [director] Jamie Lloyd’s quality says “Do you want to do ‘Richard III?”, you say yes. I mean I read some fucking bullshit with that. Guess what, somebody’s going to call me an everyman – astonishing! Where have you pulled that from? Smart people… think of the most venerated drama critics, and they’re comparing it to “The Office”. Lazy.’
You’re not a fan of constantly being described as an ‘everyman’, then?
‘It’s just so amazingly boring. It’s a bland word that I don’t take as a compliment at all. Even if you mean it as a compliment, find another fucking word! These cunts write for a living – there are other fucking words, bitch!’