INTERVIEW: Rufus Hound on playing Dad in the RSC’s Boy in the Dress

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Rufus Hound plays Dad in the RSC's The Boy in the Dress. Photo Mark Williamson
Rufus Hound takes a seat at the RSC offices

Stand-up turned actor Rufus Hound talks to Gill Sutherland about his career, DIY, politics, and being a dad — onstage in #RSCBoyinDress and in real life

Your character Dad is a rufty-tufty truck driver with a soft centre – is that something you identify with?
Not sure about rufty-tufty! But I do work away from home a lot and I have two children – a boy of 12 and a girl of eight – so they are use to my absence. Being in Stratford and not being able to see them as they live in London it has really felt hard. So that makes me think I’m not parenting correctly – ‘Oh my God, oh my God I don’t know what I’m doing!’, which I think most parents have.
Underneath his blokey defences, Dad is insecure but just ploughs on,… At one point he realises: ‘Dennis is right and I’m wrong’.That recognition that your son is better than you could have hoped for because of his own choices is about as Shakespearean as it gets! I’m sort of in my own story where a man has to overcome – – buzzword for 2020 – his own toxic masculinity.

You cut your teeth in stand-up comedy. Obviously most actors at the RSC have been to drama school – is there a part of you that wishes you’d gone to RADA?
I’m actually very glad to have come at it from stand up. One of the things that I’ve learnt from stand up is that confidence is basically 90 per cent of how to do it and it’s the same for acting.

Rufus Hound as Dad, with Dennis played by Jackson Laing. Photo: RSC

Which Shakespeare role would you like to take on?
The obvious ones are Bottom and Falstaff. I’m hoping I could get to 50ish and then make a career out of playing Falstaff in the three plays in which he appears as I get older and fatter and more alcoholic!

It’s a dream for all of us!
Falstaff I understand more than any other character in Shakespeare and there’s a fairly good reason.

If you hadn’t been an entertainer what would you have done?
I would like have made things but didn’t have the talent. There’s an American actor, a comedian, and writer called Nick Offerman and I’m an enormous fan of his and in a book of his he says that fulfilling work is often when you have something tangible to show for it, and yet we have now created a society where if you are a smart good person then you don’t have to do any physical labour because that’s what good smart people do. The number of men of my generation that I know that live with the absolute knowledge of the emptiness of what they do is tragic. So my live was never geared up for making things and it was only being an actor that threw me up against people that do make things that make me think ‘Oh my God that’s amazing!’ And I’ve started doing woodwork courses and I’ve made a chair and a ladder. There’s few things more fulfilling than making.

The last conversation I had with an actor about DIY was Kenneth Branagh!
That must be one of the few lists with both of our names on! I’ve been told I look like a heavier and less handsome Branagh.

I saw that you’ve got your own line of wax and beard balm! Which made me think, when did the Rufus Hound’ signature look arrive?
At the age of 21, because I didn’t have any money I had to get a job, so I worked as an office junior at a PR company. By the time I was 20 I was the account executive for a couple of different brands, one being Claire’s Accessories. No one took me seriously as I was so young, so I thought I’ll put some facial hair on that will make me look a bit older, and it became a kind of trademark.

And when and why did you change your name?
It’s the least interesting story in the world but when I was 20 I went to the Edinburgh festival and I was teching some shows, and one of them was for Russell Brand and he said ‘Why aren’t you doing stand up? Do stand up!’
I thought right before I start doing stand up I need to get my own .com! But my real name was taken, so I had to come up with a new name that wouldn’t be taken and so I chose Rufus Hound, and funnily enough I’ve never had a website! It came between Rufus Hound and Jiminy Biscuit.

You made a wise choice there.
That’s what everyone says I’m still not convinced! When I stopped doing stand up Eddie Izzard was at my last gig and I looked at this man who had been a huge hero of mine and said, ‘this is unbelievable you are at my last ever gig I’ve just stopped doing stand up’, and he said, ‘No you haven’t stand ups are never not stand ups they just do different things once you’re a stand up you never get out of that’. And I have spent that last few years thinking about that and I have a much better understanding of what that means now than I did at the time.

Er, so what did Eddie mean?
I think it’s about a thought process. If you see any stand up ever telling a story about something horrific that happened to them they will normally go, ‘Oh my God I’m being mugged!’ But also ‘I’ll get 10 minutes out of this’. Ultimately you live in a world looking at your own experiences from slightly set back.

You’re very vocal about your political beliefs, what do you think about what’s going on currently?
I’m just in despair really. What is undeniably true is that the system that we have supported and lived under is based on lies. One is that goods and services can be created out of thin air. If you are going to sell a good or a service there is necessarily a bit of something that needs to be dug up or cut down let alone transporting it with fuel and all those things. As long as we keep demanding endless growth the more we are killing the planet. The second lie is trickle-down economics. There isn’t an economist in the world who isn’t owned by billionaires that thinks that there is any working model for trickle-down economics. Money doesn’t trickle-down – it trickles up. I don’t care about the blue or the red team or the yellow team as much as I care about the fact that we know that we are steering our ship into an environmental apocalypse.

Now you’ve heard the bad news come and see a musical!
Frankly that does play into that because I do end up feeling if I don’t live in a way that improves the way I and the people I love live, then why am I doing any of it? At least with this I can say ‘yes I put out into the world stories tolerance and love and decency’. I feel happiest when I’m part of putting more joy into the world. So yeah for all of that darkness there is a take away.

See Rufus Hound in #RSCBoyindress until 8th March. Book tickets via www.rsc.org.uk
Read our interview with #RSCBoyindress author David Walliams here