Surrey’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine

Real life challenge

Robert Emms is an English actor known for portraying Pythagoras in the BBC One fantasy-adventure series Atlantis and appeared in War Horse and Kick Ass 2. Robert also recently starred in Daniel Kokotajlo’s debut indie feature Apostasy and has appeared in Mirror Mirror, opposite Julia Roberts. This year Robert has been seen in ITV’s new series Cleaning Up and he will also appear playing a pivotal role in HBO’s Chernobyl, set to release in 2019. Andrew Peters found out more about this versatile actor.
Stacks Image 103915
Photographer: David Reiss. Stylist: Sabina Emrit. Grooming: Patrick Forini
Q Robert, you were born in Horley, Surrey. Do you have fond recollections of the town and return there at all?
I do! I have very fond memories of my childhood there with my family, growing up with my brother. My old school actually recently named a new building for the drama department after me. Which I thought only happened if you were dead! Needless to say, I was very flattered.

Q After studying at LAMDA, your career started with theatre work and it was from playing the lead in War Horse (at the New London Theatre) that Steven Spielberg saw you and offered you a part in the film. How did that feel at the time?
It was a very exciting and a once in a career moment. Immediately after I met Steven on the stage, I walked off into the wings to leave as he and his producer Kathleen Kennedy went to exit the auditorium, and I gave a little celebratory yelp which I’m certain they heard!

Q You played Vitas Gerulaitis in the film Borg vs. McEnroe – are you good at tennis and other sports?
I’m absolutely rubbish at tennis. Fortunately, Vitas in the film is not seen playing tennis, but he is seen in the bars and clubs drinking and partying. Which is something I’m not inexperienced at!
Stacks Image 103894
Q Do you pay any attention to social media or a production’s ratings?
I think it’s hard not to these days, the information is everywhere. I try to switch myself off to any kind of negative comments unless they are constructive. Production ratings are important as they give an indication if a series might be recommissioned and whether more work lies ahead.

Q Favourite actor – whose work do you always make a point of watching?
Well, I have to say it changes all the time. There are so many really great actors I can’t possibly choose one. It’s because each and every actor offers something unique, and as much as this sounds like a cop out, it really is true. I enjoy watching actors who are understated and able to be chameleon-like with each role they play.

Q What’s been your favourite part to date?
Each part I’ve played has had something I always remember
and take with me along the way. I think playing Rick Buckley in the film Broken directed by Rufus Norris was probably a highlight so far. A very emotional and challenging part surrounded by some great actors.

Q This year is going to be a big one for you with great roles in dramas each side of the Atlantic. You’ve kicked the year off by starring opposite Sheridan Smith as her lodger Glynn in ITV’s drama Cleaning Up. Sheridan is a very versatile actress – what was it like working with her?
It was great! So great in fact that I’m actually working with her again on the BBC drama The Barking Murders.

Q What attracted you to the part in Cleaning Up?
I wanted to play a lighter, more comedic character. I try to accept as many different types of performance as possible so I don’t get stuck in the same type of role. It keeps me challenging myself and it’s
more interesting.

Q A recent serious role was playing Steven in the film Apostasy, a British drama film about Jehovah Witnesses which was very well received at the Toronto International Film Festival. Director Daniel Kokotajlo was nominated at this year’s BAFTAs. Can you tell us a little bit about the film?
It’s a really interesting film, written and directed by Daniel who had first-hand experience of being a Jehovah Witness. It follows a mother and her daughters, who are Jehovah Witnesses, and is about what happens when one of the daughters questions her faith. Dan is a director I’d love to work with again. I think you can now watch it on Sky Cinema – PLUG!
Stacks Image 103972
Quick five
Dog or cat? Dog
Favourite film?
City of God
Guilty pleasure?
Eating a whole pack of dark chocolate digestives in one go
Main inspiration? Films
Glass half full or half empty? Half full
Stacks Image 103980
Photographer: David Reiss. Stylist: Sabina Emrit. Grooming: Patrick Forini
Q Do you find more light-hearted and easy-going character roles simpler to play than serious ones?
I think every role brings a challenge to it.

Q Later this year you’re in HBO’s true story drama of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Can you tell us about the part you play?
I play Toptunov, an engineer who was tasked with the test that led to the fateful accident. He and his colleague Akimov were ordered to run the test, even though they weren’t qualified to do it.

Q Obviously far removed from Cleaning Up, this is serious drama about a real-life event. How do you prepare for such different subject matter?
We were sent lots of research to learn how a nuclear power station works and also the beat by beat, minute by minute explanation of what happened. This was very important to research. We also had engineers who worked in a nuclear power station nearby to make sure we were authentic. It was interesting to research the time and place where these characters lived and the political climate: it informed the way they spoke, moved and thought.
Stacks Image 103974
Q Do you find it harder to play real-life or fictional characters?
I think both can bring challenges. The challenge of playing a real person is that sometimes what is documented is only one side of their life. You have to fill in the blanks. With a fictional character, you have to build that whole back story yourself, if it’s not evident on the page already. I think it’s worth pointing out though that playing a real-life person is just your interpretation of them, you can’t become them!

Q What should people expect from Chernobyl?
It is going to be epic with some incredible cinematic shots and performances. I think people will be captivated by this story told from many different perspectives with lots of different characters.
It tells the story of the engineers, the firemen, the army, the miners, the local people and the government. I think it was the biggest ensemble cast I’ve ever seen.
essence info
Twitter: @RobertEmms
Instagram: robertemms