Recently, George Hewitt sat down with Gareth David-Lloyd to talk about Torchwood, The Corn is Green, and Gareth’s early days as an actor. This exclusive interview is presented here in full.
What was it that made you first want to get into acting?
Escape, I suppose. I didn’t have the safest or most secure of upbringings. I was from pillar to post a lot when I was a kid, so I used to lose myself in films and tv. Then, in junior school, when the opportunity came to do a play, I fell in love with it immediately. That whole action of stepping out of my skin and into somebody else’s was fascinating and addictive to me from a young age.
What sort of films and tv were you escaping to?
Well, a lot of it was not age-appropriate! My brother and some babysitters when I was younger used to think it would be funny to stick on some horror movies to try and… well, scar me, I suppose, to try and terrify me. But it didn’t work. I became a massive horror fan – I was a huge Hammer horror fan at a very young age. Nightmare on Elm Street and lots of others that could be regarded as ‘video nasties’ were my go-to at the video shop. I used to get people to go and get very age-inappropriate films for me when I was younger.
I was pretty turned on, I was pretty savvy. I knew it was all make-believe, I wasn’t really scarred. I did have some nightmares about Freddy [Krueger, a character from Nightmare on Elm Street] when I was a kid, but nothing too traumatic. And it was those movies that got me into acting, I suppose.
You mentioned doing your first play in junior school – what was the play?
It was called Jackie and the Beanstalk, and it was a modern-day twist on Jack and the Beanstalk where the beanstalk was actually a computer and came alive. I played the computer with a voice not unlike that of a Dalek, if I remember correctly. I made the whole costume myself out of cardboard boxes and silver paint, and it was my first big experience of fancy dress, make-believe, and performing on stage.
After school, what was your route into mainstream acting?
I was lucky enough that, towards the end of primary school, a relative of mine who had her own business took me under her wing. First of all it was music lessons – they wanted to try and find something to interest me. They felt I had a bit of a sad start. It wasn’t a sad start – I was happy – but, as I say, I was pushed around pillar to post, my mum was constantly working very strange hours – she was a cleaner – and there was lots of babysitting going on, so when I was approaching the age of 12 or 13, my Auntie Doris she paid for me to learn the trumpet. I enjoyed that for a while, but I found my teacher was a little overbearing. I wasn’t allowed to play the things I wanted to play – I was far more interested in ‘Careless Whisper’ and things like that than I was in the sort of classical band music that he was pushing me into.
After it was realised how much I enjoyed Jackie and the Beanstalk, my auntie sent me to a youth theatre class in a leisure centre somewhere, and it grew from there. I joined the youth theatre at my local theatre, then I was in youth theatre groups with about three different theatres – there used to be a lot more back in those days, but, unfortunately a lot of the money that funded those youth schemes and theatre groups is no more. But I was lucky, I belonged to about three or four different youth theatre groups and it just grew exponentially from there. I eventually ended up doing BTEC performing arts, then a one year course in Reading. I did English Literature A level, and then at 21 I did the National Youth Theatre production of The Threepenny Opera, in which I played Mack the Knife, Macheath, and that was where I got my first agent.
You mentioned music – you’ve gone on to play with a band, Blue Gillespie. Can you tell me a little about that?
Well, that was definitely more of a side-line hobby thing that happened by mistake really. Through BTEC I made a lot of friends on the music course, a lot of musicians, and they stayed friends throughout. Eventually, after 5 years living in London trying to get a decent job, I landed Torchwood, came back to Wales, and it was during Season 2, when James Marsters came over to play Captain John Hart. He’s a musician himself – he’s a guitarist, he’s been in a couple of bands, of which Ghost of the Robot is probably the best-known – and he was doing a gig in Cardiff Bay, and we were just jamming in our trailer one day and he asked me if I wanted to support him at his gig. I told him that I haven’t got a band, and I didn’t play any instruments well enough to do it on my own, and he asked if I knew any guys I could perform with. I then thought, actually I do. I called up some of the guys from college and asked if they wanted to do a one-off gig with James Marsters, and they were like, yes please, that sounds great, and it was born out of that really. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up writing a couple of albums, Synesthesia and Seven Rages of Men.
It must have been nice finally being able to do music you wanted to do.
Exactly. I have always been musical, and it’s a shame… I think I’d probably be a better pianist, a better trumpet player, and a better singer if I hadn’t been pushed away from it early on, and hadn’t been forced into playing and studying things that I wasn’t really that into.
Moving onto Torchwood, how much of your own life inspired your performance of Ianto?
As it went on, more and more, I suppose. Very little in the beginning – except for the fact that he was Welsh! It was something that grew organically. I’m not sure how big a part Ianto was ever supposed to be. I always saw him as one of the guys in the red suits in Star Trek, who get killed off quite early on – or, in Ianto’s case, was meant to. I think there was a chemistry between Jack and Ianto that was picked up on, and I think [the producers] enjoyed the dry delivery of a lot of the lines, so Ianto got more and more screen time, and as he got more screen time, I suppose I got to inject more of me into him. We share a very dry sense of humour, Ianto and I. Although he’s a lot smarter than I am. On the outside he wears the suit, which is more than likely a suit of armour that he puts on to hide the vulnerable boy inside.
I’ve always seen his suits like that too; it’s nice to know that that’s your interpretation as well.
Yeah, absolutely, the suit is definitely a layer of armour. Then Russell [T. Davies, creator of Torchwood] wrote more backstory to Ianto, and I don’t know whether it was intentional, but a lot of Ianto’s backstory and my own past sort of mirrored each other in a lot of ways. Especially starting from a dysfunctional background in Newport – that was exactly how Ianto was written in Children of Earth. So I don’t know if that was on purpose, but we ended up being a lot more alike than when we started off.
When you got the opportunity to write stories set during Ianto’s earlier days for Big Finish, did you enjoy going into that backstory more?
Absolutely. Especially as Russell had written more background in Children of Earth, I felt like I did have the greenlight to explore that a bit more, which I did with his father, and with his jobs, and escaping to London, and finding out why he’d be in Canary Wharf from this dysfunctional background in Newport. How he got to Torchwood One was always going to be a good story, I think, as it’s so removed from where he starts off. So it was really good fun to do. And I knew if I did put anything that didn’t quite fit, or that wasn’t quite right, or that they weren’t happy with, I would have got told “no”. But, thankfully, a lot of my decisions for him, for his past, must have felt right to the heads and producers.
What was it like for you when you landed the role of Ianto and Torchwood just completely took off?
It was bonkers. I did a show called Mine All Mine for Russell, where I played a character called ‘Yanto Jones’, and I remember it was meant to be six episodes, but because of scheduling they had to cut it down to five, so a number of the storylines were either chopped down significantly, or completely axed altogether. My scenes were taken out, so Yanto wasn’t actually in the televised version of Mine All Mine, but he is in the DVD – they put the episode back in for the DVD release, so I am in that.
Yanto was a little part, and I did think sometimes you get a small part that plants seeds for bigger things, but I had no idea that I’d get an audition for Torchwood, initially for a character called Idris Hopper. I went into the audition, and he literally had two lines, so they got me to read a different speech, from the end of the first episode. It was one of the police officers at Gwen Cooper’s police station describing a murder weapon. They just wanted to see what I’d do with it. Three weeks later, it was gone as far as I was concerned. I was about to head off to audition for Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, for a theatre, and I was just about to step on the train when I got a call from my agent saying, “don’t get on the train, you’ve got Torchwood”, and I was thinking, “Torchwood? From three weeks ago?”, and he was like, “yeah”, so I took a deep breath, went and sat at the pub, and had a celebratory pint.
And on paper, Ianto was a regular, but as far as I was concerned it was just going to be a small part. So then I went to the first readthrough for the first few episodes, and it was just so exciting – everyone was lovely. Then we started filming, and I was nervous, so I said to Russell, “was it ok? I’m really nervous”, and he was like, “no, it was lovely, don’t be silly, it was great”. Then a couple of weeks later, I got the script for Cyberwoman. That story was completely Ianto-driven, which was both a thrilling and terrifying experience. But it was lovely.
As the series went on, and Jack and Ianto’s relationship started building, the characters, and Torchwood itself, became icons for the LGBTQ+ community, so what was that like, and what was the response like from the audience?
It was amazing. For something that was primetime, and sci-fi, and connected to a big family show to have a same-sex relationship at the forefront was amazing, and the response that I’ve personally had from people at conventions has been lovely. People have come up to me and said that Jack and Ianto’s relationship helped them to come out, because it was there on telly, it was being celebrated, not being brushed under the carpet, it was being worn at the forefront, and it encouraged people to own who they were confidently. That was really moving. It still is today – the new waves of audiences who watch it, that relationship still has a really positive impact, and I’m really proud of it.
Moving to more recent things, you recently starred as Emlyn Williams in the National Theatre’s production of The Corn is Green – what was that like? Especially playing someone who wasn’t in the original play, what was it like embodying that?
The whole thing was a wonderful experience for me. I got the role originally back in 2019, and, of course, COVID hit the world, and everything got cancelled and closed, and it was touch-and-go whether it was ever going to happen for a long time. I started doing research as soon as I got the role. It was always very important to me to honour who he was. It was the first time he was ever put onto stage as a character, let alone narrating one of his own plays. So it was really important for me to capture his essence, his voice, and really understand the reasons he wrote the play as much as I could – obviously there were gaps I had to fill in, but it was my mission to learn as much as I possibly could about his life up to that point.
He’s literally on stage conducting, writing, and directing throughout the whole thing, so you have to ‘get’ those decisions, know which are based on memory and which are made for artistic license, to entertain an Emlyn Williams west end audience of 1938. There were so many factors to consider, and for each and every line, I had to know where it came from and why it was there, and if I couldn’t find that in my research, I had to make a well-measured decision myself. So yeah, it was a very rich, very big process for me – but also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to date, certainly on the stage. What an amazing show to be part of. Speaking of inspirational teachers, with [director] Dominic Cooke at the helm, he’s definitely on my list. He’s so, so incredible to work with, and so lovely, and so patient, and he nudges you in the right direction in the most lovely way.
And of course, having the most brilliant cast and singers – the miners – it was their job to sort of push Emlyn into writing the play and getting him to reconcile with his past, and draw him out of high society and make him remember to write the play – that’s the sort of thing we were going for. To have them carry me and underscore the whole thing was just absolutely beautiful, and it never once got boring.
Your character mouths along to a lot of the other characters’ lines, as he writes the play – did you actually learn every line in the play?
Yeah, sort of. My job was to be engaged, and active, and present throughout the whole thing, because as a writer, if you’re creating something – it was supposed to be what was going on in his head physicalised on stage – you have to be active and present, and just in doing that in rehearsals you end up learning other people’s lines anyway, but I think it was also important to show that he was creating it. And sometimes I’d stop, because there were moments were the characters had so much of their own agency that they took off on their own. As a writer, writing Big Finish, I know sometimes when you’re finding conversations that you do end up ‘playing’ the characters and mouthing lines, but there are other times when a scene hits the ground running and starts writing itself, because there’s been a good setup so you’re just writing, and it’s just happening. So it was important that there were moments in the play where Emlyn could just sit back and watch – and then there were characters that surprised him, or did something that he wasn’t expecting because it was all just happening in the moment.
So, finding that balance was really fun, finding those little moments where he’s actively trying to create a good story and he could let it run away with himself a little.
Just a couple more questions about recent Big Finish Torchwood. After Torchwood One: Nightmares was released, Tracy-Ann Oberman tweeted about the cast photo looking like a band photo, and the idea of a Torchwood One musical episode was thrown around – would you ever be interested in starring in, or even writing, a musical episode?
It would be really good fun to do a musical episode. Another suggestion made when that boxset was recorded was for the episode Less Majesty. Being all set in one location and very much of a farcical structure, we all fell in love with the idea of doing that on stage, so Torchwood One on stage would be great. That one in particular was so well written. The tone of it – it was farce but you just got away with the fact that it’s still Torchwood. It was really good fun, and I love working with Tracy-Ann and Tim Bentinck.
Finally, Restricted Items Archive Entries Entries 031-049 comes out later this month. Is there anything you can tease about this story?
I’m the only person in it! There might be some other voice sound effects possibly, but no, I think I did it all. I’m the only one in it, but plot-wise, I can’t reveal anything…
Many thanks to Gareth for sitting down to talk to us.
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