Tom Goodman-Hill goes down the rabbit hole of grief

Tom Goodman-Hill and Claire Skinner in Rabbit Hole at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Tom Goodman-Hill and Claire Skinner in Rabbit Hole at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

The Mr Selfridge actor tells Bridget Galton about starring in David Lindsay Abaire’s Pulitzer prize-winning play alongside Claire Skinner.

His Mr Selfridge character has just been handed a terminal diagnosis but Tom Goodman-Hill is very much alive on stage at Hampstead Theatre.

Opposite Claire Skinner, he plays one half of a grief-stricken couple dealing with a terrible loss in David Lindsay Abaire’s Pulitzer prize-winning Rabbit Hole.

The slice of realism from the writer behind hit play Good People won Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon a Tony award in 2006 and was turned into a film starring Nicole Kidman.

Raising issues of fate and blame, it is spiked with dark humour as it follows the effect of the tragedy on other family members including the dog.

“The dialogue is so amazing,” says Goodman-Hill, who has distinguished himself in theatre roles as diverse as Enron, Spamalot and Earthquakes in London.

“David writes the way people talk, you read it and can hear yourself saying it.

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“I’ve done a lot of very stylised theatre and something as naturalistic as this is surprisingly hard. It’s so completely natural the moment you find yourself acting you really notice it. It exposes your faults.”

Goodman-Hill is just as comfortable on TV from, The Office to Humans and Mr Selfridge where he’s played head of staff Roger Grove for four series.

“I am getting lots of outpourings of sympathy since he got his diagnosis. I didn’t realise people loved the old duffer that much.”

Was it a shock that it ended this way?

“It was always conceived as an arc over 20 years it’s been good to see it through to the end and it feels a natural conclusion. It’s in keeping with the tone of the final series which is much more existential and dark.”

In Rabbit Hole he also ventures to some dark places as Howie whose caring demeanour masks anger and depression.

He’s attending counselling and making noises about moving on, but is dealing with grief very differently to wife Becca.

“Howie is being very male about it I suppose. He’s been able to go back into the world, to carry on working. It’s harder for Becca because she gave up work to be a mother at home and all of that has been taken away. He’s every bit as scared and frightened as she is but has been able to deal with it in some senses.

“They are a couple who love each other and make each other laugh but are dealing with something which is threatening it all.

“The very thing that bound them together isn’t there any more which is horrible but in the darkest sense normal. These things do happen and people have to deal with them. It’s a window into how people try and cope with something terrible happening to them.”

The play’s apparent simplicity is deceptive as it delves into emotionally complex family ties.

“It comes down to two people in a room coping day to day trying to keep their relationship going. It’s full of wit and love, so warm and surprisingly funny.”

Goodman-Hill was keen to do another play before he starts filming the next series of sci-fi TV drama Humans in April.

He also has The Secret Agent a 19th Century thriller based on Joseph Conrad’s novel on BBC1, The Nightmare World of HG Wells and Northern Ireland thriller The Truth Commissioner coming up on screen.

“It’s three years since I have done a play (The Effect at The National Theatre) and I always said I wouldn’t let it go more than two years between stage jobs because you get lazy in front of a camera if you don’t remind yourself of the process and everything that an actor should do in order to play a character.

“Everything is informed by doing theatre because you are connected to the audience and get an immediate response. You recognise when you are using too much. You have to do both to be good at what you do.”

But despite 25 years in the business he says the longer time goes on the more nervous he is about getting up on stage

“You have to get back on the horse even if you are scared. You get nervous because it makes you work hard. It’s good for you. There’s nowhere to hide.”

Rabbit Hole runs at Hampstead Theatre until March 5.