Will Merrick won the Royal Television Society's award for Best Actor for his role as Alo in the fifth and sixth seasons of the cult E4 show Skins, the start of a burgeoning screen career with further credits including Brief Encounters, Doctor Who and Richard Curtis' latest film About Time. His stage performances include stints at the RSC in Wendy & Peter Pan and alongside Dominic Cooper in the West End production of The Libertine.
All's Well That Ends Well may be a comedy, but it's a place where death is very present. When the play opens two fathers have died in quick succession of one another, Bertram's and Helena's, and that anchors these two main characters and drives the piece along. In the Wanamaker, with all the candles, the whole thing almost feels like a wake, in and around a funeral with processions and prayers. Life and death are really in the balance.
I never thought I'd play something like an action-y lead. Bertram is a frustrated and violent young man, and Caroline really wanted to focus on his grief. He does extreme things like running off to war at a very young age, not knowing what will come next. Caroline is awesome – I worked with her once before when she assistant directed Wendy & Peter Pan at the RSC about four years ago, and she's incredible and so passionate.
The last time I performed Shakespeare was at school. So I guess this is my professional Shakespeare debut. A lot of my mates who aren't actors don't even know that there's a Shakespeare play called All's Well That Ends Well, so it's pretty under the radar. But it's a crazy crazy play, with the characters just kind of scrambling. There are big themes, the stakes are high and it's very bleak.
I don't know why I got into acting, I guess I didn't think I was good at anything else. When you're a teenager you need something to love doing and at school, you're either clever or you're good at sport, and I did okay but I wasn't standout at either. When I did my first play at 11 I remember thinking 'this is fun', inhabiting different people and getting that reaction from the audience.
Even after doing Skins, I wasn't sure that acting would be a career. Skins was a surreal experience – I went along basically to the audition to get experience for applying to drama schools, and at the time it was this cult thing where you saw the characters on screen and you never even connected them with real people. When all of a sudden it just happened I was pretty daunted and scared.
A large part of the audience did walk out of one of my shows. I don't have many cringe stage experiences (I wipe a lot of them out of my memory) but I remember being in this small venue doing a play I'd helped produce, and a large part of the audience just started leaving. I didn't know whether or not to carry on or address it, but you kind of just have to deal with these things.
Hal in Henry IV would be my dream Shakespeare role. In this show, Parolles and Bertram have the same sort of relationship as Falstaff and the prince, with Parolles being manipulative, enigmatic and very funny, so I'd love to explore that. Maybe I'll ask Michelle Terry. Funny enough Jamie Parker (who played Hal at the Globe back in 2010 and 2012) visited my school once when we were doing a production of The History Boys and he led a workshop. I have no idea how my drama teacher scored that but it turned me into a huge Parker fan. I'm still desperate to see Harry Potter.
All's Well that Ends Well runs at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 17 January to 3 March, with previews from now.
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