Interview with Alex Harries
Aka Arthur Davies – Keeping Faith
One of my favourite characters in Matthew Hall’s drama Keeping Faith, is Arthur Davies, and after discovering that Alex Harries was in Torchwood episode Sleeper, I finally had my opportunity of catching up with him, for a phone interview, and I had one burning question to kick off the interview…
Are you related to either Mali or Phylip Harries?
Alex: No. No. Always get that question. No, we're not, no.
Have you always been interested in acting or do you have other passions besides acting?
Alex: I was always interested in it and not knowing I was interested in it. I mean as I grew up, my father was a big film buff you know, growing up, you know, all sorts of Westerns and films from the 50s and 60s and my grandfather, sort of, films from the 30s and 40s and I sort of grew up watching those videos and films each week. And I was about 10 or 11 when somebody said, a teacher stuck me in a Christmas play or something and I was like Okay and I can do this a little bit, and so at that point I wasn't particularly talented at anything else. Then I came back and forth to it through school and then I joined Amateur Dramatics Society when I was about 14 and did various Shakespeare and Chaucer and things like that, and then eventually I went to National Youth Theatre of Wales and got bits and bobs and then ended up going to drama school and it went from there really.
Did you go onto the Royal College of Music and Drama in Wales?
Alex: No, I did the National Youth Theatre of Wales. It was basically 4 weeks over the summer where you did a residential thing where you went away and you did something like a play of sorts and then I took a year out before going to drama school in Edinburgh, and I funnily enough went to play rugby up in Gloucester. I then decided to apply for drama schools and got in a few places but decided to go to Edinburgh and got into the Welsh college in Wales. I decided I just needed to get out of Wales. I sort of went to Edinburgh for 3 years and then it kind of kicked off from there then.
It's a fair trek from Wales to Edinburgh.
Alex: Yeah, the longer the trek the better that was my thinking at the time.
What drew you to the character of Arthur when you first read the script?
Alex: Flaws. I always get drawn to flaws because, I mean it's just humanity then isn't it? When there's flaws then there's something then to work the character from. Because I think we're all defined maybe by what's imperfect or what's not so good or weak, not weak, I don't like that word but, you know, things that we don't like showing and then it always becomes a bit more interesting working the character from there than anything else and Arthur has got plenty of flaws. And I think unattractive flaws as well. So when there's genuine flaws then, that people wouldn't want to show or would try their best not to show, then it's interesting then because you can really sort of find the juxta position in the character then, I suppose.
How long did it take for you to get your hair to look like Arthur's dreadlocks?
Alex (laughs): Well I mean first of all, a little while but now it's a wig and when the wig was set, it just literally popped on my head and clipped in, it wasn't too bad.
Oh, so it wasn't that you had to make your hair so it was back combed and sprayed or hours in make-up?
Alex: No, no I mean I was going to make-up where they prepared it and did it and I'd sat in the chair for a good while, doing it and perfecting it and then each time then it was clipped on my head. It was probably the longest I've been sat in make-up for a character anyway because there was a lot of ingrained dirt to get into my skin and under my nails and all that stuff to begin with at least for the transformation of the character.
Was it a relief towards the end of the series that he had really short hair then? I preferred Arthur with the short hair.
Alex: Well in some ways yeah, it was a very itchy bloody wig
Or was it filmed the other way around or something
Alex: Well, the funny thing was that I had short hair anyway for the wig to go on. So, they cut the hair obviously because you don't always have the novelty of being able to film in sequence so there was a little bit of going back and forth to scenes, where I'd have the wig and didn't have the wig.
Keeping Faith isn't the first series to have the Welsh language in one series and then the English language in the next, was there any time during the filming that you had to replay scenes that you forgot which language you were playing in?
Alex: Oh yeah, I did all the time. I mean, funnily enough I did a series before Keeping Faith where they did that for the first time for a long time, where they did it in both languages, called Hinterland. I remember in Hinterland, I used to forget all the time what language we were in and come into the scenes speaking Welsh when it was English and vice versa and the same in Keeping Faith. Yeah, I'm useless at that and absent minded at the best of times, so, yeah I had a lot of trouble with that.
I saw that there were 4 characters moved from Hinterland into Keeping Faith that I noticed.
Alex: Yeah, four of the main characters but there were others spread out over the Hinterland series.
I only noticed that the other day when I was looking up the names of the four and thought, hang on, the blond haired woman, she looks familiar, oh my god it's Cerys.
When you've been in a successful programme such as Hinterland, then coming over to Keeping Faith, do you ever keep in touch with the people you've acted with or do you go your separate ways after filming?
Alex: A bit of both. For some I keep in touch with more than others, not because of anything sinister or, just the way it works really. I'm very good friends with Aneurin who plays a Dad in Keeping Faith but plays Prosser in Hinterland, and I'm very good friends as well and keep in touch with Hannah who plays Cerys, and Sian in Keeping Faith and Hinterland respectively and there are others, I come across, and most of us are living in and around Cardiff, so you see people about, so both.
Your role in Torchwood was the masked Burglar in the Sleeper episode
Alex: Oh god, yeah.
Was that your first acting role or had you applied for any other roles in the series?
Alex: I wasn't long out of drama school for that one. I think it was my first TV job after drama school. I'd done through the interim period mostly theatre. Actually, I think I had another TV job straight after it an S4C thing and then I didn't do anything for a while actually. Mostly theatre again. Didn't do many TV until I got Pobyl y Cwm, a Welsh soap.
Have you ever played a character in Doctor Who, at all?
Alex: No, I haven't no, nothing at all. Torchwood was my one science fiction outing I'm afraid.
What roles have you played in theatre?
Alex: A bit of everything really. Some Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, the Citizens of Glasgow, quite a lot of stuff, yeah, quite a lot really, various stuff.
Was it all around Cardiff theatres or did you travel all over?
Alex: I toured a production with Macbeth when I was back in theatre and I was gone for three or four years, not the Autumn just gone but the Autumn before, just before Keeping Faith. I did a production of Macbeth which toured England and Wales and then before that, the last time I was in the thing before that was, I did a one man show about a boxer and he was a science specific and he was in a boxing gym and I can't remember before that.
I mean, even though I do enjoy theatre, I think just because I grew up watching so much film and not really exposed to theatre my love of acting or my interest in it then and my interest in drama has come through the medium of film really. So, I've always been a bit more comfortable acting for camera than I have for a live audience. Even though I'm fine with it it's just the thing with theatre generally, is that the emphasis is way more on language and on writing whereas film and TV tends to be more about circumstances. I find people in circumstances to be quite fascinating and so I was naturally drawn more then towards screen than theatre maybe.
So, when you've played different roles even on the stage, have you kept your Welsh accent or do you put on a different accent like English, Scottish, regional, etc?
Alex: No, I mean theatre, these accents are a lot more. I did Afrikaans for one play, did northern Lancashire accent for another. For screen I've never had to use another accent in terms of it being non-Welsh but, funnily enough in Keeping Faith in English and Welsh it's sort of got back to an accent I used to have a lot more of. Obviously, I have a Welsh accent now but the accent I used to have was a much broader thicker Welsh accent than what it's become now.
Is your accent much stronger for television than what it is in real life?
Alex: To be honest, I've not watched the series much yet because I'm terrible, I'm not quite there yet to be able to watch it. With Arthur sort of trying to be as ambiguous as he can just for the sake of survival he purposefully thickens his accent, just so he sounds like the village idiot or the village comedian as it kind of protects him a little bit. And then he begins to reveal a little bit more I try to sort of maybe come back a little bit more towards the way I speak now but not quite, just to give it maybe a little bit of, I don't know, something, but whether I'm not sure how it all came through, that's at the mercy of the edit a lot of the time.
In Hinterland I'd listen to a lot to the accent of the area - West MidWalean accent is thicker in a different way. The vowels are much more open. The accent I grew up with was...depends what it is, I mean, I suppose I alter my voice somehow, one way or another, yeah.
The funny thing is in Welsh, it's not happened so much because, I don't know, I don't know why that's happened as much in Welsh my accent is much nearer to what it was. Maybe because I've never had to refine that, but it's just through circumstance that my English is refined.
So, when you're at home do you speak Welsh or English?
Alex: Well it depends. When I'm home with my parents I speak Welsh with my father, my Mum, it's complicated actually. My Mum's parents were Welsh speaking but because, without going into it, the politics at the time, my parents were discouraged from speaking Welsh to the other children, so they didn't speak Welsh to them. But my Mum always understood Welsh. I still grew up in a house where my father spoke Welsh but my Mum spoke English back. So, I've had a complete bi-lingual upbringing really. But I speak English to my Mum but ironically Mum speaks Welsh now to my children.
I mind about the politics of the time. I was brought up in North Wales.
Alex: It was more prevalent there.
So it was very strong there, and so everyone in the schools had to speak English, and it was like, if you were born Welsh, then you should have the right to speak in your own tongue.
Alex: I agree. I absolutely agree with the principal. I think people would speak it more when they weren't allowed to speak it. I think Brendan Gleason when he was asked about saving the Irish language and he said Ban it. And I sometimes think, you know, I didn't go to Welsh school, it was kind of unfashionable like you said, I think I spoke more Welsh because of that and I would if I'd have gone to Welsh school. And it was a bit of a battle with my own children as to whether I would do and I spoke more Welsh when I didn't go to Welsh school. But they do go to Welsh school now. It's a complicated old thing, Wales (laughs) it really is.
North Wales and West Wales especially.
Why is it harder to find Arthur Davies images on Google search than any other character in Keeping Faith? All I can find is your Hinterland character and your profile photo.
Alex: I don't know. That's a good question. I don't research myself so I don't know.
So, it's not just a case that you're keeping things private so it limits what is on Google, under the copyright laws?
Alex: Oh god I wouldn't say that. I mean no, I don't know. Maybe you should start a campaign!
Have your children shown any desire to become actors like their Dad?
Alex: I hope not! They're twins and they're three and the funny thing is my partner, Zoe Davies is an actor as well so I don't think I've really got a lot of hope, do I? I think they are, however, I wouldn't want to encourage them in the least. I mean I've always, and this isn't judgemental on other actors by any stretch of the imagination but I always think as an actor you're playing people at the end of the day and it's a study of people and you want to get as much experience as you can get, not acting but doing other things. So, if they do, I really hope they do other things before they do.
I asked after Alex's partner Zoe Davies. Alex explained that she is a theatre actor, who has done many regional theatres.
Do you do a lot of book reading - novels, that kind of thing?
Alex: I do. I did a lot more until the thing called iPhone came along and Wikipedia and that's ruined my life, it really has. I used to read a book a week at one point.
What are you reading at the moment?
Alex: Funnily enough I've just started Kirk Douglas' autobiography. I've read only two pages in.
On the set of Keeping Faith, are all the indoor scenes filmed in a studio?
Alex: Yes, they are all in a studio.
Because Faith's house looks so real with the staircase going up the middle of the room.
Alex: Faith's house is a studio, and the interior is a studio. So yeah, they did a wonderful job of that, it was incredible.
I quite fancied a house with a staircase up the middle
Alex: Yeah, I know. I was quite envious as well.
What are you currently working on at the moment?
Alex: I've just finished doing a bit for Pip again actually - who directed Keeping Faith. They're making a film called To Provide All People which is to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS, so it's broadcasting in late June I think for the BBC. Other than that, nothing at the moment.
Thank you, Alex for an absolutely brilliant interview. Loved it.
Warren Orchard - Hinterland group photo