Interview with Peter Symonds
By DJ Forrest
What drew you towards playing ‘monster’ roles and what was the first ‘monster’ you played?
Peter: I didn’t really know what I was letting myself into, my casting agent called about a role for the BBC and said it was very secretive and sorry he couldn’t give me much more to go on; was I interested? I was intrigued so I went along. It turned out the auditions was for a Cyberman
When you played the ‘dead body’ in Torchwood ‘Everything Changes’ presumably you would have worn waterproof clothing underneath your clothing as I’d imagine it would have been pretty cold lying in water for any length of time? How long was the shoot for and how long did you have to lie in the water for during takes?
Peter: I’ve played dead a number of times usually in place of the main actor. ‘Everything Changes’ I was drafted in to be the body double for the actor who died in the opening scene, the actor had been taken ill as a result of swallowing the prop water being used as rain water from a massive water tank.
I was treated like a star. The crew were great and to be honest, it was very exciting. If I needed a break from being water boarded, I’d hear the magic words “CUT” and everything stopped for me to recover. I was wearing waterproof clothes underneath my outfit which help a little bit, but I still got soaking wet. It was a cold night and extremely hard work lying there on the floor, trying to play dead, hold my breath, avoid swallowing nasty tank water, avoid drowning and to stop shivering like I’ve been electrocuted.
When you’re also playing a dead body, knowing you have to remain perfectly still during the shots, are you given any hints as to when you need to hold your breath so you’re not evidently showing any signs that you’re still alive, the normal rise and fall of your chest, or eye flickering? (even though in some films it’s evident that nobody has told the poor sod lying on the mortuary table that they’re actually filming him – breathing...)
Peter: I’ve played dead a few times, the cues are loud and it’s very obvious when you need to be still life. I had to play dead in Iron Clad for 3 days lying under a table in place of Jason Flemyng.
Watching the Doctor Who Confidential programmes I notice that you’re always given direction by a choreographer, but when you’re made up in your costume, it must be difficult given the masks that you wear to be able to fully see where you’re going at the best of times, so how do you manage it, how do you find your mark?
Peter: The rule of 3. Practice Practice Practice and experience experience experience. As part of the monster training we rehearsed a lot, learning the characteristics of the monster, their walk and in most cases how to die. Ailsa Berk the monster choreographer, who was absolutely amazing and would teach us everything we needed to know and more. After the Cyberman shoots which lasted 3 months, the cyber crew had built a rapport with the cast and crew as well as an enormous amount of experience and professionalism; we became the regular monster crew.
You were involved in Doctor Who during David Tennant’s era, have you been involved in any Who episodes since, such as Series 8 and will you be appearing in any Who episodes in the future?
Peter: I did a few episodes with Matt Smith, but nothing recently. I think for the time being I’ve hung up my monster boots. I have to admit though, I do miss it and I’m secretly jealous of the current monsters when I see them on screen.
How many ‘monster’ roles have you played and in which episodes?
Peter: I played a few monsters, including Cyberman, Ood, Scarecrow, Judoon, an Evil Santa, Hath, a Pig and even one of the Hooverville residents that shot one of the Pigs. I’ve also been an extra in a few episodes including a paratrooper and an MP when a Pig crashed into Big Ben. I was also a body double for the human Dalek.
Recently the ‘MeanTweets’ on the Jimmy Fallon show have been gaining some attention, and I wondered if you have ever received any nasty tweets from so called fans and whether you remember what the messages were or how it made you feel after?
Peter: Nope, I’ve not received any nasty tweets and if I had, I’d just delete them (no pun intended).
Which series had a clown episode?
Peter: SJA, these were very scary clowns. As a side project me and another monster brought them to life as happy clown and did a few YouTube films and even hitchhiked across
Denmark to get to the International Clown
Festival in Svendborg . Denmark
Have a look at Red vs Blue Clowns on YouTube
If you have time check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AeCcFgwf5s Red Vs Blue Clowns. Journey. By Los Amigos. youtube.com
Red vs Blue Clowns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nku5hU2JgIo RED Vs BLUE Clowns. Clowning Up. By Los Amigos youtube.com
What’s the best thing about playing a ‘monster’ role on Doctor Who and have any of the costumes posed a challenge to wear and work with, such as if you’re wearing them for the whole day, how easy or difficult has it been to eat or drink whilst wearing them or are you not allowed to do that?
Peter: The best thing about playing a monster was the first time I saw the Cyberman action figure, I remember standing in ToysRus jumping around like a kid, saying ‘that’s me, that’s me.’ It was definitely a life moment. I still have the one I received for Christmas when they came out.
The real Cyberman costume was also the hardest to wear; it weighed about 25 kg’s and was so hard to walk in. The helmets were a bit tricky to wear too, you could just about breathe, let alone see and someone had to unclip you with a special tool only the monster crew had. If you need to have a breather, you had to put your hand up and someone would come to the recue.
You’ve played a Cyberman in Rise of the Cybermen, the episode which also featured Justin Walters as the bodyguard to Don Warrington’s character the President of
. Which Cyberman were you in the episode, were
you one of the stomping team outside about to Delete the Doctor, or were you
indoors and did you Delete Justin? I don’t know why I smile when I ask that
question. Great Britain
Peter: I was both outside marching around and one of the ones inside, I came through one of the doors. I tried so hard to delete someone, but those pesky humans were just too fast for me. It felt like I was the odd one out for years, I just couldn’t get a kill in.
It was years before my first kill, when it came though it was so much fun, I got to kill a soldier on "Planet of the Ood". The Ood went Rabid and I attack a soldier and eat his neck. That was another one of those life moments ‘my first monster kill’.
How different were the suits for the Cybermen back in 2005 to how they are now in Series 8 do you think, as at one point during Series 8, they looked pretty flimsy when someone clapped their human hand on a metal shoulder – (last episode of Season 8). In the overall costume has much changed?
Peter: Those new Cyber suits are very Gucci, they’ve changed a lot, the beauty of Cyberman is that they continue to be upgraded, they have to evolve or they’d just end up like humans “obsolete”.
Thank you for your Judorax or Sycodoon character photo you sent me the other day that looked awesome. I’m taking it you’ve played both of these characters too?
Peter: That was from “The Pandorica Opens” episode, it was like a reunion of monsters, so many old friends. We were messing about and trying to create hybrids, not strictly allowed, but boys will be boys or is it monsters will be monsters.
Have you played any character roles where people can actually see your face or have you mostly played roles where you’re hiding behind a physical mask?
Peter: I prefer mask work, it allows me to have more freedom with the role, I remember when I had a laser fight with a Dalek as a Cyberman and because of the mask I was able to play myself as a 10 year old and make laser zapping sounds and shouting “get some” zzoom zzoom.
In the episode ‘Human Nature’ you played a scarecrow in the Family of Blood’s army, were you in the courtyard scene where the schoolboys were firing at the scarecrows and what is the feeling like when the squibs are set off?
Peter: That was one of my favourite episodes; we got to interact with so many other people. It was about the time the Automatics had their hit song ‘Monster’ and we actually had to walk over a hill dressed as monsters, another opportunity to sing inside my mask.
The scene when the school boys shot the scarecrows in the yard was so much fun, a great experience, there’s nothing better for a monster than to do the death throes and to fulfill the monster motto “We Stand – We March – We Die”.
To me it would be an absolutely awesome feeling to step foot on the Doctor Who set for the first time, and to work in it for as long as you have, how did you feel when you landed the role of your first monster character?
Peter: I didn’t really think that much of it at first; some of my friends thought it was really cool, they were really big Dr Who fans. It had a double sided twist though, if a stranger you just met asked you what do you do and you told them you were a monster on Dr Who, they didn’t believe you. It wasn’t until my friend’s children found out that I really understood the honour.
Since your work on Who and Torchwood, what projects are you involved in now and will we be able to see any of these on television or film in 2015?
Peter: Working on Doctor Who helped me release my creative side; recently I decided to become more involved in the arts and to become a full time artist. I’ve worked on a range of different art projects including a little known performance piece at Dismaland called DAS (Dismaland Asylum Seekers). Inspired by Dismaland, DAS was an installation performance with a slant on the current immigration debate. Dressed in dark grey business suits, as faceless Expats carrying golden idols and one man dinghies we scaled the walls of the happiest place on earth to claim asylum. We paddled across the windy shores in front of the enchanted castle protected by armoured cars and sirens. As expats we were given a warm welcome, permission to stay and enjoy their land of fun and opportunity. Dismaland didn't disappoint, it really was the happiest place on earth. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any footage of the piece just a few photos we found on Instagram.
I’ve also been working on an extremely large photographic portrait project called FibonATcci, to help me manage this project I’ve just enrolled in a full time Event Management degree course in
All I can say is watch this space.
What character/monster role would you LOVE to play?
Peter: None, I’ll leave it to the new guys.
What are you hoping to get off Santa this year?
Peter: Anything, as long as it is a toy. I love toys.
If you could meet your 12 year old self what advice would you give him?
Peter: I wouldn’t give him any advice, he might change my future and I couldn’t risk that, I’m having a great time.
How long would it take to be made up in these guises?
Peter: Usually under an hour, the team was very good. When the cybermen came through the rift
the whole of Earth thought we were ghosts. I was Rose's granddad in the kitchen
Some of the best moments were when VIPS were invited to come on set. When we were pigs, Jo Whiley from BBC radio was on a set with her son and we scared the bejesus out of him. We even made some of the kids cry
If someone wanted to become a creature character in a popular sci fi show, what steps do they need to take in order for that to happen?
Peter: When I auditioned for the Cyberman role, all the others guys that were successful were either sportsman or martial artists. I think all creature character performers have to be fit, agile and committed to long gruelling hours of work.
There are two Peter Symonds who have been involved in Doctor Who, both as actors, just to clarify, you were not in the 1975 series of Who were you, even though in some online websites you’ve been classed as such?
Peter: I think it’s crazy that there have been two Peter Symonds’s on Doctor Who, maybe it is me from the past or future, who knows.
This has been a cracking interview, thankyou so much!
All photos courtesy of Peter Symonds
BBC Doctor Who & BBC Torchwood