Ben Goffe: ‘I want to be seen first as an actor and my size to be secondary’
Actor Ben Goffe’s credits include Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Erica Whyman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He tells Roda Musa about the struggles he has faced as an actor with dwarfism and his latest role in Dido, Queen of Carthage with the Royal Shakespeare Company...
Have you always wanted to become an actor?
Both my parents are in the business; my father is an actor and my mother is an international dance examiner, so I’ve always been very much interested in acting. There was a theatre school where I grew up, in Leighton Buzzard, and I started attending when I was around three years old. When I was seven or eight I was asked if I enjoyed acting and dancing, and I always answered yes because I loved it, so I just carried on. Regardless, I never felt pressure to follow suit, just because my parents were in the business.
What has been your biggest struggle so far in your career?
Trying to be taken seriously as an actor. I am a dwarf and so a lot of directors and producers will see us and decide that our role is automatically to play a dwarf in Snow White, or to be a creature in another show. The struggle for me was saying that yes I am a dwarf, but I can also do so much more, like dancing and playing the trumpet. I just want to be seen first as an actor and my size to be a secondary thing. For example, why can’t a dwarf play Romeo in Romeo and Juliet? Why can’t a dwarf do these big shows and take on the big roles? Why do we always have to be cast as the fool character?
Do you find it hard to get roles due to your dwarfism?
I think things are changing, we are seeing a gradual increase in actors with disabilities just playing normal parts. There is a fabulous theatre company I work with called Graeae, which does a lot of work with deaf and disabled artists, aiming to put disabled people at the front of theatre. I think Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion in Game of Thrones, has done so much for the dwarf community. He’s taken what people think a dwarf should play and turned it on its head.
Do you do a lot of work with disabled actors?
I’ve been doing a lot more work with the Graeae Theatre Company recently and it has really opened up my eyes to how many disabled actors there are, which is great. Normally I’m the only disabled character in the company I’m working with. So I really do enjoy working with other disabled actors when I can. My advice to them would be to just go for it. If you put your mind to it, you can get to wherever you want, there are no boundaries to what you can achieve.
Can you tell me about Dido, Queen of Carthage?
The story is about Dido, who is from Carthage, and it’s set just after the fall of Troy. Aeneas, on the way to Italy, is shipwrecked in Carthage, meeting Dido who then promises to repair their ships so that he can sail off to Italy. Yet the Gods have other plans, and that’s where I come in playing Cupid. Cupid disguises himself as Aeneas’ son, and hits Dido with his arrow to make her fall in love with Aeneas. Things don’t go to plan, however, and as you can expect it’s very much a [Christopher] Marlowe story and has a spectacularly thrilling closing scene.
Dido, Queen of Carthage runs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from September 15 to October 28. Details: rsc.org.uk