Edward Hogg has waited 15 years to play Romeo. The role, a rite of passage for young actors, passed him by when he left drama school. He’s finally getting a crack at it now, aged 38, in Daniel Kramer’s new production for Shakespeare’s Globe.
“It just never happened for me,” Hogg says, as we meet in the Globe’s restaurant for a swift lunch before he is back in rehearsals. “So when Daniel called up and asked me to do it, it was so exciting.”
Both Hogg and his Juliet, Kirsty Bushell, are older than the age the roles are traditionally cast, but their star-crossed lovers won’t be middle-aged. They will play them young as part of Kramer’s dystopian interpretation of the play.
While Hogg is coy about the specifics of the production, it’s clear that it won’t be all sweetness and light. Its listing on the Globe’s website flags its use of strobe lighting and guns, and describes it as an exploration of “the grotesque glamorisation of violence, sex and the brutality of death”.
Its poster bears a vintage photograph of a young girl, in which her face is overlaid with a decaying human skull.
Kramer is known for his eccentric, dramatic and often controversial stagings, but the significance of this coming in Globe artistic director Emma Rice’s final summer season, before the theatre returns to more traditional practices, is not lost. Once Rice departs, artificial sound and lighting will not be used. But Romeo and Juliet will be set to a mash-up of classical music and modern pop.
When I ask Hogg to describe the production, he ponders for a while before skirting around various adjectives – Gothic, Tim Burton-esque, 1970s – and later settles on “nightmarish”.
“It’s very much a typical Daniel Kramer show,” he says with a wry grin. He has worked with Kramer – also artistic director of English National Opera – several times before, and is clearly experienced in his distinctive directorial style.
The pair first collaborated on Woyzeck at London’s Gate Theatre in 2004. It became a calling card for Kramer and Hogg, who were both in their mid-20s at the time.
Hogg describes the part, which came two years after graduation, as his first “real, out-and-out lead”, and one that had a lasting impression on him. On others too it would seem – he was awarded a commendation in the 2006 Ian Charleson Awards for the role and later played it Off-Broadway.
Hogg says he suffered from a lack of self-confidence early in his career, on a personal rather than professional level: “I felt very young and very green.” It took two or three years of working, mostly in regional theatre, until he started to feel like an actor.
More than a decade has passed since then, and Hogg has carved out a successful career, crossing between theatre, television and film. During that time he has worked at the Globe on two separate occasions: first, for a season at the end of Mark Rylance’s tenure in 2005, and more recently in Chris Hannan’s The God of Soho in 2011. Both experiences were good, he explains, and speaks enthusiastically about the Bankside venue.
“I remember looking out on press night here once and seeing people from the production office out in the theatre. The people who built the sets all came to the shows. It felt very supportive. It’s a bit of a cliche to say it’s like a family, but this theatre does more so than others.”
How does he feel about the treatment of Rice, whose dismissal after just months in the job has left a black cloud hanging over the theatre?
“It’s very sad, really. Especially at a time like this, you really need your true artists, people like Emma, at the forefront of big theatres like the Globe. I’m such a big Emma Rice fan, so with this we want to do our best not only for ourselves and for our show but for Emma as well.”
Hogg has all the hallmarks of a classical actor: RADA-trained, with credits at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. But acting wasn’t always the plan. Growing up in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, his ambitions were decidedly more rock’n’roll.
“I was in a punk band called Porno King, which was ridiculous, but it was all I wanted to do. I didn’t act until I was about 18,” he says
When the band split up, Hogg went with his sister to an amateur dramatics group, and someone suggested he apply for drama school. He admits he had no idea what it was, but was persuaded and abandoned a place to study environmental management at university to pursue acting.
Q&A: Edward Hogg
What was your first non-theatre job? Paper boy.
What was your first professional theatre job? King Lear with the RSC Academy in 2002.
What’s your next job? A film of Fiona Evans’ play Scarborough, which ran at the Royal Court.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out? Don’t worry about what sort of work you should be taking. Take the work and do it to the best of your ability, and hopefully it will always lead to more work.
Who or what is your biggest influence? My family.
What’s your best advice for auditions? Enjoy them. I know it’s really hard, but I love auditions. I always come out buzzing because I got to do some acting, even it is only for two minutes.
If you hadn’t been an actor, what would you have been? An environmental manager. I still don’t know what that is.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals? I do the same vocal warm-up every day. It’s become a bit of a process.
He says he auditioned “everywhere” to no avail, only getting offers in his second year of trying. By that stage, he had set his sights on RADA, and went on to win a scholarship there in his third year of applying.
“RADA was brilliant. Until I went there, I had never found anything I was that in love with and would happily dedicate all my time to. Coming from Sheffield and from a background where I’d had none of that in my life, to suddenly being immersed in drama school was amazing.”
Hogg says he would never have been able to go, were it not for his scholarship, but he is keenly aware that if he started out now, the odds would probably be stacked even higher against him.
“All these young actors come out of training with a mortgage-sized debt around their neck, a lot of the time without jobs to go into. [Because of] the number of drama schools now, the number of new actors coming into the industry every year is huge,” Hogg explains. “Everybody wants it just as much as everyone else, and everybody has as much right as everybody else to have a career and pursue their dream.”
What does he make of the ubiquitous debate over ‘posh actors’ in the industry? “There are always going to be posh actors. Especially when you come from Sheffield. Anybody with a more southern accent than you – you don’t necessarily think they’re posh, but you just don’t have any idea what their background is.”
Hogg is funny and shyer than you might imagine – and still speaks with a Yorkshire accent, though he now thinks of himself as a Londoner.
In the past five years, he has turned more to television work. “There’s certainly more than there ever used to be, which is great for actors, but it’s still hard,” he says.
Hogg has enjoyed roles in high-profile BBC dramas Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and the more recent Taboo.
TV work is also more lucrative than theatre, Hogg says. “When I left drama school I had six or seven years when I didn’t have very much money. I lived quite a hand-to-mouth existence and would work other jobs. But TV allows you to just be an actor. It just pays you a bit better,” he says quietly, before quickly pledging allegiance to theatre as his “real love”.
Still, coming back into a theatre rehearsal room after several years on film sets was a shock to the system.
“During the first week, I couldn’t sleep,” he says. “Even if you’re sitting around, reading the play, you’re showing your work all the time and you’re vulnerable. It’s quite exposing.”
Hogg says he is now sleeping better, but still gets anxious about how his work will be received. He can’t help but read reviews, and, as is common in the profession, cares about others’ impressions of him.
“If somebody says something nice, it’s so fleeting and it’s wonderful for a second. If somebody says something horrible, or not so nice, it really sticks. We all have our own anxieties and then if someone touches it, it’s the worst.”
Hogg may have performed classical work “a fair amount” but Romeo is uncharted territory, and he accepts that Shakespeare will always be a challenge.
“Sometimes it’s like a closed door, and you don’t know what it is. But when you crack a bit of it or feel like you’ve got on top of it, it’s wonderful. You can just sail on it.”
CV: Edward Hogg
Born: 1979, Doncaster
Training: RADA (1999-2002)
Landmark productions: Woyzeck, Gate Theatre, London (2004) and St Ann’s Warehouse, New York (2006), Rock’n’Roll, Royal Court, London, then Duke of York’s Theatre (2006), Our Class, National Theatre (2009), The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida Theatre, London (2008)
Awards: Ian Charleson Awards – commendation for Woyzeck (2005)
Agent: Hamilton Hodell
Romeo and Juliet runs at Shakespeare’s Globe  from April 22 to July 9