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Adrian Lester: I didn’t think I’d be ‘allowed’ to act

Adrian Lester has called on Ofcom to set ethnic diversity quotas. Photo: Piers Allardyce Adrian Lester. Photo: Piers Allardyce
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Adrian Lester has claimed he never thought he would be allowed to be an actor because drama, music and dance were not encouraged when he was at school.

The renowned actor was speaking to Digital Theatre’s Fiona Lindsay about his career, as part of The Theatre Lives series produced by Digital Theatre in association with The Stage– when he stressed the importance of giving opportunities to young, aspiring actors.

Reflecting on his local youth theatre experience when he was 14, Lester revealed: “I loved it. But I didn’t necessarily believe that loving it and enjoying it meant that I was allowed to do it.”

He continued: “Just because I enjoyed it and I had a laugh doing it, I didn’t think I’d be allowed to earn a living doing that job – until I was given the opportunity. And it’s the opportunity that’s the important thing.”

Lester said he originally pursued a career as a performer because he “wasn’t much good at anything else at school”.

“I was very discouraged at school. And the things that I took a great interest in weren’t really encouraged – the singing, the dancing, the acting. So I found that I had to do all that work out of school,” he said.

The actor also spoke in depth about Cheek by Jowl’s controversial but highly praised all-male As You Like It in 1994, in which he played lead role Rosalind.

He claimed many women who saw the play were sceptical of men taking on major female roles, but said he was able to address their concerns in the play’s epilogue.

“When I said ‘I’ll begin with the women’, I looked at the audience and all the women knew exactly what I’d meant. Because they’d begun the evening thinking, ‘Go on then’,” he said.

But he added: “By the end of the play I was able to look at them and say ‘Look, like as much of this play as please you’, and there would be a little acknowledgement of: ‘I know this isn’t quite what you had in mind, but we hope you enjoyed the endeavour.’”

You can watch the full interview with Adrian Lester here until October 12.

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