An interview with Henry Pettigrew

Feature by Marcie Hume | 14 Aug 2006
It seems fairly certain that Henry Pettigrew is going to be a movie star. We don't want it to go to his head though, so best not to let him read this. Of course it would seem that the chances are slim, but he's got the whole thing wrapped up: the confidence, the charm, and the somehow simultaneously cocky and kind face of a well-loved actor. Talking to him is like getting a rare glimpse into a legendary performer's early days of uncertainty and nervousness. But when I gently prompt the subject, it's obvious that it's not something he's thinking about just now. It's "more than likely not gonna happen," he says straightforwardly. Having said that, the young man has not yet begun his run as Troilus in the International Festival's Troilus and Cressida. As of 14 August, the Edinburgh native will officially perform in his first major job since leaving acting school, surrounded by a cast of already well-established actors.

So he has not weathered many interviews yet. "I have done a few," he says, "I'm not very good at it, really. I'd better be careful." But experience doesn't seem to matter for a guy who's genuinely just excited about what he's doing. It's the kind of enthusiasm that anyone would want to have for their own. "It's a weird, weird job, I still think it is. It's incredible, I just love…" Then cutting himself off, he says understatedly, "I'm starting to talk about why I like acting when it's difficult to articulate really… but being a shy child and quite a shy person, I felt it gave me voice in a way. When I was a kid, I never did amateur dramatics or anything. My dad is a musician, and often works in theatre so I often came to theatre as a child. My mom worked at the Traverse Theatre on and off for about 20 years so I kind of had a relationship with the theatre that was realistic." His parents have been unblinkingly encouraging, and "very real about it as well. I'm quite lucky, I have so much respect for people who aren't supported by their parents who really didn't want them to becomes actors. I take it for granted really that from the word go my parents have been completely supportive and excited about it." When he found out he got the part, he was "swearing down the phone, and thinking, I've got to remember what this feels like." And that night he was set to come home to Edinburgh, and waited to tell his family until he arrived.

Despite some legitimate "moments of real freak-out", Pettigrew seems secure in himself and ready to move forward as an actor. Although this may be the first moment when he feels able to really say that this is, in fact, what he does for a living. "I'm an actor now because I'm in work, but it's been difficult saying that for the last 8 months," he says, and then laughs, imitating what his answer would have been before this role: "I'm an actor, honest. Okay I'm an unemployed actor, but I'm an actor!" And it's clear that he won't need to be apprehensive about using that label for long.
Troilus and Cressida runs at the King's Theatre. Aug 14- 26. 19.00/13.00 (15,18,24,26), from £7. An Edinburgh International Festival Production.