Andrew Lancel is an award winning English actor, producer and director, who is best known for his appearances as Frank Foster in the long-running British soap, “Coronation Street,” and for his role as Detective Inspector Neil Manson in “The Bill,” as well as Barry Pearce, the abusive partner of long running character Di Barker in Series 4 of “Bad Girls.”
Despite taking on some of the most controversial roles in British TV and theatre, I soon discovered during an interview with him that his Christian faith shines through all that he says and does.
Speaking backstage, I asked Andrew how aware his colleagues were about his faith, and he replied: “My Christian faith is clear as you can see in my dressing room. I mean physically the presence of my faith is always with me and I have my cross with me at all times.”
As we speak, this talented actor is just minutes away from going on stage to perform his latest controversial role as Brian Epstein, the man who discovered The Beatles. But before we talked about how he deals with the challenges of living out his Christian faith when taking on parts like this, he told me how he came to take on this latest project:
“When I first got the script, I thought this play was absolutely incredible, but I also had no idea how I was going to play that part. I had no idea how I was going to talk like him, walk like him, and learn, it because it’s a mammoth wordy play. It’s also an extremely exhausting play to do, but very rewarding. The reactions have been humbling.”
“Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles,” which is currently running until September 3 at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, looks backs on the many tragedies this man faced through his sexuality and drug addiction, but also tells the compelling story of how he discovered arguably the most successful band in the world. This music entrepreneur, whose stellar career as manager of The Beatles, made him a household name yet whose controversial personal life remained very much in the closet. Brian died in 1967 of an accidental overdose at the age of 32.
Despite the whole play being set in Epstein’s living room, it tells his story to a young upcoming freelance writer from Liverpool, and Lancel’s stage presence keeps your attention and his transformation from speaking to him in his dressing room to becoming the part of Epstein is quite remarkable and at times quite moving. His ability to play people who are so different from his real life becomes evident when you look back on his varied career.
Andrew, 44, was born in Lancashire in the North of England, started out in local theatre and as a cabaret singer. He first found fame as the lead role in medical drama series “Cardiac Arrest,” and the rest is history with hit after hit role.
I asked Andrew how he responded to critics about of his Christian values while taking on controversial roles like playing Brian Epstein.
“My faith is my heartbeat and sometimes I shout about it, while other times, I whisper it,” he says. “I got a text today from a Christian actually, who doesn’t want to see the play because of the gay component which drives me mad but there you go.
“So you talk it through and say, ‘Well, it’s a play that I’m portraying. I’ve played monsters on television, and some really horrible people. I’ve played nice people too and I’ve even played Christians.”
He went on to say, “For me it’s a job and it sits perfectly well with me. I’m playing parts and this isn’t me. One side of it is that one gets the microphone, if you play a controversial role, but there is also another side to it. For instance, I got a Christian festival called Greenbelt, mentioned in the national newspaper, ‘The Sunday People,’ because I was on the TV soap, ‘Coronation Street.’
“So you are able reach audiences and my speaking tours where I share my Christian testimony and that means a great deal to me, probably as much as any performance I’ve ever done.”
Andrew then explained how he shares his faith with others in the world of show business:
“My colleagues are very aware of my faith especially when I tell them that I’m praying for them,” he told me. “1 Peter says, ‘Humble yourself and you will be lifted up.’ I think that, as an actor, if we have success and then dealing with the highs and lows of the business, this is very important to remember.
“John Paul II, who wasn’t a bad man to listen to, said something along the lines of ‘No evil has more power than the infinite mercy of God,’ and I hold onto that.
“There’s still a lack of acceptance of our faith. This theatre is built in a crypt, the crypt of the church next door. So I go in there pretty much every day and pray and that feels pretty cool.
“When I was in ‘Coronation Street,’ we would often having prayer times in my dressing room. I encourage people to keep the door open because we’re never going to close it, are we?”
I asked Andrew for his thoughts on the life of Brian Epstein, and he replied, “This is a man who was worthy of a play, even if he hadn’t discovered The Beatles. This was a guy who was swimming against the tide all the time in his faith, his sexuality, and in his upbringing.
“He was thrown out of school, later the army, and arrested before he was 20 years old. He was a genius. Flawed and sad in many ways, but also in most of the pictures you see of him he’s laughing. This is a guy who must have had a sense of humor to look after The Beatles. So I I’m fascinated by him. There’s a line in the play that says he ‘saw the future’ and I totally believe that.”
Then, looking to his own future, Andrew concluded: “I can say there are some very exciting theatre projects in the pipeline in this and next year. I’m involved in a major ongoing Christian project which I’ll be both performing and producing initially based on the life of Lazarus.”
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
For more information, check out Andrew Lancel on Facebook
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Peter Wooding is an award-winning TV, radio and print journalist and media consultant under the name of Peter Wooding Productions. Having previously spent 10 years as news editor with UCB Radio in the UK, he has travelled extensively reporting from countries including Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Dubai, South Korea, Zambia, Gambia, Mozambique, Croatia, Israel and India. Peter and wife Sharon live in North Wales, UK with their three children. Passionate to see God’s Justice and Mercy impact lives, Peter is director of a new UK ministry to help at-risk young people in Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Kosovo, the Middle East and beyond.