Jason Donovan on his role in The King’s Speech, looking forward to a Chichester visit and what inspires him

Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue) and Raymond Coulthard (King George VI)

Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue) and Raymond Coulthard (King George VI) - Credit: Archant

Alice Cooke caught up with Jason Donovan ahead of his latest role in The King’s Speech, which begins its run in Chichester this month

While many former stars of stage and screen spend their winters gaily treading the boards in pantomimes up and down the country, former soap star Jason Donovan is preparing to take on the role of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech, a touring production which will begin its run at the Chichester Festival Theatre on 5 February.

In the story, familiar to many due to the 2010 film, Lionel Logue is the speech therapist assigned to treat King George VI’s speech impediment before he addresses the empire as war looms. The king will be played by Raymond Coulthard, best known for his roles in television’s Hotel Babylon and Mr Selfridge.

Of his time in Sussex this month, Jason says that “all stage actors seem to really look forward to coming to Chichester, so I can’t wait to come and explore.” He goes on to say that “I feel like I’m going to be comfortable in Sussex, as it looks like a fantastic place.”

He won’t get much time out between performing and rehearsing, but Jason says that “getting the opportunity to wander around each day and see what’s what is something that I really look forward to.”

In terms of acting and life in general, Jason says that he is inspired every day by “great artists, great songs and my family. I love music, and I never fail to be amazed by what it can do to you – your mood, your way of thinking, who you are.”

The film of The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, became the most successful independent British production ever at the UK box office, and went on to earn £250m worldwide as well as major Oscars for best picture, best actor and best director. But how do you approach a role that has already been so famously well-played? “It’s a very well-known piece of history and the film was great,” says Jason. “I saw it once, but I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the character is all about anyway – I won’t study Geoffrey Rush’s performance, as I think painting my own picture is what it’s all about. I’m a great believer in the notion that well-written words make for well-portrayed characters, and the words in this instance are fantastic.”

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Of playing an Australian he jokingly says, “finally I won’t get criticised for my accent, which is a huge relief!”

Jason has a long history of performing on stage, with lead roles in West End musicals including Sweeney Todd and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; he donned drag for a 2009 production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, before putting his dancing shoes on for Strictly Come Dancing in 2011, where he came third.

Of the things that make him smile, he says that there’s nothing better than “a good bottle of red with a nice lunch. A really good holiday isn’t bad either.” And of course there’s his family, who he says make him who he is: “my life’s ambition is to be a good dad and husband, to eat well and to live well.”

Jason is the first to admit that not everything has gone to plan, and that looking back there are definitely things he would have done differently. “It was a well-documented period of my life when I went off the rails a bit and became a bit selfish, but I don’t regret it because I am the person that I am now as a result of the things that I have done.”

The King’s Speech comes to Chichester on 5 February. 01243 781312; www.cft.org.uk***


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