It’s been quite a year for Larry Lamb. He got married to Barbara Windsor, was brutally murdered in the Vic on Christmas Day, and had his nipples massaged by Rob Brydon at the beach the following Bank Holiday Monday. Of course, all this was in the name of starring in two of the highest rated shows on British TV this Christmas – as Mick in BBC One’s Gavin & Stacey and as Archie in EastEnders.
As he touches down into 2010, he will begin his first UK tour, An Evening With Larry Lamb. He’s not acting, singing or doing stand-up like most people on the circuit, but touring with just his personality and experiences as back up. And after having chatted with this charming, interesting, disarmingly down-to-earth man, I get the impression that’s all he’ll need.
Lamb, 62, is perhaps best known as best known for his role Archie Mitchell, the Machiavellian father and grandfather in EastEnders who came to a nasty end in the traditional Christmas denouement in 2009. Throughout the past eighteen months, he has been smouldering on our screens with a succession of high-profile storylines, including an ill-fated marriage to Barbara Windsor’s character, matriarch Peggy Mitchell, and his plot to conquer Albert Square with the scheming Janine Butcher.
But when he started out “quite by chance” in professional acting, he had no idea of the heights to which his career on the small screen would soar.
“I started out, I have to say, with really no knowledge at all of what being a professional actor was all about. I really had no idea.
“The transition from an amateur to a professional was very shocking, very shocking! You know, because if you’re an amateur actor, and you’re any good, you can play leading roles. I remember when I was first hired as an actor, and I didn’t quite know what I would be playing. And I was talking to a guy that I’d been an amateur actor with, and I was mulling over the possible roles I might get. The play was Hamlet. And I was kind of saying: “You never know, they might want me to play Hamlet, I’m so brilliant.”
“But of course, it ain’t quite like that. You figure, you’ve been given the role of Voltimand, a courtier at Elsinore, and the role of the Norwegian sea captain – and you think, well, I wish I had a bit more. But once you watch the professionals on stage in rehearsals, you realise you’re very lucky to have a part at all, and you’re probably better off with less rather than more. It was a bit of a wake-up, shall we say, when I was finally with the pros.”
I wonder whether the boot is on the other foot now; after all, Lamb is now a veteran actor, with years of experience in the industry. Does he find himself leading the way for his younger colleagues?
“That’s an interesting question. Actors are pretty, shall we say, self-made people. They’re pretty determined. And you may find that people are watching what you do, but not many of them are up for being taught, per se. I think actors are the sort of people who like to learn on their terms. So, now and again people will ask you about something. All you can do is try and help people if they ask you, if you get the opportunity.”
Lamb’s career has taken him in many directions; he has had roles spanning film, theatre and, of course, television, and he’s still not quite sure where his allegiances lie.
“I haven’t worked in the theatre now for probably two and a half years. I miss it a bit I suppose, which is unusual for me to say, because the regularity of the theatre, eight shows a week, week after week after week, tends to drive me insane after a few months. But then, when you’re working in television, you can rather miss it. And then when you’re working in theatre, you think, Christ, I’d love to have a TV series. So, kind of backwards and forwards between television and theatre really.”
Fame has undoubtedly changed his life, but Lamb believes that it is just part of the job, and is generally a positive thing.
“It does change your life, there’s no doubt about it, your profile changes completely. It’s happened to me in the past, earlier on in my career, when I’ve been in popular TV shows twenty or thirty years ago. But to be on EastEnders now, when it is so big and so widely viewed, it certainly comes a little bit of a surprise, especially when you realise how widely the audience is spread.”
He has strategies for keeping a low profile whilst out and about, and they don’t involve Victoria Beckham-style sunglasses or security. “You just have to be careful. You just have to make sure you’ve got a hat on, your collar’s up, you’ve got a scarf on, don’t talk too loud and then you can scoot around. You are recognised, it’s part of the job. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”
Lamb sounds genuinely excited to be hitting the road for his new show.
“Yes, just to talk to people, you know, and tell them about what’s happened to me over the years. This all came out of me telling stories to people sitting around…next thing you know I’m doing a one-man show!
“That’s great for me because whenever I’ve been around the country in theatre, the one day of the week that really works for me is the one where the audience in the theatre stay back and talk to the cast. And I really enjoy that, so this is a chance to do that every night.”
Did he ever envisage this career, which he fell into in the first place, going as far as it has done?
“Well, I am the eternal optimist! When I set off, I knew I wanted to escape and I knew I wanted to make a life, I didn’t know how that was going to happen. It was all a big dare, really. I just kept daring myself to keep going.”
Lamb acknowledges that the entertainment industry can be a cruel one to start off in.
“It is a ruthless industry. The thing is, there’s so much competition. I had no idea of this. There are probably sixty or seventy thousand actors in London. And only 10 per cent of them are in work. I think if I’d have had any idea of how competitive it was I might have just had a few more second thoughts about it!” he laughs. “I don’t know. But I had no idea, I’d never met an actor, I had no idea what it was all about.”
His advice to the aspiring thespians currently treading the boards at Oxford is typically practical and straightforward.
“The best way to really understand how incredibly competitive the entertainment business is, if you fancy yourself as an actor, my advice is to get yourself as many auditions with as many drama schools as you can. That will give you and idea of the competition; you’ll see what you’re up against.
For Larry, the past two years have been hectically busy, but he confirms that working on two flagship shows has been just as fun as it seems on the special features.
“Yeah it is. Really, I like being in a regular job. The one thing about being an actor is you drift; you’re a gypsy, from job to job. Turning up to be the visiting baddie or father or lawyer or doctor or something in a TV series; it’s not always the most satisfying thing for me, but it’s part of being a jobbing actor.
“To be involved with a long job, to be involved in the planning and seeing the whole thing through, I find that very satisfying. So to have been involved in two really important, really powerful, really successful shows, simultaneously, has been just a huge gift.
“I’m sad to see them go. But went into EastEnders for six months; I finished up being there 18 months. I had no idea Archie was going be who Archie ended up being.
“It would have been a bit boring watching him sitting round the Vic week after week plotting! That was the writers’ point; the only way to make this story as big as it can be was for Archie to leave with as big a bang as he came in with.”
And despite being the victim of the crime, Lamb doesn’t know the answer to the question on every EastEnders viewer’s lips at the moment: who killed Archie Mitchell?
“They said to me do you want to know? I said I don’t want to, I’d rather not know. I don’t know why people want to know these things!”
The shock revelation of the whodunit will be broadcast live from the BBC’s Elstree studios on Friday February 19, during EastEnders’ 25th anniversary episode, when the show will be broadcast live for the first time ever. And will Lamb be watching to find out?
“I certainly will be. Actually – funnily enough – ha – you ask me that, I won’t be! I’m going to be in a theatre in Blackburn, doing my show! So I’ll have to scoot back to the hotel and see it afterwards!”
To book tickets, visit www.livenation.co.uk