The David Tennant Treat 4 Today is a fascinating explanation by David about how he started acting for The Royal Shakespeare Company.
David played the character Touchstone in Steven Pimlott's production of As You Like It in 1996 in Stratford-Upon-Avon and then it transferred to The Barbican (as Richard II will do) later that year and into 1997. It was his first season with The RSC and he was playing roles in two other plays at the time - The General From America and The Herbal Bed.
In David's self-depreciating style, he explains about his audition and why he didn't think he would get the role:
I actually auditioned for Orlando.
I knew As You Like It from seeing it at school (but I didn't remember much about that) and, of course, I had read it at drama school but it wasn't one of the plays that I was particularly familiar with. I knew it was broadly about some woman dressing up as a bloke with some 'hey-nonny-no' type songs and a famous speech in the middle.
I was in the thick of rehearsals for The Glass Menagerie up in Dundee when the call came to get to London for an RSC audition, giving me woefully little time to prepare. I picked the brains of the people twas working with to get a bit more of an idea what I was going up for. 'Basically', the collective conclusion was, 'it's a play about a woman who dresses up as a bloke with some "hey-nonny-no" type songs and a famous speech in the middle . . . oh, and there's a clown called Touchstone in it, the usual confusing Shakespearian jokes - thankless part.' I remembered Touchstone from reading the play. It struck me as the sort of part I'd be useless at, stuffed with endless 'routines' and thick with references which had lost any contemporaneousness about three hundred years ago. However, I didn't need to worry about that, they'd find some brilliant comic to play that part and he'd fill it with plenty of hilarious business that would bring it bang up to date.
I had to concern myself with Orlando - not an easy part in itself but at least I could approach it fairly conventionally. I could look at who the character was, what he wanted, what his through-line was and so on. I flew down to London the next day, cribbing furiously. I'd skim-read the play the night before and now I was concentrating on each of Orlando's scenes in turn. It was a very tricky part, at once full of bullish machismo, then suddenly prancing through the trees in the depths of romantic gooey-ness, but by the time I arrived at The Barbican I had it all figured out (I thought) and I strolled in ready to thrill Steven Pimlott (the director) with my brilliant, intelligent and - dare I say - revelatory take on one of Shakespeare's trickiest lovers.
'I'd like you to have a read of a bit of Touchstone' was Mr Pimlott's opening statement. I was sure I'd misheard.
'Touchstone . . . I'd like you to read a bit of Touchstone.'
Steven flashed me a large, open smile. If this was some audition tactic to disarm me, I was indeed duly disarmed.
'But . . . em . . .' - stay calm I told myself - 'I was to audition for Orlando.'
'Well, yes, but I'd like to hear a bit of Touchstone.'
'OK' I replied, trying (and failing) with all my Scottish Presbyterian stoicism to sound like I thought it was a great idea. 'Fine. What would you like to look at?' We read a couple of scenes through. It was all I could do to pronounce some of it let alone fill it with charm or vivacity. I didn't understand most of it and as for being funny....
I was back on the plane that evening feeling very sorry for myself, nursing a bruised ego and smarting as the dream of an RSC season slipped away. So to say I was surprised two days later when my agent rang to say I'd been offered the part of Touchstone is the understatement of all time. Of course I accepted without thinking. It was a main part in a Shakespeare play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon- Avon, not something I could consider turning down; but over the next two weeks before we started work on it I began seriously to doubt my own sanity.