Tim Piggott-Smith says it's 'absolute heaven' playing a future king of England

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NEW YORK — Last season, Broadway got a play about Queen Elizabeth II. This season, it's her son's turn.

Tim Pigott-Smith stars in Mike Bartlett's "King Charles III," an ingenious view of what might happen when the Prince of Wales finally inherits the throne. It was the winner of the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Play.

It's Pigott-Smith's third time on Broadway in an impressive career that includes a lot of Shakespeare, the films "The Remains of the Day" and "Gangs of New York," the miniseries "The Jewel in the Crown" and guest spots on "Downton Abbey" and "Inspector Lewis."

The Associated Press stopped by the Music Box Theatre to ask him about his view of the royals, tips on playing a king and the time he met Charles.

Q: You play the future king. How do you view the royals?

A: I'm a bit of a monarchist, myself. I'm not a rabid monarchist, and I think England would probably be a better country if it was a republic. But I don't particularly think that your political system offers something that the hereditary system isn't achieving right now, if I can put it tactfully.

Q: This play follows the popular "The Audience" with Helen Mirren and Henry VIII in "Wolf Hall." Are you surprised there's such an appetite for British royals here?

A: I am, really, because you kicked us out.

Q: Well, you were being bad.

A: Sure, but it's weird. It's like the 'Downton Abby' syndrome, isn't it? I think half of America thinks they actually live like that. It's so weird. I think it's just historical envy.

Q: Given your history, is it odd to put on Charles' uniform and sword?

A: It's quite normal. I've played quite a lot of kings and stuff It's not weird at all. It's not odd to be a king. The thing about being a king is you can't act being a king. Other people make you a king. They will kneel and take their hats off and salute and do all that. You just plow on being yourself, really.

Q: Didn't you actually meet Charles once at the intermission of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Royal Shakespeare Company? Was he nice?

A: He was delightful. I was sitting on the same row and just as the lights went down, I realized that somebody had come and sat in an empty seat. I didn't realize until the interval who it was. He's very discreet. Very clever. I like him a lot, you know. I think he's a very clever man. I think he's a very caring man. I think he's misunderstood.

Q: The queen is now the longest serving monarch ever. That makes Charles the longest serving heir apparent ever. How do people see him?

A: I think it's like a lone star, somebody floating out there in the ether. I think people assume that he will be king at some point but it could be another 15 years. He could be in his early 80s. What will we do? Will we have this doddering old king who can barely keep the crown on? I don't know. That's why the play is so relevant.

Q: Where does this role sit in your career?

A: I'm bloody lucky that it's here. In 2012, I played Lear. In 2013, I did Prospero. I was thinking, 'I've done the big ones now. What's left? What am I going to do?' And then somebody comes along with a part like this and you go, 'Oh, thank you. Oh, thank you.' Absolute heaven.


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