Suffolk actor Ed Hughes recalls disastrous Lord of the Rings audition ahead of his New Wolsey return

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

When Ed Hughes’ mum sent him to speech classes to help the shy six-year-old with his confidence, little did she know she it would be the start of a successful stage and screen career.

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

Ed thought he was going to be cricketer and had already played for the England Under-19s. Playing so much though, he fell out of love with the sport.

“I was a bit burnt out. I was playing six times a week, travelling a lot. Summers were never a holiday. It’s very intense and I’d been feeling that from probably the age of 14-15. I enjoyed it and the people I met were great but I’d had enough,” recalls the ex-Ipswich School student, who was born in Bury St Edmunds and grew up first in Somersham then Sproughton.

“I’d fallen out of love with it and couldn’t really find the reason. Theatre, it’s always made me happy in a deeper way than sport did. I was about 16-17, looking at universities and I was fed up writing essays about plays and literature. I thought ‘everybody’s said it already, what have I got to write about this’.”

Ed wasn’t a very confident youngster. Years earlier his mum sent him to professional actor Antony Carrick who ran speech classes in Suffolk.

Ed Hughes' friend Orlando Bloom as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers. Ed also auditi

Ed Hughes' friend Orlando Bloom as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers. Ed also auditioned for the part. Photo: Pierre Vinet/New Line Cinema - Credit: Archant

“I started doing mainly poetry... he was probably the main reason I got into acting. He was in a James Bond film and would talk about the profession. Through working with him I started to do Shakespeare monologues, entered competitions and did well so it felt something that came quite easy.

“I did plays after school but I never had the time (to join a local amateur theatre group) because I was playing so much sport,” he laughs.

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“I’m very much indebted to him for introducing me to Shakespeare and different writers like Harold Pinter who I then became friends with.”

Ed and Pinter bonded over their love of cricket.

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

“I was doing a show at the National Theatre and someone heard I played and Harold is obsessed with it. He had a team so I got a call on a Sunday when I was 22 and he said ‘hello Ed, it’s Harold here, you’re going to play cricket’. So I did. He was a lovely and very generous man.”

He says his decision to go straight from Ipswich School to London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama bemused people.

“I liked the fact you were in from nine until seven or eight every day, you were busy rather than attending a couple of lectures a day if you’re lucky. I thought I’d probably get lost and develop a drinking habit or something like that so I decided best keep myself busy so applied to drama school.

“None of my family had ever been... it was a great choice. I think I’d just turned 18 when I started, and it was the best decision I ever made. There’s no other choice... it’s been 18 years since I left drama school and I’m working constantly so I feel very lucky.

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

“You always want to be doing a little bit more, there are always other mountains to climb and hopefully they’ll all pan out.”

Ed - whose credits include This House at the National Theatre, The Canterbury Tales with the RSC and TV’s Ripper Street to name a few - Adam in the touring production of Rules for Living.

Written by Sam Holcroft and directed by Simon Godwin, an extended family gathers for Christmas dinner while rigidly following the internal rules that govern their behaviour. As the drinks flow and the obligatory games intensify, resentments rise and relationships are pulled apart with a bang like oh so many Christmas crackers.

“I’m coming with my wife and daughter and the marriage is falling apart. I won’t give anything away but it’s very funny. It’s probably an extreme version of most people’s Christmases but not too far away from the truth,” says Ed, who jumped at the chance to work with Godwin, who he’s admired since seeing his work at the National.

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

Based on cognitive behaviour therapy, Adam’s habit is adopting a different accent or voice when mocking others.

“I probably do about 25 accents and different voices in the show so that was a bit of a challenge, but it was a lot of fun... that studying of different people. It’s a very clever and well observed comedy, a bit dark at points but very funny. I’ve lived three months of Christmas since August but it’s November now, so that’s alright.”

He last appeared on the New Wolsey stage when he was 12, playing Mamillius in A Winter’s Tale.

“Dick Tuckey directed that and I loved it. That was the first ever professional acting job and I’ve never been back... maybe I didn’t do a very good job. Now I’m back after all this time, if they’ll have me.”

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

There have been a couple of auditions over the years when Ed confesses he’s walked away thinking “crikey, that was not my best”.

“My first ever audition, when I was 21, was for Legolas in Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing,” he says, recalling how he had the script on his lap in case you go dry and forget a line.

“I thought ‘I’m going to learn it, I’m going to learn it’ then I went in and I just couldn’t remember it, not one word.

“I remember the casting director trying to help me out but I just felt like I was slightly sinking. Orlando (Bloom) is a friend from drama school. I was with him when he got the call he’d got the part and I was really happy for him.”

Paul Shelley,
Jane Booker,
Laura Rogers,
Carlyss Peer,
Jolyon Coy and (second from right)
Ed Hu

Paul Shelley, Jane Booker, Laura Rogers, Carlyss Peer, Jolyon Coy and (second from right) Ed Hughes in Rules for Living. Photo: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

There have been some pinch yourself moments too, particularly shooting Wallander with Sir Kenneth Branagh.

“We were on set having a chat and I remember the first assistant director said ‘right everybody, stop the traffic’. I thought that’s odd. I imagined all these people sitting outside while me and Kenneth Branagh chatted away, sitting in their cars wondering what’s going on.

“It was one of those moments where I thought ‘oh this is nice’. Then I was taken back to a beautiful hotel overlooking the sea in Sweden so that was a lovely experience,” he laughs.

• See Rules for Living, presented by English Touring Theatre, Royal and Derngate, Northampton and Rose Theatre Kingston at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre October 31-November 4.

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