Updated: Oct 6, 2021
The acting career
In this article, Francesca Tyer interviews Clive Mantle about his fascinating career as an actor on the stage and screen.
Calling from his home in Wiltshire, Clive Mantle shares memories of his acting career. From the early successes to more recent opportunities, his experiences are truly intriguing.
“I was at the National Youth Theatre from ages seventeen to twenty-one,” Mantle begins. “That was an amazing experience. It showed me that that was the profession I wanted to take up. For the first time in my life, I fitted in amongst like-minded people.”
Following his time at the National Youth Theatre, Mantle secured a place at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). After several wonderful years of training, his professional career went off with a bang.
“I was lucky and I got massive breaks early on,” Mantle explains. “Very early on, I was on stage with Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, of which I did six or seven productions. On television at the same time, I got a wonderful break on Robin of Sherwood. I spent three glorious summers running around in beautiful forests and woodlands in the west country.”
Lennie in Of Mice and Men
This stunning scenery was not the only aspect that made Robin of Sherwood such a memorable experience. Mantle also mentions the brilliant actors he was lucky enough to work with.
“It was quite a formidable cast, including Ray Winstone as Will Scarlet. I was Little John and Michael Praed and Jason Connery shared the role of Robin Hood. We had three fantastic years and that set me up really. People knew who we were in television terms because of a series like that.”
Little John (left) in Robin of Sherwood
These early successes set Mantle up for an exciting and varied career. Following his role as Little John, he continued to do character work for various films and television productions.
“In 1992, I got cast as this lovely character in Casualty who was an all round good-egg doctor,” he begins. “I was in Casualty for five years and for four of those years I had an absolute ball. But then they started making it forty-eight weeks of the year, which was rather a lot. I just needed a break.”
Having experienced many high points in his career, Mantle isn’t afraid to discuss the difficult moments too.
“I must have had ten or fifteen really high points during my career and ten or fifteen equally low points,” he explains. “I think it's like that for a lot of actors. One minute you're scrambling around trying to pay next month's mortgage, the next minute you’re lying on a beach in the Caribbean. It's a bizarre juxtaposition of great luxury and great worry, but I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Harry (left) in White Hunter Black Heart
Mantle expands on this juxtaposition, discussing his different on-stage experiences, from performing in tiny pubs during the early acting years to larger venues around London.
“It ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous,” he laughs. “I should have been doing Iolanthe at the Colosseum, which is the largest auditorium in London. It was just me on stage in front of the curtain doing a ten-minute comedy routine at the beginning of the evening. To go out there in the Colosseum, which is a beautiful theatre, and have ten minutes by yourself to an audience like that is an amazing experience.
“You go from that to full length plays at The Bush where you're performing to seventy-five people and that's a full house,” he continues, “or to a room above a pub, or plays in Edinburgh where eight people have turned up, sitting there in their rain-soaked macs because it was better for them to spend a couple of quid on a ticket than to wander around in the wet.”
Playing Tommy Cooper
With a wide range of experience, Mantle considers his favourite parts to have played over the years, referring first to those roles performed on stage.
“On stage, it would be Lennie in Of Mice and Men. I’m 6 ft 5 ½’’ so my roles are defined by being that tall. Lennie is the perfect part for a stage actor of my height. I was really lucky to be in a brilliant production of it on the west end and received some sort of notoriety.
“I loved playing Tommy Cooper on stage. He was a wonderful comedian and a glorious character to play. To hear the waves of laughs coming back at you from an audience who are often very familiar with the material was great.”
Lord Greatjon Umber in Game of Thrones
Beyond the stage, Mantle played some wonderful parts on TV, but he comes to the conclusion that many of them have been favourites in their own way.
“Robin of Sherwood, Game of Thrones, The Vicar of Dibley, I love them all,” he states. “However, I didn't enjoy making Game of Thrones because it was absolutely freezing, minus 22°C in Belfast. I can remember being on the last plane out of Belfast before it got shut down for ice on the runway. I've never been more grateful to be on a plane in my life.
“I was a very small cog in that machine,” Mantle continues. “I like being a bigger cog if I can. For Robin of Sherwood, we went out with the writer for nights out and he listened to our ideas. That would never have happened on Game of Thrones. That’s one of those jobs where you keep your mouth shut. On reflection, it was a lovely thing to have been part of because it had such an effect on millions of people around the world.”
William (left) in Alien 3
While films were never a major part of his experience, Mantle mentions several of the more memorable examples.
“I really loved White Hunter Black Heart with Clint Eastwood. That was a great privilege. I loved doing Alien 3 because there was every British character actor of any note in that and we all had a riot. I've liked all the independent films I've done, like a bizarre film about Morris dancing. None of us had ever Morris danced in our lives and we went for it. We opened the Wimborne Folk festival for goodness sake.”
As our discussion about Mantle’s acting career draws to a close, he acknowledges his favourite filming locations, including his love for Africa and Wiltshire.
“I've always said to my agents that if there's any filming in Africa, to put me up for it. However, a wood in Wiltshire with the sunlight slanting through the trees and the props guys just putting final touches to a lovely fire with wood smoke coming up mixed with the smell of wild garlic, somewhere like Castle Combe, that would be the most perfect film location that I can recall from my time.”
With many thanks to Clive Mantle for this interview.
(All mages supplied by Clive Mantle )
To be continued: An interview with Clive Mantle. Part 2: The writing career