Mark Womack is nervous about returning to the stage for the first time in eight years – but at least it’s in his home city, he tells Laura Davis.
IT’S been eight years since Mark Womack has been on the stage and some three decades since he wandered into Liverpool’s Unity Theatre as a student hoping someone would invite him to be in a play.
But he’s been badgering his agent for some theatre work for several years and now he and his wife Samantha Womack are signed up to star in a new piece that is premiering at the Royal Court Liverpool next month.
“It’s been a while,” he agrees.
“That’s just made me feel nervous saying that. Big part, loads of lines, kind of worried about that. But I’m looking forward to it and it’s a great place to be going back on the stage. I’ll feel supported in Liverpool. . . hopefully.”
In Hope, written and directed by Scot Williams, Liverpool-born Womack plays novelist Norm who has suffered five sleepless days and nights due to writers block.
“He decides to write this novel that he’s always wanted to write after his girlfriend-stroke-wife leaves him for another writer and moves down to London,” explains Womack, 52.
“It’s set at six o’clock in the morning and throw into that there’s his very irritating flatmate Guy (The Bill’s René Zagger) and the lodger, Hope.”
It all kicks off when she brings a drug dealer, played by Williams, back to the Blundellsands flat after a night out.
“It’s quite funny,” says Womack.
“But it’s not an out and out comedy, it’s quite dark as well.”
Hope is played by his wife, the ex-EastEnders actor Samantha Womack, who was last seen in Liverpool playing Nellie Forbush in the UK tour of South Pacific at the Empire last year.
“We’re lucky to get her really because it’s a cameo she’s playing even though it’s a really good role and the whole story centres round her character, she’s only in about three scenes,” he says.
“At one point they said to me there was a possibility that would I maybe like to direct it – that would have been strange.”
The couple, who met on the set of cop drama Liverpool 1 in the late-90s (where they also met Williams), usually take it in turns to work, making sure that there is always someone at home to look after their 12-year-old son Benjamin and seven-year-old Lily-Rose.
“In fact, since Liverpool 1 we haven’t worked together – 14 years – and this year we will have worked together twice by the time the play’s on,” says Womack.
“We did a film version of (Liverpool writer Nicky Allt’s stage show) One Night in Istanbul. We had a lot of fun with that because it’s quite broad comedy and we were two new characters that weren’t in the play.”
As the film took just a week to shoot and coincided with a school holiday, they took the children along with them. For Hope, they will bring Lily-Rose on the road, while Ben will stay at home.
“It’s only a few weeks so I’m sure he’ll be fine – he’ll be glad to get rid of us, I’m sure,” says Womack.
“Sam’s best mate will be looking after him and he’s a really good fella. They’ll just have a ball.”
Womack is looking forward to spending some time in his home city – “it’s really important for me to work there as much as I can” – and would like one day to appear at the Unity Theatre, where his acting career began, if he can just find the time.
“I’ve got a lot of fondness for the Unity,” he says.
“I stumbled into it at a time when it was a really interesting place to be because there were some really great actors doing stuff like Dave Morrissey, Ian Hart, Cathy Tyson, John McArdle.”
Womack was studying fine art at Liverpool Polytechnic, and thinking he would quite like to become an actor, when a tutor suggested he visit the Hope Place theatre.
“I walked in and was poking round the cafe,” he recalls.
“I was hoping someone would say ‘hello’ and then I saw a notice on the wall saying ‘improvisation class’. I went in and it was all that ‘pretend you’re in a prison’ stuff.
“I did that for a couple of weeks and there was a bloke with a beard sitting in the audience who said ‘I thought that was quite good, do you want to be in a play?’ and I was like ‘yeah’.”
He played alongside David Morrissey in The Suicide, by Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman, and Peter Weiss’s The Investigation, about the Nuremberg Trials, before winning a place at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts in London.
After graduation, he spent a year at Birmingham Rep and a further six months in a Scottish theatre, before gaining his Equity card and first TV role: “It was at Pinewood Studios playing a spitfire pilot and I thought ‘this is it. This is the one’. Very cool, big set, spitfires everywhere.”
Since then, Womack has become a familiar face on our TV screens, appearing in everything from 2000’s Playing the Field to last year’s Good Cop, filmed in Liverpool (“it hasn’t been recommissioned, which I’m really sad about”).
In 2010, he was also back in Liverpool to film Ken Loach’s 2010 film Route Irish, in which he played a soldier-turned-subcontractor coming to terms with a friend’s death in Iraq.
“I have a feeling that as time goes on the film will become more potent,” he says.
“One of the central issues is what’s going to happen to these men and women that come back from Afghanistan from Iraq.
“The effect of what they’ve seen and experienced can take as much as 14 years to manifest itself so there’s going to be a lot of messed up young people, well not so young then, floating around the cities.”
He continues: “Ken Loach is just a massive hero of mine, he always has been. I never thought I was ever going to work with him so to be given that opportunity was just great.
“I learned so much. I learned the right way to do things from behind the camera, which is an ambition of mine to do one day.”
On his way to realising this dream, Womack has secured the film rights to the 2005 novel Wreckage, by Liverpool-born writer Niall Griffiths. He persuaded the author while on the set of another of Griffith’s books, Kelly and Victor, last year, in which Womack has a cameo role.
“He’s working on the screenplay,” says the actor. “Now we just need to go away and raise the money.”
Hope premieres at the Royal Court from March 6-30.