Hackney’s Edward Bennett takes to stage alongside Nicole Kidman in Photograph 51

Edward Bennett in rehearsals for Photograph 51. Picture: Marc Brenner

Edward Bennett in rehearsals for Photograph 51. Picture: Marc Brenner - Credit: Archant

The actor tells Anna Behrmann why he’s banking on his lucky penny ahead of a new play about the discovery of DNA.

Edward Bennett is no stranger to holding his nerve on stage. The actor made headlines when he had to step in for David Tennant for the opening night of Hamlet back in 2008.

Now he’s acting alongside Hollywood A-lister Nicole Kidman for the UK premiere of Photograph 51, a new play by Anna Ziegler, but Bennett insists he’s keeping it cool.

“It’s exciting to have that buzz around the production,” he admits. “But the great thing about theatre is that it’s an equaliser and normaliser. She’s just mucked in like everyone else.”

The one time that Bennett was truly thrown off his game by celebrity was when he met the person who voices the guide dog in the BBC show, Creature Comforts.

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Bennett was in a production of Alice in Wonderland at the Bristol Old Vic. The Creature Comforts actor had come to the “touch tour” – where blind members of the audience are invited to come in early, listen to the actors and touch the props before the performance, so that they can imagine the story better when they’re listening to the play.

“I was so starstruck that I couldn’t speak, which wasn’t very good for somebody who was blind to hear my voice, and she was so much fun,” Bennett says.

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Bennett lives on Hackney Road, but at 36 he’s beginning to worry that he might be getting a bit old to be hipster. He doesn’t wear skinny jeans or glasses without lenses, and he hasn’t grown a beard – although he says that he could if he wants to.

In spite of this, Bennett does have some affection for the place. “I love it; I love the multiculturalism of it and to an extent how it’s being developed, and yet retaining a sense of its old self,” he says. “It’s the one place out of all the places that I’ve lived that I feel most at home.”

Bennett is best known for his Shakespeare work, having acted with the RSC, but he’s not adverse to a bit of TV, “partly because I would like to buy a bike or a shed in London at some point.”

He’s excited to be acting in a piece of new writing. In Photograph 51, he’ll be playing Francis Crick, one of the scientists at the heart of the rivalry behind one of the greatest scientific discoveries: that DNA is a double helix. The actors had a personal explanation of the science behind the play by Professor Sutton from King’s College London.

The thing about new writing, as Bennett says, is that you never quite know what to expect: “It’s invigorating; the script can change at the last minute and you don’t know what an audience is going to make of it.”

But Bennett has his tried-and-tested method for making sure that the play goes well. “I always hide a penny somewhere in the theatre and pick it up at the end of the run – I’ve done it since drama school,” he says.

Photograph 51 is at the Noel Coward Theatre from September 5 - November 21

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