For someone so famous, Nicholas Lyndhurst is remarkably shy. "You can hide very clearly," says the co-star of Only Fools And Horses, who is still immediately recognizable as the unfortunate Plonker Rodney after all these years. "It can be done. I get on the train every day, but nobody bothers me. I am wearing my hat. "
It's a trick he picked up in the nineties – when Only Fools attracted an audience of 20 million and more – from David Jason, who played his Wheeler dealer brother Del Boy.
“David had a pork pie hat and sunglasses and I had a baseball cap and sunglasses. It obviously worked, because one day in Bristol we passed each other on the street! "
Nicholas Lyndhurst is remarkably shy. "You can hide very clearly," says the actor, who is still immediately recognizable as the unfortunate Plonker Rodney after all these years
Lyndhurst still takes the same precautions, not because he doesn't like people, but because he is so intensely private. "I love being an actor, but I didn't want to be particularly famous." The thing about fame is that you can't turn it off if it doesn't suit you. If you are not in the mood. When you are busy. This does not prevent the next person from approaching you. "
Is his need to just disguise himself as a normal acting gimmick, or does it go deeper? "Unfortunately there is a sense of shyness," he says. “I am often in the canteen with the other boys, but I hesitate to start a conversation. I am not very confident when it comes to breaking the ice. "
We are in a rehearsal room in north London, where Lyndhurst and a large cast are preparing for a project that seems surprising to him: six weeks in the London Coliseum in the musical Man Of La Mancha with Kelsey Grammer, star of Frasier and Prost. “I pinch myself every morning because I'm going to work with Kelsey Grammer. It is excellent. I have admired him for decades. I saw everything he did, "says Lyndhurst.
Hold on, Frasier was great, but Only Fools And Horses was voted the best British sitcom ever. Lyndhurst followed him with the time-traveling Goodnight Sweetheart, which was also very popular. Grammer is a giant of American TV comedy, but isn't that also true for Lyndhurst here? "I really don't see that," he says, smiling apologetically. "My wife is angry with me. She says, "You don't understand, do you? You don't see what other people see." Bless their hearts. "
It's not just false humility – he really doesn't understand it. Not in his heart. Today he's wearing wide cargo pants and a light blue shirt over a white t-shirt. He speaks more like a drama student than Rodney's cart boy. At 57, the hair is gray and thin, but it still hugs the long, dry, soulful face. Lyndhurst was out of sight for a while when his son Archie was born 18 years ago. He cut back on work and lived with his wife Lucy in the same seaside village in West Sussex where he grew up. In recent years he has returned for carefully selected projects like the Specials Only Fools and Goodnight Sweetheart in 2014 and 2016 as well as the detective series New Tricks. However, interviews are rare and this is his first in almost four years.
"I can't stand watching myself." I don't look at anything I do, although I was obviously there when it was recorded, ”says Lyndhurst
Nicholas Lyndhurst, second from left, with the cast of Only Fools And Horses
He still avoids public events like the plague. "I understand they want us to do the red carpet, but if you could see my toes in my polished shoes, they'll curl up in horror. Every joint in my body is clenched. "
It really bothers him. "I tried to say to myself," Just enjoy it. Relax. "But I can't. I'm just like that. People say," You can't be shy and be in this business. "That doesn't apply to all of us. I don't have many actor friends, but the few that I have are, of course, shy. "
How does it occur? "By getting into the character. I couldn't possibly go on stage as Nick Lyndhurst in the Colosseum in London. Not in a million years. "He laughs. "Assuming I can continue as a character, that's great."
Lyndhurst became known as a young Adam on the Carla Lane sitcom Butterflies, which made him Rodney's first choice when writer John Sullivan joined Only Fools in 1981. The show ran over seven series and 15 specials, but Lyndhurst reveals this, while he saw it trifles, he never really saw it.
"I can't stand watching myself." I don't look at anything, even though I was obviously there when it was recorded. "
Only Fools and Horses screenwriter John Sullivan (left) and Roger Lloyd-Pack (trigger)
Lyndhurst with Andrew Hall, Geoffrey Palmer and Wendy Craig in the TV sitcom Butterflies, 1979
Lyndhurst in character for Man Of La Mancha. Lyndhurst plays the leading prisoner who also becomes an innkeeper
But there is another, more poignant reason why he won't see these old episodes now: his grief over the loss of so many members of the Only Fools cast, including Sullivan and actor Roger Lloyd-Pack who played Trigger. "I can't see it now. I don't want to see any friends on the screen who are no longer with us. We surprised them on their birthdays. We wound them up. We were always annoyed. It was a family. So yes , it is sad. "
One of the performers predicted this moment. "I remember Lennard Pearce playing grandpa – bless his heart – and said to me," Have you heard about these new VHS VCRs? That means we will live forever now. Have you ever thought of it "I said," Christ, no, I didn't. "
Lennard Pearce (Grandpa)
However, he was right. Even if Lyndhurst goes on stage at the Coliseum, there is a possibility that somewhere in the world someone is watching his youthful self do nothing good with Del Boy and laugh. He'll be 19 forever now, right? "I wish!" He says.
He says there can never be a reunion show now. "We can't do it." It's not possible without John. And not only that: we lost Roger, Ken (MacDonald, who played the landlord Mike), Buster (Merryfield, Uncle Albert), Lennard, Roy (Heather, the cafe owner Sid). That is a large part of the line-up, unfortunately not with us anymore. Of course we cannot do it without them. I wouldn't dream of it. "
He and David Jason are still good friends, but now they only see each other and the rest of the cast at funerals. "It has been like this in recent years," says Lyndhurst. & # 39; It's terrible. & # 39;
How does he feel about the new musical by Only Fools, which is currently running in the West End and written by Paul Whitehouse and in which he plays the main role? "I'm completely uninvolved," he says flatly. OK, but will he see the show? "I can't see it now. I'm too busy. But I wish them all the best."
It's polite without being too enthusiastic, but then Man Of La Mancha will be in the Colosseum at the same time that Only Fools is going. "I was not addressed at all – I only worked on TV," he adds. Ryan Hutton plays Rodney – how does he relate to someone else in the role he has embraced for so long?
Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney and David Jason as Del Boy in Only Fools And Horses
& # 39; That is good. Good luck to him. "You will know the smile he is giving now. Stand back, repentant. You have seen it a thousand times.
Del Boy always discussed how he and Rodney would be "millionaires at this time next year". Did only fools do that for their stars? Lyndhurst smiles. "Not with BBC salaries, no. When friends started and someone said they had millions of dollars a episode, I looked over at David and said, "We are not, are we?" But we did it well. Every now and then we get a check somewhere. "
But he has now earned enough not to have to hunt the money, has he?
"You are absolutely right," he says. "It depends on the quality."
Which means he can be as fussy as he wants. "I'm afraid my agent is constantly pulling his hair out because I refuse to do more work than I actually do, but there is not as much quality as before." I think we've probably seen the golden age of the British sitcom. "
Thirty-eight years after the first episode of Only Fools was released, people still want to tell him what it meant to them.
"A few years ago a man came to me in tears. He said, "You brought me through my father's death. All I could do after the funeral was to put me on the show I saw with him. I was still laughing out loud and remembering having laughed with him. ""
That seems to be touching a nerve at Lyndhurst, presumably because he had a very difficult relationship with his own father Joe, who was a bit of a villain to say the least. Joe met Liz, a dancer, in a summer camp in the 1950s. He was already married, but they started an affair and had a son, Nicholas. When the baby was only two months old, Joe went and tried to deny him. He came back, but the relationship was troubled and ended when Nicholas was eight.
"I found out very early that he had to do it if he wanted to." I remember my parents yelling at each other. When that stopped there was a great sense of relief. It was nice and calm. I missed him, but the peace was worth it. "
Life was hard for mother and son. "We were very poor when he left," said Lyndhurst. “Not only hidden from the gas man, but also affected by poverty. Beach combs to find food. I found it funny. I was not told that you would not eat anything if you were not looking for food. I had the happiest childhood I really had. Mom was stressed, but I never knew that. "
Lyndhurst as a child star in The Prince And The Pauper, 1976; Left his son Archie in the CBBC sitcom So Awkward, 2019
It was only after he left that Liz became aware of the shocking truth about her former lover "in Dribs and Drabs". Joe also had three children from a waitress in the same camp. And he was still married. Everyone involved in this incredibly tense, confused story lived close to each other in the village of East Wittering and was still there when Lyndhurst became famous and made the headlines in the 1990s. Joe was referred to by the press as "Sussex Playboy". Father and son were never reconciled.
“I went to school in London. I saw him a few times as a teenager, ”says Lyndhurst. "A gradual departure. It just waned. It was really nothing. There was only one excitement later because I was on TV. Separations happen all the time. "
Liz gave up all her £ 60 savings to send her son to boarding school as a boarding student, but she could only afford the first half fees. "Fortunately for both of us, I was a pretty cute looking blonde child and had the opportunity to appear in a few commercials so I could earn enough to pay the fees." He continued to work as a child actor, who both starred in 1976 played in the drama series The Prince And The Pauper on Sunday afternoon.
"I was very lucky to grow up at the BBC and step into the rehearsal room elevators, and there would be Morecambe and Wise, or you would go to the next floor and Sir John Gielgud would board. I loved it. & # 39;
Now he's a star who can choose his projects and perform in a great place that means a lot to him. “The first time I saw my wife dance was in the Colosseum. She was at the English National Ballet, which was at home there for the winter. "
Lucy is 12 years younger than him. She and a friend took a break from their own performance schedule to watch a comedy that Lyndhurst was in, sending champagne and chocolates to the cast as a thank you for cheering them up. That was in 1992. The couple met and married seven years later. When her son Archie was born in 2000, Lyndhurst reduced the work to be at home like his father had never done – not out of a desire to make up for his own childhood, but simply because he was happy did as he said time.
"Since I got married and especially since my son was born, I've been driving everyone crazy by looking at everything that is offered to me and saying," It's pretty good, but … I'm just so happy to be married be that I don't want to be away from home “& # 39;
Then the story repeated, he says. "The strange thing is that my son got me to go to theater school at eight o'clock, the same age as I bothered my mother."
Archie is now an independent actor who has appeared in the CBBC series So Awkward, among others. He's going to visit Dad in the Colosseum because Lyndhurst has just discovered another remarkable family connection to this place.
"I didn't know much about my family history until recently because my mother and father broke up when I was so young." But my grandfather Francis was a stage designer at the Colosseum. When the war was declared, airstrikes threatened and most theaters decided not to do anything frivolous. But the owners of the Coliseum said, "We're going to do the best bloody pantomime London has ever seen." A big thing. And Francis designed the landscape. "
Lyndhurst found this out only three years ago when he was approached by a local museum in Shoreham-By-Sea. "They asked me to open an exhibition about my grandfather's work. I didn't really want to because I didn't like public things so much, so I snuck in there one day – with my hat in disguise – and looked around."
He was amazed at what he saw. “There was my grandfather who was a pioneer of filmmaking in Shoreham in the early 20th century before becoming a stage designer. I read a book called Hollywood-By-Sea that I was borrowed. He knew many great music stars of the day. I wonder what fishermen made of people like Marie Lloyd who came to the beach with their gloves on to make films. "
Lyndhurst's new project, Man Of La Mancha, begins with Don Quixote writer Cervantes in prison in Seville before facing the Spanish Inquisition. He plays with the other prisoners and pretends to be Don Quixote De La Mancha, an apparently distraught old man who insists on calling himself a knight. Kelsey Grammer as Don Quixote and his buddy Sancho Panza set out to fight evil and restore the age of chivalry, and insisted that it is still possible to be pure and true in a twisted world. Lyndhurst plays the leading prisoner who also becomes an innkeeper. But why should he be part of an ensemble when he could play a leading role so easily elsewhere? "It's always about quality," he emphasizes.
It will mean a lot to him to sing in the place where his grandfather staged the scene and where his wife danced. And what about his mother, who worked so hard for both of them to survive when he was young and gave her the last penny to take him to the stage school – has she ever seen the dream come true ?
"Oh yes," he says with a laugh. & # 39; She is still alive! I see them every Sunday. "
She should be enthusiastic – but the always humble Lyndhurst plays it down: "She is very quietly proud, I think."
"Man Of La Mancha" will open on April 26th at the Colosseum in London. eno.org
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