Tom Walker should be outside the Mercury, not inside it, sipping tea.
There’s a political maelstrom going on right now, and there’s only one person who can tell it how it is, except they’re talking to me, about something else, and we’re both rather happy about that.
You could be forgiven for not knowing who Tom Walker is and why he’s one of the country’s foremost political commentators, and that’s because he’s perhaps best known as Jonathan Pie, the expletive-fuelled, ranting whirlwind of a political reporter, that in recent years has been a huge internet sensation.
But although Pie has afforded Tom fame all over the world, he’s more than happy to leave him behind to return to a life as a company actor.
Born in Taunton, Somerset, Tom studied at Manchester Met Drama School and for 16 years was the very cliché of a struggling actor. Part-time jobs were many, actual parts were few and far between.
“I worked in Foyles bookshop on and off for ten years,” he tells me, “doing their events, among other things. I suppose that was the best of the non-acting jobs I had.
“Running up to 2016, I suppose it was the last couple of roles I got, understudying, which really made my mind up. I was eternally poor and thinking, ‘right, this is where I am, understudying is the best I’m going to get’.
“In your 20s being poor and trying to find work is fine, but not in your 40s.”
With the jeopardy gone of embarrassing himself on-line, ‘how can it stop you getting work, if you’re not getting work anyway’ he smiles, Tom decided to take the plunge and launch Jonathan Pie on an unsuspecting, but very willing, audience.
“I filmed one a few years before,” he reveals, “and I thought it was awful, so I put the idea away.”
But then in 2015 following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, Pie returned. The following year Donald Trump was elected president and Pie’s subsequent video went properly viral.
“It was never meant to be political,” Tom tells me. “It was just meant to be a funny sketch about a newsreader and what happens when they say ‘cut’.
“I’m definitely no politico at all, but I’ve had to tune into politics. Oddly that’s the bit that interests me least. For me it’s this character, that’s why I loved doing the live shows. For me that’s where Pie came into his own.
“The biggest one I’ve done is the Donald Trump one. I think it’s in the millions of views now.” Tom shakes his head, “still amazes me.”
Although Tom had decided to give up Pie before Covid, there were dates from a previous tour he had to honour and it was while doing that the audition for Good Luck, Studio came along.
It’s a new dark comedy from the award-winning Mischief, written by Henry Shields and directed by Henry Lewis, the team behind such theatrical hits as The Play That Goes Wrong and the Comedy About A Bank Robbery.
In Good Luck, Studio, it’s the final night of recording kids show, Wibble the Dragon. The production is massively over budget and under written. With one hour left to film, 16 pages to go, and an audience of screaming children getting more and more impatient, the cast and crew know big cuddly heads are going to roll. The last thing anyone needs is a failed actor showing up with a sinister vendetta and his own dragon costume.
“I was just interested to see if I could still do it,” Tom explains why he went for the audition. “I certainly didn’t expect to get the part and afterwards I remember thinking ‘well, I’ve blown that’ and went on to tell the casting director if there was anything else they had, I would be interested.”
So naturally Tom was delighted when he got the call to play the television show’s director.
“Interestingly,” he continues, “it’s a bit of a departure for Mischief as well as myself. It’s a lot darker and unlike most farces where there’s someone in the middle with a hurricane going around them, this is the opposite. It’s very clever how they’ve done it, and of course it’s very, very funny.”
But how does it feel back on the stage, rather than in front of the camera, and working with other actors, rather than just himself?
“It was a bit of a culture shock at first,” he admits, “and I was one of three who hadn’t worked with them before, so I did feel like a bit of a guest at first. But they were so welcoming and so generous with taking on board ideas.
“Actually, it was pretty amazing how quickly you slip back to being in a rehearsal room.”
So what’s next for Tom, more Pie?
“I haven’t done anything since Liz Truss became PM,” he smiles, “so I probably need to do one on that, but I’ve been offered a part in a US film, which I can’t say a lot about just yet, but that’s rather exciting”.
It appears, there’s still fun to be had in this acting lark.
Good Luck, Studio runs at the Mercury Theatre from September 30 to October 15. For tickets call the box office on 01206 573948 or on-line at www.mercurytheatre.co.uk