Having played Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman at the Young Vic all summer and now at the Piccadilly Theatre for winter, I’m enjoying the longest period of time I’ve been able to spend in London.
I first came here in the mid-Seventies, aged 15. It was on that first trip that I was inspired to be an actor. I came here and saw the great Royal Shakespeare Company doing As You Like It, and I realised that this is a high art form, and a profession worth considering. Until that point I had only thought one could do this as a hobby, but, to paraphrase Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman, I realised then that acting was the greatest career a man could want.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve been struck by the number of American actors you bump into in this city. I’ve had drinks with Matthew Broderick at The Ivy Club after an evening performing, when he was on stage in The Starry Messenger. And I ran into John Malkovich — who played Biff Loman in the film of Death Of A Salesman that starred Dustin Hoffman — when he was rehearsing Bitter Wheat this summer. And of course I reached out to the Duchess [of Sussex, Pierce’s former Suits co-star] to invite her to see the play. She was a little busy having a baby, but sent a message to say thank you for the invitation and she wished me well.
My days become a little vampiric during the show, because the adrenaline is pumping for hours after each night’s performance, so I can’t sleep. I like to go and hear some music afterwards. Being from New Orleans, I love music. I grew up with it and it’s part of who I am. I usually go to Ronnie Scott’s for the late-night shift or the Jazz Cafe in Camden. Jazz connects. It speaks to people. No matter what their age or who they are, you know it touches their humanity. And no matter where I go in the world, I can always find a little jazz club that reminds me of home.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn that London restaurants close too early for an actor’s schedule like mine. But I have discovered wonderful late-night dim sum at a place called Opium in Soho, so if I’m famished, I climb the stairs to the top floor for a bite to eat. And a dance club on the weekends! You’ll find me strutting round Piccadilly and dancing at Reign, a great club. Sunday night at The Haggerston is swinging and on fire — it’s pumped, with an eclectic group of people like London itself, folk you would not expect to be at a jazz club, dancing until the wee hours of the morning.
While London is full of so many great people, it’s important to keep your friends close. My fellow cast members have really become family. Sharon D Clarke [who plays Linda Loman, Willy’s wife] takes care of me on and off stage — she is my true north, love and comfort personified. We’ll all maybe have a cocktail after the show, or a beer, a pint at a local pub. It’s been hard to find what I really love, which is my Newcastle Brown Ale, but I like a nice cold pint of lager.
I won’t lie — posh has been a reality on this visit. I had a wonderful dinner near Pall Mall, at one of the finest clubs there. On the regular, I’m having dinner and lunch or tea at The Wolseley, and I shop at Fortnum & Mason — I ship Christmas packages of its things back to the States for the holidays. At the same time I’ve been down in Brixton having dinner and dancing at Rum Kitchen, and when it was warmer, I was in Peckham on the top of this car park at a club called Frank’s. And I’ve been remiss in not going to more places in east London. But I have a dinner reservation ready at this restaurant called Pidgin.
So I’ve been posh, and I have been to pubs and I have danced on the hottest dance floors. But I have not had tea with the Queen. There’s something I have to look forward to. You can’t do it all in one trip.’
‘Death Of A Salesman’ is at the Piccadilly Theatre until 4 Jan (thepiccadillytheatre.com)