|(Photo: Emilie Fjola Sandy)|
Across the foyer of London’s Royal Festival Hall Daniel Hoffmann-Gill cuts an imposing figure. At 6ft 6in and thick cut, the actor, playwright and director is almost a giant. However, as he says goodbye to Rich, the designer for his upcoming play Our Style is Legendary, and scans the open-plan hall for his next appointment, I can’t help but think he looks like a lost child.
I approach Hoffmann-Gill, who is dressed in a scruffy wax jacket and baggy jeans, and am greeted with a handshake and a warm smile from behind a heavy moustache. It seems the lost boy analogy isn’t too far off as he tells me about his struggle growing up in Nottingham in the 1980s.
The only child of middle-class, entrepreneurial parents, Hoffmann-Gill was significantly better off than those living around him in the notorious St Ann’s area of the city, where racial tension and violence were prevalent. “It was interesting for me because it meant that I could experience a different way of life by making friends and hanging out in that community,” he says. “It was an important education for me.”
Hoffmann-Gill, now 34, describes his teenage years as a sad time, full of anger and violence, spawning from his relationship with an authoritarian father shaped by military discipline. “My dad had a lot of anger towards me and I had a lot of anger towards him. I think it’s a classic Oedipal thing, you want to kill your dad and have sex with your mum,” he tells me, not quite making clear whether he is joking or not.
His rough East Midlands accent comes alive when he spits expletives, passionately breaking his relaxed and soft-spoken demeanor: “I think it’s important when a son’s growing up and he knows he could smack the fuck out of his dad.”
His adolescent violence soon turned inwards as he started using drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with severe self-loathing, and was perfectly comfortable destroying a person he did not care about.
His life was to change very suddenly when he was 16, however, when his best friend Michael died of a heroin overdose.
Hoffmann-Gill reels off the date like it is eternally etched into his brain – “1992, 8th of December” – and for the first time, his easy, sprawling conversation becomes slower and more contemplative. It is less emotional than it is reflective; he has obviously come to terms with his friend’s death. Indeed, their relationship forms the backdrop to the autobiographical Our Style Is Legendary.
When Michael died, Hoffmann-Gill knew it was time to make a fresh start. “That part of my life literally died. That’s the way I believe things should be, if something goes wrong you have to chop the whole arm off otherwise it will kill you.”
A keen performer since an early age and nursed by “inspirational” school drama teachers, he decided to pursue a career in acting, as well as working with problem children in St Ann’s that were wandering down the same dark path he had.
Now he works regularly as an actor, making a living from commercials and theatre, and the self-loathing of his teens has completely disappeared, as he boldly claims he now loves himself a great deal. “It’s not arrogance, but if you make your life reliant on other people giving you love to make yourself feel good, that means they can take it away and reduce you to fucking nothing.”
He says he still believes in a shared existence, however, and proudly tells me he is due to marry his fiancée Eva Jane in December. The couple met four years ago when Hoffmann-Gill took over directorial duties on a play she was starring in. On a prompt sheet to remember the actors’ names he wrote ‘I love you’ next to hers. “It didn’t mean I loved her, she just looked great. I was like ‘fuck, she’s amazing’.”
Don’t count on the wedding being a big church ceremony though; as an avid science and philosophy reader, Hoffmann-Gill claims him and religion don’t mix. Counting Sartre and Nietzsche among his favourite writers, he calls the Bible and Koran “wonderful bits of writing, but nowhere how you want to live your life”.
“It doesn’t make any sense. Faith is just an excuse for bad ideas.”
Our Style is Legendary runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden from March 14th until April 2nd. Tickets can be bought here.