|Kiss Me Kate|
You can see Kiss Me Kate at Milton Keynes Theatre from 7-18 September 2004.
Box Office 01908 606090
As Beppe di Marco in EastEnders, Michael Greco set female hearts a flutter for over four years between 1998 and 2002. At the height of his fame in 2000, he was voted Sexist Male in Soap at the British TV Soap Awards and only this year, was voted the Sexiest Male Soap Star EVER by the readers of the Radio Times.
But until this one role made him famous in a matter of days, it was theatre that had been his life blood. And despite having a film on the go and recently appearing in the BBC’s Doctors, it’s theatre that continues to make him happy since leaving the soap.
After leaving Albert Square, Michael achieved critical success in the West End playing the lead role of Billy Flynn in Chicago and earlier this year he completed a UK tour of About Alice with Gwen Taylor and Francis Matthews.
Along with Les Dennis, he is currently playing one of the two comedy gangsters in a UK tour of the Cole Porter classic, Kiss Me Kate.
It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but both are out to prove that they are a lot more than the roles that made their names, although pragmatically, Michael feels that he is only in the show because of his years in EastEnders.
But now, what was arguably the most famous goatee in Britain has been replaced by a kind of 5 o'clock stubble that gangsters supposedly need, as Beppe fades even further into the past. Although, as he is quick to point out – he’ll never say never about a return!
In a break during one of the final rehearsals, he told me why he’ll always love the theatre but would NEVER do a reality TV show. And yes, he would still consider a return to EastEnders.
Why would you say people should come and see this production of Kiss Me Kate?
It’s a musical classic. Cole Porter is an amazing composer and not only is it a great musical, the talent that’s in the show, from the ensemble to the lead guys, is absolutely incredible. And I’m not just being a gushy actor, these guys really know their stuff.
|Michael with Les Dennis in Kiss Me Kate |
Les [Dennis] and I both know that we’re very privileged to be part of it and if it wasn’t for our names we wouldn’t be in it. Although that’s not doing ourselves any injustice – we’re good enough for the parts or we wouldn’t be here either. We’re rising to the occasion.
But you’re both used to musical theatre aren’t you? Apart from four years on EastEnders you’ve done loads of theatre, so aren’t you being a bit unfair on yourself saying you wouldn’t be here?
Yeah, I’ve done eight years of theatre so I suppose I am being a bit unfair on myself! I’m just really proud to be part of this cast because they are amazing. A lot of them have had leads in the West End and are hugely, hugely talented. Maybe I am doing myself a dis-service because I have to have confidence in my ability and I do. We’re going to be great - Les and I. We’re going to be brilliant!
Has this production given you any special challenges?
Well we only do one song. [Brush Up Your Shakespeare] It’s not an easy song but it’s a lot easier than any singing I’ve done before. In Chicago I had three quite difficult songs. But any new role is a challenge, it just depends what you put into it. The accent is very New York so trying to get that right has been a bit of a hard task!
But the biggest challenge is trying to make people believe that I’m not Beppe from EastEnders, but a New York gangster! That’s always very difficult because most people have only seen me do Beppe and they haven’t seen me do any other theatre. I have to make that transition successfully and if I don’t believe in myself then the audience won’t believe in me either.
You’re also working in a double act now, with Les! That must be quite fun?
Yeah it is. Les is used to working in a double act with Russ Abbot and Dustin Gee but we’ve clicked really well even though we’re very different performers. Les has been fantastic, I’ve really, really enjoyed working with him and we get on very well considering the different directions our careers have gone in. But we’ve really gelled and it’s a great double act.
Yes, you’ve both arrived from different areas really, but I guess you’re both trying to get across that you can do other things from the roles that you are best known as?
Yes but Les has done a lot of stage work as well, such as Me and My Girl and Chicago, and he did a lot of touring with Russ Abbott years ago. Most people recognise him now as the guy from Family Fortunes but he’s so much more than that. He’s a great performer and I know that the stuff he’s got coming up is really going to take him into new echelons of his career. I wish him every success because he’s a top man.
So when did you first decide you wanted to act?
|The poster for About Alice|
I was walking to school one day and saw so many miserable people getting on a bus and then on a tube. And I had enough brains as an eight-year-old to think that when I was older I wanted to do a job that I enjoyed doing.
I want to get up in the morning and feel like I’m going to work that I enjoy because there are millions and millions of people who get up in the morning and must hate their job. They survive rather than live. Obviously people don’t always get the luxury of doing what they really want to do, but they still have to make ends meet.
What I loved doing as a child was the school plays and I knew that was what I wanted to do. And if I could make a living out of creating new characters and get paid at the end of the day, then what could be better?
So you go to drama school to train, do years of theatre work and then you get one part that makes you famous within days. Is that a frustrating thing?
Yes, but that’s the way of the business. It can only take one job to really elevate you to a different profile and a different status but that’s the way it is. You’ve just got to get on with it.
And of course, the bonus is that you have ‘made it’, so to speak?
Of course! I wouldn’t be talking to you now if I hadn’t done EastEnders! Three films have been offered to me this year. I’m in the middle of doing one of them now and I wouldn’t have been given those chances if I hadn’t played Beppe.
But the one thing I didn’t want to do when I left EastEnders was to go down the road of being a celebrity and doing those horrible reality shows which I love watching but would never be a part of.
I didn’t go to drama school to train as a celebrity. I went to train as an actor. Had I gone down that road then my career could have been short lived. As it is, I’m going through a good phase of doing some really decent work and what you need in this business is credibility. I think if you do a reality TV show you lose a bit of street cred really.
Have you ever been offered them?
|"People know me as that person so I can’t really have a go at them because that’s the way it is. But I do get sick of hearing that name!"|
Oh yes! From the very beginning! I was offered the very first ‘I’m a Celebrity’ and ‘Celebrity Big Brother’. I didn’t turn my nose up at them but it’s not what I wanted to do.
It’s nice to be offered them though. It’s a compliment that people want to know more about you, but it’s just not for me.
Plus I sleep too much! I’d be so boring! I really would. It’d be [adopts very good Geordie accent!] “Here’s Michael Greco again - sleeping!” You can just hear Ant and Dec taking the mickey out of me all the time. People would just vote me off straight away because they’d think I was boring.
Well you weren’t boring in EastEnders! It’s been about two years since you left hasn’t it?
Yeah, it’s 2 ½ years since I left and I do miss it actually. I miss the camaraderie and it was such a fantastic show.
I know it’s going through the doldrums at the moment but it will pick up. They’ll get a couple more characters in to lift it and the story lines will change and then it will be winter! People won’t go out - they’ll be staying in watching EastEnders. That’s the way it goes. It will come right back up in the ratings again.
Would you go back?
Yeah – of course I would! If I knew that my character was going to be used really well and that there were some great story lines, of course I’d go back. I’d never say never!
You must still get recognised as Beppe in the street. Do people just shout stuff out?
Yeah they do!
How do you deal with that?
|Michael Greco as Beppe in EastEnders|
People know me as that person so I can’t really have a go at them because that’s the way it is. But I do get sick of hearing that name!
I have good days and bad days really. Some days I really can’t stand it when people call me Beppe because it’s not my name!
But there are also days when I just join in. I shout back and react because it’s a good day and the sun’s shining and I’m feeling great!
I do probably get recognised just as much now as I did when I was in the show. But what I’ve noticed now is that a lot of people come up to me and ask why I’m not there any more and say ‘Please go back’. And I’m like ‘Yeah – may be one day!’
But people are still writing fan mail to me and I’m still getting awards. The Radio Times readers voted me the sexiest male soap star of all time – including American and Australian soaps - and I haven’t been in it for 2 ½ years! So for people to still remember me is a bit of a compliment.
And it must be quite nice to get those sort of awards?
|Michael Greco as Beppe in EastEnders|
Yes it is. But obviously I’d want to win an acting award as well. But it shows your popularity I suppose. If people are finding you sexy and writing loads of letters to you, then they’re thinking of you.
And it’s better than not being talked about?
Of course! I think you’ve got to worry when you stop being talked about!
You’re working your way through your ambitions such as appearing in the West End. Have you got any left? Do you fancy Broadway – or maybe Hollywood?
I had two dreams. One was to appear in a West End show, and I’ve done that with Chicago, and the other was to appear on Broadway, in a play or a musical. I have thought about moving to New York. I did see an agent who was willing to take me on but he said that I’d need to live in America for a while in order to get seen and go to castings etc. But I’d get quite homesick I think. If I knew I had a job to go to it would be great to work on Broadway without a shadow of a doubt. That’s my ultimate dream really.
Well, I suppose if the States are about four years behind in EastEnders you’re probably quite well known there at the moment and it would be good to exploit it?
Yeah! I went to New York a couple of years ago for a big signing session for EastEnders and I was amazed by how many people in New York actually watched it. It was incredible. I was getting recognised just walking down the streets of Manhatten and by American people too! I get used to it in England but being recognised in America, especially New York, which is one of my favourite cities in the world, is an honour.
What do you like about the theatre as opposed to working on TV?
I think it’s that live spontaneity and the live audience. You don’t really become an actor to receive plaudits, you become an actor because you want to do really good work and you want to create new characters. But when you’ve got an audience clapping and cheering at the end, and you know that you’ve done a good performance, that’s what you thrive on.
It’s like a golfer who’s played a bad round but on his very last shot if he hits a massive drive down the fairway. He’ll come back another day because he knows it’s in him. So if you’re an actor and you get great applause you know you’ve done a good job and you think I can’t wait to go back. So for me the stage and TV and film don’t compare. All day long I’d want to be on the stage!
And also with something like EastEnders it’s a 12 hour day virtually all the time. With theatre you’re in the theatre for 2-3 hours a day, and that’s absolutely nothing!
|Michael with Joanna Lumley in Ab Fab!|
You’ve got your whole days free. I play a lot of golf so if it’s nice weather I can pop down to the golf course with my mates and still have a few hours to kill before I come in and do the show.
It’s sounds an ideal lifestyle! What keeps your feet on the ground?
My friends really. And also my age now. I’m in my early 30s now but when I was a bit younger I kind of got carried away with the whole EastEnders’ fame rubbish. I got drawn into it like 99 per cent of red hot blooded males would.
But now I’ve kind of calmed down. You start to get your priorites right and your values together and you have your mates to really slap you down and say ‘You’re not Beppe, you’re Michael’, so they’re the people that keep my feet on the ground.
As with most soap stars past and present you’ve had a lot of media attention, but what’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever read about yourself.
A recent one was that I’d given in my CV and show reel to the producers of James Bond to be the new Bond! That’s utter rubbish. I don’t even look like a James Bond - I think I’m a bit too dark and Italian for that. And people wouldn’t accept me as Bond, in this country anyway, because I’ve done a big soap. And I haven’t got a show reel!
You don’t fancy it then?
No – I’d never be Bond. Not in a million years!