Swansea born Richard Mylan is a stage and television actor, and former dancer. His first professional job saw him don roller skates to join the cast of musical Starlight Express, where he moved on to play a leading role of Electra the Electric Train. He is best known for his television work, including the role of Oliver in the much loved sitcom Coupling; as well as roles in Grownups, Belonging, Bad Girls, and Wild West, where he starred alongside Dawn French and Catherine Tate.
Sali Earls met Richard recently in London, when he was starring in “Baggage”, a new play focussed on love, life and internet dating.
How did you become an actor?
I’m dyslexic and I became a performer because when I was in school, I was in the bottom sets, because they weren’t on the ball as far as my condition was concerned. I didn’t get much attention academically, and I started dancing at a young age, I took to it quite well and I had positive attention and feedback for it, and because of this I really threw myself into it.
As a kid, I think you really want to please people, so this positive attention was just what I needed. I got into dancing and then fell into acting through that. I did musicals – I had the best time of my life doing Starlight Express. I came straight out of dance school – the Urdang Academy – I moved to London when I was 12 to train to dance and then I went straight into the musicals, did that for four years and then fell into acting. I suppose I became an actor because of the positive attention.
You played one of the key roles of Electra in Starlight Express.
Yes – I went in as Flat Top, then moved to the role of Electra. I liked skating and I loved dancing, but when I started I couldn’t dance in my skates.
At the time you auditioned for the skate school – if you showed promise you got in, and you learned to skate for eight weeks, and if you did well in skate school then you went to the final audition. It was a long process and a really big deal for me. I left college early to do that show.
Flat Top was a great character – I had a brick attached to a chain and got to throw it at the audience – normally unsuspecting tourists! I had more fun playing that part than I did playing Electra, but of course Electra was much more complex and was a big singing job. I had to learn to sing while I was doing Flat Top. Doing the chorus stuff allowed my voice to get stronger and then I went to understudy Electra and ended up getting the role rather than the understudy.
When you finished at Starlight Express, what happened next?
I was in a band called Puppy Phat, and we were signed to Island Records. Unfortunately we were living the rock and roll lifestyle but had no idea how to write songs. We were a pretty good funk band, and were great at long jams and we played at Ronnie Scott’s. I was the front man, and we had a brilliant time gigging, but we really couldn’t write songs, so it went nowhere fast.
After that, I met the actor James Lance through a casting director friend of mine, and he’d written a play called “The Shoot”. At this point, I had no agent and no plan B, I’d never trained as an actor. I went to a rehearsal reading of the play in front of producers and agents, and after it, I was approached by an agent who offered me representation, and that was really how I got into acting. I really was in the right place at the right time.
You’re best known on television for your role in Coupling. You joined the cast for the final series, and to all intents and purposes, replaced the character of Jeff. Was this a difficult transition?
Yes. You can’t replace Jeff, and I certainly didn’t want to.
It was my first big break on television and I was delighted to be part of a show like this. I had a great time making the show, and it enabled me to go onto other TV work and other sitcoms. I learned how to work with a studio audience, and really important things like timing. It was great fun.
I was sad that Coupling finished after that series, as I would have loved to develop the character of Oliver and see him come into his own, but it wasn’t to be.
How was the experience of working with Dawn French and Catherine Tate on Wild West?
Two summers in Cornwall with Dawn French, Catherine Tate and Bill Bailey – unbeatable! It was the best time ever – I’ve never laughed so much in my life.
Dawn French is everything you’d expect her to be and a hundred times more – she’s an amazing person and is absolutely hilarious. It’s my favourite ever job. It went under the radar a bit, but it has a cult following.
Catherine Tate went on to do her own show after that, and I remember when we were filming Wild West she was developing her series and trying out these characters – little did I know that they’d go on to be these massive characters in her own show. She’s a really playful person and was huge fun to be with.
How did you get involved in the play “Baggage”?
I worked with Suzanne Shaw last year – I direct and edit a lot these days, in addition to acting – she went up for the play and then got in touch with me and asked me to read it. I read and enjoyed the part of Adam, went for it and got it.
The play is about online dating and the feedback we’ve had indicates that people of our age can relate to this – if your relationship breaks up and you’re of a certain age, it’s a great way to meet people, but I think there are a lot of dodgy types online, and some underhand tactics, as shown in the play.
I did some work for the Princes Trust and I met a couple who met online and now they’re getting married and have a kid, so I guess it can work out, and there are some success stories.
You’re currently living in Cardiff, so when you’re home are there any restaurants or shops that you particularly like?
I love Cardiff Market. I live very close to the Millennium Stadium, so Cardiff Market is my local place to shop.
I love the fact that there are farmers markets, but to be honest I don’t visit them very often as I find they can be a bit overpriced and cliquey, and Cardiff Market is there, on my doorstep, all through the week and the quality is great.
Restaurant wise, I like Japanese, Italian and French. I used to love Le Gallois. We have some great restaurants in Cardiff, and I think it’s only a matter of time before we have a Michelin starred restaurant.
Do you cook?
I try to. I have a seven year old son and he loves pasta. I also cook a lot of fish. I really like cooking, I’m just not very good at it.
I love good produce, and the difference in taste with something fresh and of good quality. My biggest success stories in cooking are when I keep it really simple, and I think good quality produce is important for this so you can let the ingredients speak for themselves.
If you had to define Welsh food, what would you say?
Swansea Market. The smell and the sounds are Welsh food to me. My nan had a café at the end of the road where the Grand Theatre is, so I grew up around food and spent a lot of time in that café environment. She would always go to Swansea Market to get her stock, and just being there, cockles and laverbread just defines Welsh food for me.
Swansea is such a beautiful part of the world, more should be done to celebrate it with the shopping and food. When I was growing up it seemed like such a buzzing place.
Joe’s Ice Cream is the best ice cream in the world.
What’s next for you?
I’m editing a project called “My Black Skin”, which is written by Nicholas Pinnock. He’s managed to get lots of very famous black actors, singers, politicians to speak the lines of his poem, and I’m editing that together.
After that, I’m working with my friend James Lance who has made his directorial debut with a film about this really sweet old man who runs a record shop in Brighton, specialising in rare old vinyl. James has filmed him in situ and then sent in actors to draw the story out of him, and I’m editing that.
Editing gives me a sense of creative control. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, so I learned to be an editor, and it really is the most creatively rewarding experience I’ve gone through. It’s also got me into directing. Ultimately I would like to direct, but I think you have to learn to be an editor and take it seriously if you want to move to directing. I definitely see a point when I’ll step back from the acting and focus on this.
I work for the Princes Trust and teach drama and film making at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and that’s my bread and butter really. Editing and directing full time is where I’d like to see myself in the next five to ten years.
As an actor, you don’t have much control over your career, and as a father I want to provide stability for my son.