The importance of family is something weighing heavily on Shakespearean actor Alex Waldmann – so much so that our interview has been delayed so that he can put his own two daughters – Ella, five, and Olive, two – to bed. Your children come first no matter what.
Since becoming a father his perspective on the world has changed. So this 37-year-old stage star understands all too well the terrible dilemma faced by Joe Keller and his son, Chris, in Arthur Miller’s award-winning, 1947 classic, All My Sons which opens at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, this week.
Alex plays Chris, a returning war hero, scarred by losing men in battle, who discovers that their deaths may have been the fault of his father who sold faulty machine parts to the military in a bid to keep his business afloat.
While audiences struggle with the ethics of whether Joe was a greedy capitalist or an upright family man, Chris has to come to terms with survivor’s guilt, the loss of his brother and his mother’s favouritism for a son missing presumed dead.
The tragic All My Sons, a compelling story of love, guilt and the corrupting power of greed, is one of the great morality plays of modern times.
It is based on a true story that Miller discovered in a newspaper article, about 21 pilots who were killed when a company, based in Ohio, conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft engines destined for military use.
It sees Alex star alongside David Horovitch and Penny Downie as his parents Joe and Kate Keller.
The production marks the return to The Rose for Alex who starred in last year’s success, The War of the Roses, directed by Trevor Nunn. He loves the theatre, not least because it’s only a couple of miles from where he lives.
“With kids of my own I don’t want to be away working in central London or at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon,” says Alex.
“And here we have Arthur Miller, one of the greatest playwrights of all time, and I have been given probably the most complex part I have ever undertaken.
“It’s still relevant to our times. This is one of the most important dramas every written.
“It’s a great family drama. It’s a story about a family trying to hide a secret – only their secret is more extreme. What makes it such a good play is that it is the ultimate kitchen sink drama, played out during one day in the garden of a normal family from Ohio.
“Joe has sold dodgy parts for money and there’s a cover-up. Did Joe do it for the money or to help his family?
“It’s one of the first plays I ever saw before going to drama school. It was about 2001, at the National Theatre, and the production starred Julie Walters and Ben Daniels.
“I didn’t know the play but I was left devastated by it. It probably confirmed to me my desire to go to drama school and act.
“Becoming a dad myself has definitely changed my perspective on how I look at the world and, perhaps, I understand and sympathise more with the dilemma facing Joe Keller.
“Now, it’s kids come first, no matter what. I have to believe he did what he did for the good of his family. Most of what we all do in life is selfish.
“Chris feels responsible for the men he lost and is dealing with massive survivor’s guilt. Each day is a struggle to now do the right thing. He idolises his father but he is struggling internally to find his way in life.”
Alex is excited at seeing his career move in a new direction. Since coming out of drama school he has been lucky enough to be cast in major roles for the RSC and The Globe, by accident rather than design.
Four years out of LAMDA and he was cast as the lead in Troilus and Cressida at The Barbican. A year later it was Hamlet – playing Laertes opposite Jude Law’s Dane – and Twelfth Night.
He followed those up with a season in Stratford with leading roles in, among others, King John, As You Like It, Hamlet (again) and All’s Well That Ends Well.
Last year he was back in King John, The Globe’s production, this time as the Bastard, and performing in some of the nation’s historic churches before ending up on Bankside.
He has played Broadway and the West End, and taken numerous roles in London’s fringe theatres – if they interested him. There have been some parts on TV, film and radio – but he’d like more – and the actor, married to director Amelia Sears, has a lucrative voice-over career.
“It is lovely that people have got to know me through Shakespeare and the classical stuff, and I know a lot of people associate me with those types of roles.
“I’ve got quite good at making Shakespeare relevant and accessible to modern audiences and work breeds work. I have worked with some amazing companies and directors and, sometimes, you just can’t turn the work down.
“But this year I have made a conscious decision to do something else and, at the moment, it is Arthur Miller. I feel very fortunate.
“Our director, Michael Rudman, is an extraordinary man who has an innate understanding of the man who wrote the play. He is a very clever, astute director.
“All families may look perfect but they all have their issues. I have two brothers, and love them dearly, but there are times when we don’t get along, as in most families.
“Becoming a family man changed everything for me. I will always be an ambitious actor but I will choose roles that work for all of us.
“As for the future I’m now probably too old to play Romeo but I’d like to give my Hamlet or Hal. Earlier this year I did a small two-hander called In The Night Time, about a couple who become parents for the first time.
“I loved the piece. As a newish father myself, it really spoke to me and I understood what this young couple were going through. The sense that you’re out of control, you don’t know what to do. You have a new life and she doesn’t come with a manual”.
All My Sons runs at The Rose Theatre, Kingston, from this Friday, October 28 until November 19.