AN INTERVIEW WITH THE STAR OF “ANNIE GET YOUR GUN”
By Karla Williams
Friday, October 23, 2009.
Gregarious character Chucky Venn is an easy man to like. The handsome, attentive and incredibly charming actor got his big break in 2003 when he was cast as Curtis Alexander in the Sky One drama Dream Team. Initially, only contracted to appear in two episodes, he became part of the regular cast, appearing in 98 episodes until the character was killed off in 2005. He has since appeared in numerous TV shows and films including: the final season of Footballers Wives, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight.
With roles also in theatre, Venn has also starred in Angie Le Mar’s The Brothers and the Tiata Fahodzi production of The First Wife.
And his next project - playing Buffalo Bill in the Young Vic’s Annie Get Your Gun. The man with the infectiously positive attitude and marvellously warm smile sat down with Karla Williams to talk sharp shooters, God and playing James Bond by the times he’s 40.
First of all, tells us about Annie Get Your Gun.
Annie Get Your Gun basically centres around a young girl who happens to be a brilliant shot and lives in the Ohio area. The Wild Wild West show, which is led by Buffalo Bill, goes from town to town and ends up on Ohio. What they usually do is they have this gun competition and they invite anybody from a particular state who happens to be a good fancy shooter to go up against my [Buffalo Bill’s] fancy shooter – Frank Butner.
It turns out, unbeknownst to us, that this young girl who we think is like nothing...basically she wins and beats Frank Butner who hasn’t lost since God knows when. So Buffalo Bill, being the business man he is, invites her to join up with The Wild Wild West Show....Suffice to say it’s a love story between Frank Butner, the greatest sharp shooter and Annie who just loves the show business, hence There’s no Business Like Show Business, one of the major songs in the play.
So it’s a musical and a western?
That’s quite different to roles you’ve done in the past – what attracted you to it?
I’ve always said, I’m gonna play the first black James Bond by the time I’m 40 or 41 years old. We have the first black President, so why can’t it be done? So for me, this feels like the warm up session before the main show. Me playing the first black Buffalo Bill was a hell of a challenge to somehow get the audience to endear themselves towards this character, because they are accustomed to him being played by a white man.
That was an appeal because I love a challenge. Also Richard Jones [the director] who is very left wing and maverick in his style, he’s like me; and likes to take a risk and has thrust this production into the 1940’s and has ripped away some of the racial connotations from the original play...So I said ‘yeah, why not?’ Its different, it’s refreshing and it’s new. Some may like it, some may love it and the ones who don’t like it I don’t give a dam – I’m God’s son and I’m here for a reason!
You are most known for your roles on TV as a footballer. Now you’ve been doing quite a bit of theatre recently, was that a conscious decision you made?
Yes it was a conscious decision on my part because I wanted to build up my theatre resumé. I have been very blessed and very fortuitous when it comes to TV and film, which had always been my initial appeal to getting in the business, but I guess I just wanted to cover the full spectrum and that involves drama, dramatic theatre pieces and a bit of musical - because I can hold a note. I wanted to stretch myself. You’ve only got one life and after that, Lord willing, if there is a God up in heaven I can say: ‘I did that while I was there on middle earth.’ So I said I’m prepared to commit myself this year if necessary to just do theatre and ideally go back to TV and film next year.
Now you have been cast in Tiata Fahodzi’s 2010 production of Medea. Are you excited about working with them again?
Absolutely! I foresee, Lord Willing, a couple of film and TV projects between that time; and then we go straight into theatre again in 2010. It will just be a pleasure to work with Tiata Fahodzi. Femi [Elufowoju, jr - Tiata Fahodzi’s artistic director] is a revolutionary and such a great tenacious Spartan director! So I’m looking forward to that.
You have been relatively successful as an actor; what, do you think is the reason to your success?
Hard work, dedication, diligence, tenacity and belief in God. As long as God is with me, can nobody else be against me - no one else can judge me. I don’t care who you are or what you think, whether I’m right for this or not, you can’t judge me, only God can....So as long as He shines His light upon me I go out there and do me - I think I feel untouchable.
And how hard have you found it in this industry as a black actor, because you often hear that it is twice as hard being black and there are no good scripts. The only roles you are able to get are drug dealers or babyfathers. Is that true?
I am fortunate; but I know that I worked hard to get to where I’ve got....Yes it has been hard, of course it’s been hard and ultimately colour does play a part because at the end of the day we make up 2 percent of society. So that means you have to work extra hard....It took me time before I got in the game. I am in my ninth year now in my career and it took me time to get to this point. Before Dream Team came along I was on the grind for about 3 years doing everything circumventing around entertainment. So yeah it’s hard, but by no means is it impossible – of course not!
Finally, why should people come and see the show?
They need to come and see Annie Get Your Gun purely because at the end of the day – it’s got Chucky Venn in it! (Laughs)
I knew you would say that!
Absolutely – that’s one of the attractions! Also the music itself is absorbing; I can tell you now that I get a lump in my throat. Also the scope of this play, the witticism and energy and vibe....Jane Horrocks is such a brilliant actress and I’m there watching her play Annie and it’s like a transformation....There are so many different plethora’s of energies and dynamics and the crazy costumes. Buffalo Bill man - think of JR [from TV show Dallas], Andre 3000 and Don King! If you want fun and a bit of a tearjerker, laughter, and great, great music it’s all of that!
Annie Get Your Gun
Music & lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
3 October 2009 - 2 January 2010
The Young Vic
66 The Cut
London SE1 8LZ
For more info or to book tickets please call the box office on 0207 922 2922 or visit www.youngvic.org
Image: Keith Pattison
Karla Williams is a London-based journalist and writer.