||[Apr 10 2006 8:55pm]
This old Mirror article is on my website but I thought I'd add it hear as it shows how lovely Steve is:-
Mum bought me my very first Adrian Mole book and I loved it. I'm just so sad that she's no longer here to see me play him; Stephen Mangan reveals the secret sorrow behind his first major TV role
Stephen Mangan was just 13 when his mum bought him The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, the bestselling book about a spotty, angst-ridden schoolboy. Now he is set for overnight fame playing the adult Mole but, sadly, his mother is no longer here to share his success.
In his first major TV part, Stephen plays the 30-year-old Adrian - still neurotic but now a minor celebrity chef - in ITV's The Cappuccino Years, which starts in February. The star-studded comedy features Helen Baxendale as Pandora, who Mole still adores despite her indifference towards him, and Alison Steadman as his mum Pauline.
Tragically, Stephen's mum Mary, who first got him hooked on Sue Townsend's creation, died before he fulfilled the acting ambitions she had encouraged.
"Mum had bought me the first book because I was 13, like Adrian," says Stephen, 31. "I loved it and went on to read them all - they were passed around the school and everyone talked about them. I suppose Adrian Mole books were like what Harry Potter is now for the new generation."
In October 1991 Mary was diagnosed with cancer of the colon. At the time, Stephen was 21 and had just left Cambridge University with a law degree.
"I was trying to decide what to do with my life when mum became ill," he says. "We quickly realised that she needed looking after and I wanted to do it because I'd been away for so much of her life. I'd been at boarding school, then I'd spent a year travelling around America, followed by three years at university. In a way I was lucky that her illness came at a time in my life when I could put things on hold."
From being a carefree student Stephen took on the day to day responsibility of nursing his sick mother at the family's North London home, and taking her for radiotherapy sessions. His dad James, who runs a building company, also took time off to help out.
"Mum was deteriorating fast," says Stephen. "She was just 45. Her mother had died at 47 of cancer and she'd also lost her father to cancer. In that situation you can't help but think, 'That could be me in 20 years time'.
"I was only 21 and it was a heavy thing to go through, although I was no stranger to it. My grandfather had passed away seven years before and there had been the whole Irish funeral thing with an open coffin. Also my uncle, who was only 27, had died in a car crash. It wasn't as if death was a totally new concept to me, but it's a lot different when it's your own mum. She went downhill quickly. In October she started to get ill and she died the following March."
During her final weeks, Stephen's mother told him to follow his heart and encouraged him to apply to RADA. Just ten days after Mary died, he won a place on a two-year acting course at the acclaimed drama school.
"Mum loved the theatre and I was the same," he says, recalling the times she would take him and his sisters Anita, now 31, and Lisa Marie, 29, to see shows. "When I was seven she took us to see Oliver starring Ron Moody at the London Palladium. I was amazed. I'm even amazed now when I watch Spurs - seeing 22 players run out in front of 40,000 people. It's so exciting, that whole thing of being in front of people and being watched."
Mary made outfits for Stephen's school productions and always made the effort to watch his plays.
"I did a play at Cambridge during the great storm of 1987," he says. "All the trees were down and roads were closed, but mum got there somehow. She just didn't want to miss it. She loved that whole world of acting. She would have loved all of this so much.
"It's been ten years and I still miss her and think about her a lot. When good things happen she's the first person I want to tell. I go to phone her and dad and then remember it's only dad now."
His parents were born in neighbouring villages in County Mayo, Ireland, but only met when they moved to London. Family holidays were often spent visiting relatives in Ireland, and Stephen recalls his early years as being full of family occasions and laughter, even if he didn't always appreciate it.
"I had a very Mole-esque scenario one night when my parents were having a party," he laughs. "I was in bed trying to sleep and at about 4am my parents and their friends rolled the carpets back and started playing loud Irish music and dancing. I remember banging on the floor shouting, 'Will you please be quiet, I've got to get up for school tomorrow!'"
At 13 he attended Hayleybury, a Hertfordshire boarding school, where his talent for performing became obvious. "I was in a rock band for three years with my mates. We called ourselves Aragon. I get the demo tape out occasionally to listen to it - it's so bad it's funny. I played keyboards and sang, and we did gigs at school. It was Led Zeppelin-style music. Lots of songs about wizards and dragons.
"I probably shouldn't have mentioned this," he adds with a chuckle. "My mates are all still trying to get into the music business and don't want to be reminded about some awful school band."
He got four A-levels, spent a year in the States, then went to Cambridge. There his fellow students included Rachel Weisz, Sam Mendes, Jonathan Cake and Tom Hollander. He was drawn toward the drama society like a magnet and starred in 23 productions. Later, at RADA, he became friends with This Life star Andrew Lincoln and Sean Parks, who appeared in Human Traffic and The Mummy 2. Stephen turned down TV and movie work in favour of classical theatre roles while his friends became famous, but their experiences of celebrity will help Stephen cope now that he is about to become a household name with The Cappuccino Years.
"I still can't imagine what it's like being famous, even though my friends are well known-ish," admits Stephen, who next stars in the film Birthday Girl with Nicole Kidman. "I suppose when the series starts I'll get people staring in the supermarket or thinking they know me," he says, then bursts into laughter as he recalls doing just that in London's Covent Garden.
"I went up to this woman and said, 'I know you. We've worked together'. She was American and said, 'No, I don't think so'. But I was insistent, saying, 'We've definitely worked together. You are an actress aren't you?' She nodded and I said, 'I can't remember what it was but it was recently, I'm sure...'
"Suddenly it hit me who she was and I was so embarrassed. I just said quietly, 'You're Meg Ryan, aren't you?' And she smiled and nodded. I was mortified as I walked away. So I suppose I'll have someone, somewhere, thinking they know me."
Maybe they already do. Just like his alter ego Adrian Mole, Stephen kept a secret diary of his first week filming The Cappuccino Years, exclusively for The Look
Have to get up at 6.30am. Unlike Mole, I'm terrible at getting up on time and leave it to the last minute. I've been planning towards this day for a month - reading scripts, getting dialect coaching, wardrobe fittings, make-up sessions, meeting the cast and crew. But when I arrive on location in Soho to begin filming it still feels like the first day at a new school.
I meet Keith Allen, who plays Sam the restaurant owner where Mole works as an offal chef. In the first scene we film, he has to push me out of the restaurant door. Almost immediately a crowd forms to watch us. I keep thinking, "What are they looking at?" Then I realise it's us. It's all very weird.
I only meet Helen Baxendale, who plays my childhood sweetheart Pandora, a few minutes before we do our first scene together, which is a shame because I'm supposed to have been infatuated with her for 18 years. Later on I have to film with a live 12ft python. The snake seems very calm and relaxed until it smells all this dead meat in the restaurant kitchen. I'm sure it licks its lips. Luckily, Adrian is supposed to be scared of the snake, so there's no acting required at all.
Playing an offal chef is enough to push me into vegetarianism. Today, filming the interior restaurant shots in Teddington, I have to slice open a pig's head with all its brains hanging out. When I get to the catering truck at lunchtime and see pork chops on the menu, I opt for the salad. Like Adrian, I don't really cook for myself, I just warm things up. Antony Worrall Thompson is making a cameo appearance in the series. He tells me how to act like a chef and I give him a few acting tips. I finally get home about 9pm and I still have to learn all the scripts for tomorrow.
I notice that Sue Townsend's book, which this series is based on, is top of the bestsellers list. It's really hit home how popular Mole is and I'm playing him. If I have any problems with his dialect I just ask Sue to read a line for me, because she's from Leicester and has got the accent. I think Mole's popularity is that he's a worrier and he feels life has let him down, which I think we can all relate to. I try not to think about how daunting this all is. Luckily I'm too busy to dwell on it for too long.
Did a couple of scenes today and we could hardly stop laughing at the scripts, they are so funny. In the read-through I sat next to Alison Steadman, who plays Adrian's mother Pauline. We recently worked together on a film, Chunky Monkey, where our characters are always flirting with each other. It's strange that we're now playing mother and son.
Everyone else has Fridays off, apart from me because I have to do all the narrative and voiceovers for Adrian's diary entries. When I get home in the evenings I see my girlfriend but that's about it. I haven't got time to see anyone else. It's like going into hibernation doing something like this. It suddenly starts catching up on you - it's exhausting being on the ball all that time. It's six weeks of complete concentration. Saying that, I am loving it. You just can't get a better part than this.