Tue 4 Apr 2023

What is Fogg’s backstory?

Stefan Adegbola has just wrapped on the new Channel 4 series GET MILLIE BLACK and is now on our main stage here at Theatre by the Lake, playing the determined adventurer Phileas Fogg.

We asked Stefan, aka Bola, more about the man and his Fogg…

What was it about this production and the character drew you to apply…

My agent got in contact and said that they’d like to see me for this production. I recognised the name because Hal went to the same university that I went to. But Hal had left before I started but the dates between him leaving and me starting were very close so we both had people we knew in common. So I met Hal very briefly all those years ago back in university and I remember him having a bit of a reputation even then as a student director, so I thought I’ll go for it. It’s a nice part and it’s a story people know and a character we have familiarity with and so I thought, why not, let’s give it a go. The worst that could happen is that I wouldn’t get the job, so I auditioned.

When I read the piece and first met Hal, I said to Hal that Fogg seems on paper so cold, almost not really human. So I thought to myself that can’t be the case because people are going to watch a human playing this part so I need to find the heat within him and the warmth. That was something that I was curious about from the very beginning and I’m still running on that treadmill. It’s important to recognise the spin we’re taking on it, we still live in an age where we judge on appearances, what we have heard about a person or what we assume about a person and what we lay on them.

People are always far more interesting than the first impressions we have of them.

So if that’s the case, and that’s a philosophy that I hold, here’s a really good opportunity to discover what that actually means because we have a character here who is incredibly exacting and precise and who doesn’t engage with people. But there will be a reason for that. We all know people who are shy, quiet or reserved and it’s not just their make-up. People are a mix of experience and personality and you can’t say that it’s a personality to be quiet, or to be reserved. It may be that a person has a level of confidence that means that they are not front footed but that’s not the same as being reserved. What is it that’s being reserved, what is in reserve, what are they keeping back?

So I thought well that’s really good! I come across as an extrovert but I’m introverted as well but because of my profession and my being ‘used to it’ I’m able to override it. But if I’m not that kind of person, what does that make me? Phileas Fogg and the story that we created for him together is someone who is actually an extrovert but he’s been put in a position where he seems like an introvert. It’s not so much that he’s an introvert but he’s private, so what we start with is a very private person who opens up through the story. He’s learning to open up through the people he meets, through the experiences he has and through the wild, spur of the moment, uncanny decision to go and do this thing and travel around the world in 80 days!

Rumour has it that Fogg has a backstory…

There is a backstory to Phileas Fogg that has been created by Hal and I to help find logic and a reason that is plausible, workable and playable as far as we can, because it’s not in the text. But we have created something that can inform how I play and respond to certain events or certain things that are said to me by certain people and the relationships that are developing. You will never know what that back story is, but it is there. If you can see it, you can see it, if you don’t it won’t make any difference. You will still watch this person grow and develop.

Have you found your Fogg yet?

He’s coming, I’m one of those people that likes to play and keep developing as I keep moving throughout the whole experience. The character work doesn’t stop on press night, it might be a few weeks afterwards, it might even carry on to the end of the run here or it might still be going when we get to Hull Truck Theatre. I take each one on a discretionary basis.  This time around there’s a lot more to this project than I bargained for and so there are flashes of him coming out and I can see it sometimes.

Even yesterday there was a moment when we were just waiting and I was talking to Miriam who plays Passepartout, we were just joking about and I suddenly realised I was turning into Fogg.

I made a joke and commented on that joke and realised I’d done that in a very Foggian way and I thought ‘I’m turning into him!’

But that’s bound to happen, so I would say that no I don’t think I have got a handle on it but at the same time, I’m getting closer to him.

How did you become an actor…

How long have we got… 10 minutes… ok I’ll give you the brief version! I grew up an only child, that didn’t mean I didn’t have any peers or friends but it was still quite a lonely existence. I was blessed with a lot of imagination, but I think all kids and humans have a lot of imagination, and we grow up and some of us grow out of it or it gets pushed out of us. We all have that imaginative dream to explore and embody that imagination. I used to play on my own and because I was on my own I had to be everyone in it, so I expanded my imagination.

Also it was my experience as an immigrant in the UK; you’re playing a part, to a degree, because you have to. Your nationality always gets referenced, your being a different person or an other. That means that you have to learn to manage the expectations that people might have when they encounter that otherness in you and that’s a sort of acting process in itself. What made me want to become an actor was I realised it was something that I could actually do as a profession rather than as something that was an aspect of having to live the way I lived. I think that’s the briefest and clearest way I can describe why I became an actor.

Do you have a favourite role…

I have and have been very proud of those pieces and I’m certain that Phileas Fogg is going to become one of those roles. I’ve been so blessed in my career, that I’ve never had any roles that I think I don’t ever want to think about that again. I’m certain that this role definitely won’t be that and I really hope it doesn’t because I’ve got so much love for what I do, this work and this job and this project and the potential of this project and I really hope that Phileas Fogg becomes one of those characters too. But it has happened already and it’s a lovely feeling and it’s great to be proud of your own work.

Is there any particular part of your costume that you love…

I’m not a big fan of the Victorian regalia in the first place, and Fogg is very much a Victorian gentleman with all the accoutrement… but I tell you this, I look great in the coat, the waistcoat and the trousers – the look is fantastic! It’s a bit fiddly but the look is fantastic and I’d love to keep the coat, it’s been tailor made for me!

Stefan Adegbola has been on screens in the latest series of MCDONALD AND DODDS. He has also recently been seen in a new historical show, LINCOLN, in which he portrays American social reformer Frederick Douglass. Other screen work includes: EXTINCTION for Sky; BLITZ for BBC and DOCTOR WHO. Stefan is a prolific theatre actor, with performances in shows such as: THE HIGH TABLE at the Bush Theatre; RICHARD III with Headlong Theatre company and TITUS ADRONICUS at the RSC.