Home » Features and Interviews » Interview: Peter Duncan on ‘Million Dollar Quartet’
'Million Dollar Quartet' at Queen's Theatre Hornchurch Peter Duncan
'Million Dollar Quartet' at Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Interview: Peter Duncan on ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Expectantly waiting for the phone to be picked up, I pondered what interview style to adopt; the probing intellect of David Frost; the anarchic wit of Jonathan Ross perhaps? Nah, I’ll just be me, I decided, as Peter Duncan chirped ‘hello’ on the end of a refreshingly clear line. Of course we all know he’s a Blue Peter legend, daredevil, actor – and, as I discovered, a really nice guy. We kicked the conversation around, discussed his upcoming role in Million Dollar Quartet at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch . . . and Jerry Lee Lewis at a wedding reception?!

You’ve just returned from the Edinburgh Festival. How was it for you?
Edinburgh was fine, I did a play called Dame and got some good reviews.

I heard it was a bit of a bear pit?
Well it can be – it’s the theatrical equivalent to Glastonbury, but it was great to get a good reaction.

Most people associate you with Blue Peter. How do you think it’s impacted your acting career?
It’s hard to tell really, I was an actor for 10 years before I got Blue Peter. But I can’t imagine what might have happened had I not done the show.

You’re playing Sam Phillips in Million Dollar Quartet. What first attracted you to the role?
Being offered the part! I was recommended by a director friend. I found it to be a lot classier than a typical jukebox musical. The narrative is a lot stronger and explores the influence Sam Philips had, particularly on Elvis Presley. Sam is a fascinating character – he was looking for an artist who could light a fire under a song, like those great black R&B singers. He found that in Elvis and nurtured the raw talent they all had.

Is it easier playing a person that actually existed, as opposed to a character that’s been invented?
Not especially – people have an image of someone – but Sam Philips is largely unknown, so the persona’s not as clear as, say, Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash. You have to go by what’s in the script.

Sam was a southern boy from Memphis, Tennessee. How’s the accent coming along?
Really well, I was practising before you called. I got some dialect coaching at the National Theatre. There are nuances in pitch and delivery; [as] you and I are speaking now, it goes up and down. The Southern States accent is much more limited; vowels tend to flatten out a lot more. So for instance ‘sure’ would come out as ‘shurr’.

What about visual enhancements for the role?
I got my hair cut, but need to shape it into a rock and roll quiff!

Fantasy time: If you could book any member of the quartet for a wedding reception, who would you choose and why?
Haha! That’s a good question. I think it would have to be Jerry Lee Lewis, he would get the party going . . . and he could bring his wives with him!

You’ve had a varied career: Blue Peter, chief scout, actor, director, documentary maker. Is acting still the biggest thrill?
It is when you get a great part. I would still like to do some short telly roles. Mixing stage work with telly is always interesting.

What’s coming up after Million Dollar Quartet?
Starting in November, I’ll be directing a production of Cinderella at the Lighthouse in Poole. Rehearsals for Million Dollar Quartet start on Monday.

Better get off then, let you fine-tune that Memphis twang.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch from 25-30 September.

About Brian Penn

Civil Servant. Brian flirted with drama at school but artistic differences forced a painful separation. At least he knows what his motivation is. Now occupying a safe position in the audience he enjoys all kinds of theatre. He was bitten by the theatrical bug after watching a production of Tommy in his teens. Other passions include films, TV and classic rhythm and blues. He also finds time for quizzes, football and squash. A keen sports fan, his enthusiasm crashes to a halt whenever anyone mentions golf. A musical based on the life of Tiger Woods could be his greatest challenge.
Want to receive weekly updates of new reviews, interviews and competitions? Then why not sign up to our newsletter and we'll keep you informed.
Holler Box