He is one of the biggest stars of stage and screen, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Doctor Who, but even David Tennant suffers from nerves – and chocolate is one of his secrets to calming them, he has revealed.
The actor allowed himself exactly three squares of chocolate in every interval of one of his shows, finding “comfort in the routine”. “Being on stage is a bit like jumping out of a plane. I try and nail down the things I can control,” he said.
Stage fright has affected some of the foremost stars of the acting world, including Laurence Olivier, who suffered years of debilitating anguish. Tennant spoke of trying to control his anxieties and not “allow your brain to start winding you up”, which is when “you allow those little anxieties in”.
He added: “When you’re opening a show, it’s just the sort of terror of ‘is this conceivable that I can remember a sequence of words in front of other humans?’ There’s just the horror of the terror that it just might not be actually possible.
“And, as that recedes, a couple of weeks, a few weeks into the run, then your brain or my brain will almost try and replace one anxiety with a fabricated anxiety. I don’t know why it feels the need to do that, and I wish it didn’t.”
Tennant opened up about his anxieties in the return of the RSC’s in-house podcast, Interval Drinks. The actor is an artistic associate of the RSC, with Hamlet and Richard II among his acclaimed performances.
“You start rehearsing the speech you’re going to have to make to the audience about the fact that you can’t do this any longer and that you’re going to go to your dressing room and curl up into a primal ball and sort yourself to sleep,” he said.
In the podcast, in conversation with Mark Quartley, who currently plays Henry VI in the RSC productions of Henry VI: Rebellion and Wars of the Roses, he also recalls struggling to speak his lines on stage on the press night of Romeo and Juliet at the Barbican, London, even though he had already performed it in Stratford.
He said that, having experienced the “white hot heat of anxiety” with the earlier staging, he faced “a very dangerous area” with a second press night “where my brain would start playing those tricks on me”.
He added: “I dried in the middle – I can’t remember what the actual line was even. I knew what the meaning was, but I had no idea what the words were.”
He recalled that his co-star, Keith Dunphy, who was playing Tybalt, realised what had happened and “came roaring on stage, flailing his sword around, and we got on with it”.