Breaking Baz: Daniel Mays Talks On-Set Sing-Alongs With Michael Douglas, ‘Guys & Dolls’ Olivier Nom & “Horrendous” Treatment Of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Star Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Daniel Mays remembers Michael Douglas and Timothy Van Patten, the respectively star and director of new Apple TV drama Franklin, bursting into song whenever he appeared on set.

It came about because during the Franklin shoot in Paris, director Nicholas Hytner asked Mays to star at London’s Bridge Theatre as good old reliable Nathan Detroit in an immersive production of the classic Broadway fable Guys & Dolls by Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling.

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Upon hearing this news, Douglas insisted, ”You’re doing it, Danny — no question about it.”

The adaption of Damon Runyon’s tales was Van Patten’s father’s favorite musical, “so then within the hour, more like a whole bloody second, every time I came on set, they kept playing ‘The Oldest Established [Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York], and Michael and Noah Jupe would join in.”

Even the French crew got in the swing of it.

In French or English? I wondered. “No, English. And then Eddie Marsan turned up, and he started singing it,” Mays sighed.

He spent a year brilliantly crooning and kicking up his heels alongside West End star Marisha Wallace playing Miss Adelaide Nathan’s long-suffering fiancée and the lead performer at the Hot Box; Andrew Richardson as Sky Masterson; Celinde Schoenmaker as Sarah Brown; and Cedric Neal as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, earning himself a best actor in a musical Olivier Award. His fellow contenders are David Cumming for Operation Mincemeat, Tom Francis for Sunset Boulevard and Charlie Stemp for Crazy for You.

Wallace and Neal also are nominated, and the show’s up for best musical revival.

Mays now has departed, but the show lives on at the Bridge.

Franklin, in which Mays portrays Edward Bancroft, the two-faced weasel physician who attended Benjamin Franklin (Douglas) during his diplomatic missions to Paris, is now streaming on Apple TV+ .

The Olivier Awards ceremony is this Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall. Highlights from the show will stream on ITV1 in the UK and on BritBox in the U.S. and Canada.

In February of last year, Hytner invited me to observe the Guys & Dolls company rehearse at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.

Mays, who studied at the Italian Conti School and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, was making his musical theatre debut, and he was clear that he obviously didn’t want to do it like Frank Sinatra in the film version. And then “everyone always talks about the Bob Hoskins version” that Richard Eyre directed at the National Theatre in 1982.

Hoskins was extraordinary, but Mays put his own stamp on Nathan Detroit.

Hytner’s note to him about the role was that Nathan is living on his wits and that he’s a whirlwind around the city.

Mays was the physical embodiment of a whirlwind as he scurried around the rehearsal hall, which had Bunny Christie’s set mapped out on the floor. The choreographer Arlene Phillips and her associate James Cousins warned the cast where trap doors and bridges would be placed on the actual set.

What impressed me watching Mays was how agile he was navigating his way around the room — like a whirlwind.

I remember Phillips remarking on how well Mays moved. “He danced a bit when he was a kid and retained the muscle memory,” she explained.

Mays remembers the dress rehearsals and those early previews as being “quite emotional.”

Daniel Mays in ‘Guys & Dolls,’ March 2023 (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
Daniel Mays in ‘Guys & Dolls,’ March 2023 (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

At an open dress rehearsal, about 150 people were invited, and when Cedric Neal led “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,“the roof came off. It was quite an emotional moment because we’d rehearsed for so long, and with that component of the audience being there, it just took flight.”

The thing he enjoyed about the production’s immersive nature was being able to see the faces of audience members who paid to be ushered around the stage following the action. “All the faces, I mean, that was what was so lovely about it,” he says, smiling at the memory of it all.

Mays tells me that one of the things that attracted him to the role was that Nathan’s head over heels in love with Adelaide, even though he has a fear of commitment.

“The only similarity I have with Nathan Detroit is that it took me 14 years” to ask his partner, makeup artist Louise Burton, to marry him.

They were on a cruise around the Canary Islands with his parents when he arranged for a ring to be placed under a silver platter and then served to his beloved. The platter nearly got sent back. ”Lou was like, ‘We’ve had dessert, what’s this?’ Then I did get down on one knee. I rocked the boat!”

I like the idea of classically trained thespians doing a spot of musical theatre because they add another layer to a performance. Mays agrees, but he won’t stand for anything being said against musical theatre artists.

“My respect for musical theatre performances has gone through the roof,” he says. “People don’t realize what’s involved. I mean, eight shows a week. There were some days we were like, ’I can’t go on today,’ on a two-show day.”

But Mays did not miss any of his scheduled performances.

Daniel Mays (center) with ‘Guys & Dolls’ cast mates
Daniel Mays (center) with ‘Guys & Dolls’ cast mates

He spent two weeks of holiday away from the show shooting the new Stephen Graham Victorian era  boxing drama A Thousand Blows,written by Stephen Knight. The Disney + series then returned to the UK  for three weeks filming in Mortlake, S.West London.Mays plays a boxing ring impresario whose job was to announce the bouts.”It’s about the birth of professional boxing so it’s big and loud,” he says.

He would film from early morning and then scoot across town to perform at the Bridge in the evening. There were times, he says, when he’d be phoning Wallace from the set, telling her he had no voice. She advised him not to speak in between scenes and to vocally rest between the film set and heading into town to do the show. And drink plenty of honey and freshly-squeezed lemon juice with piping hot water. “God, I went through some lemons,” he remarks.

He loved doing the TV, ”but to do that alongside Nathan Detroit was madness. And then I did the sequel to Your Christmas or Mine? at the same time as well.”

He hadn’t been optioned to be in the  follow-up. Jim O’Hanlon directed the project, but at the premiere of the first movie, O’Hanlon told him Amazon wanted a sequel that would be filmed in Austria. The filmmaker asked whether he was busy, and his face just dropped when the actor explained that he was doing Nathan Detroit at the Bridge. “But somehow we managed to work it out. But it was a huge ask of me to do that. Listen, both the show and the film, they really looked after me and they all worked together. Sometimes I just didn’t know whether I was coming or going.”

He says he’ll think twice before taking on two projects simultaneously while starring in a hot West End hit. “For your health, it’s not the wisest thing to do.”

Mays filmed the ITV and All3Media series The Long Shadow, about the years-long hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper killer in 2022, just ahead of preparing for Guys & Dolls. It’s a superb exploration of the muddled police murder investigation directed by Lewis Arnold, the director behind Time, Des and Sherwood. Mays also was in Des.

In The Long Shadow, Mays portrays the emasculated husband of one of the Ripper’s victims, played by Katherine Kelly. Both of them brilliant, as were other key cast members, particularly David Morrissey, Toby Jones, Dorothy Atkinson, Alexa Davies, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Liz White and Michael McElhatton.

The Long Shadow has a BAFTA nomination for best limited drama, but it received zero acting citations. Sadly, there’s a lot of great work out there that never gets recognized.

Same is true of the Olivier Awards.

Mays is a big fan of Lewis Arnold’s. “Honestly, I’d mention him in the same breath as Mike Leigh or Ken Loach because he’s got that humanity about him. All of that is poured into it. Even the smallest characters are so well-defined in something like The Long Shadow.”

Like all of us, Mays enjoys being nominated, but his mantra is, “Just do the work.”

The more work he does, the more work he begets.

He worked on Moonflower Murders, the sequel to the BBC drama Magpie Murders, rejoining stars Lesley Manville and Timothy McMullan, because writer Anthony Horowitz wanted him back. “My character was never in Moonflower Murders. Anthony emailed me and said, ’Look, we love what you did so much. I really want to put you in the sequel.’”

There’s likely to be a third Magpie Murders season and a third Your Christmas or Mine? movie.

He’s also worked with Mark Gatiss before, and now Gatiss has cast him in WWII-set murder mystery Bookish, which starts filming at the end of this month.

Hard work is in his DNA. His father’s an electrician and runs his own business, which his mother helps with. He remembers the time when his mum worked in a bank and took a second job in a box factory to help pay the section of his RADA tuition fees that weren’t being supported by a grant. “She literally worked on an assembly line for a period of time just to give us more money to pay the fees,” he says.

Mays takes nothing for granted and is aware that it could all go up in smoke tomorrow or the next day. That’s why he likes to work. It is, as I noted, in his blood. “My old man is the hardest-working guy I know, to this day. I have that work ethic from my parents.

“You get up and you go to work,” he says.

Daniel Mays at the Union Club (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
Daniel Mays at the Union Club (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

As far as he’s concerned, “acting and the arts for me should never be for the privileged few but for the many,” he says. “And it’s given me an opportunity to have a voice and for all those young kids from working-class backgrounds it gives you a purpose in life. We’re able to tell stories.”

Not all kids are built to do extra maths, he says. “It’s all about telling stories and giving kids an opportunity.”

His own son, 18-year-old Mylo Burton-Mays, is studying filmmaking and acting, and Mays has been “tentatively” helping with his end-of-year project. ”Mylo was operating the camera, and I was there in the background helping him.”

They got another actor to appear in the short film. “I said, ‘Do you want me to do the acting in it?’ He went, ‘I don’t want you anywhere near it,’ which is understandable.”

Working with his son got his juices flowing. And now Mays hopes that one day he will direct a project for TV or the cinema. “I’d like to throw my hat in the ring and see how I get on.

“I think if I did anything, it would be social realism. Write what you know,” he says.

Such a project is a long way off.

He has Bookish to do, and other projects are looming, including a new play which he hopes to do on the London stage with director Jeremy Herrin, who just directed the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night With Patricia Clarkson and Brian Cox.

And he wouldn’t mind working on another musical.

Something old or something new? I asked.

At the back of his mind, he says, he wouldn’t mind perhaps having a go playing Fagin in Oliver! He remembers working with Ron Moody, who played Fagin in Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning version of Lionel Bart’s musical, on a 2003 crime drama called Keen Eddie. He stresses that there haven’t been any conversations about him appearing in Oliver! At least not this week.

As we’re about to depart the Union Club in Soho, I ask him his view on the appalling way in which Francesca Amewudah-Rivers was targeted by racists online when director Jamie Lloyd cast her as Juliet in a new production of Romeo & Juliet with Tom Holland.

His immediate response was how “horrendous” it has been and how he feels for Amewudah-Rivers.

“It’s inexcusable,” he says, and wonders whether it’s all the Tom Holland fans. “It’s just pure and utter racism. And it’s just appalling in every way. I feel for that girl,” he tells me. “But I hope she just smashes that part and silences all of those people, all of those doubters.”

I hope he’s right. But, sadly, this is not the first time — nor will it be the last time — that such ugly behaviur by online racist trolls rears its head.

When I announced the original cast of the of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, shockingly vicious  abuse was hurled at Noma Dumezweni who was cast as Hermione Granger.

RELATED: ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Director Slams “Barrage Of Racial Abuse” Aimed At Tom Holland’s Co-Star

Which brings me back to Franklin.

Mays is thrilled that Franklin is out in the year of the American elections. “By the end of the show, you realize, ‘What an amazing achievement.’ And [Benjamin Franklin] saved the day, so there’s this real heroic, honorable quality about him. And then you look at someone like Donald Trump, and you think, ‘It just beggars belief.’ “

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