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British actor David Suchet

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Simon Lewis // Daily Mail

With London 2012 just around the corner, the BBC is celebrating the Cultural Olympiad with an epic production of Shakespeare’s history plays. Simon Lewis meets the men at the heart of the action

This epic ‘Henriad’, telling of England’s bloody rebellions and wars around the turn of the 15th century, was overseen by James Bond director Sam Mendes, part-funded by American networks and filmed on a huge scale. It’s the most ambitious Shakespeare project on television since the BBC’s complete works in 1978-85.

We gathered the lead actors in the new productions — David Suchet, Tom Hiddleston, Rory Kinnear and Ben Whishaw — at a London studio to discuss what Suchet calls the ‘Henry-fest’.

First of all, what do you know about the Cultural Olympiad, of which this is a part?

Rory Kinnear It’s trying to bring the focus of the Olympics on to these other things we’re good at. I’m so excited that they’re coming to London. Having only got two tickets to the boxing, I won’t be seeing much of the sporting action. So I’m glad to be involved in the Cultural Olympiad.

What’s most important, drama or athletics?

David Suchet For me? Drama, all my life — and I was quite a successful sportsman at school. But take drama away, and we’re sitting on a two-legged stool.

Tom Hiddleston Winston Churchill said, ‘If we cut funding to the arts, then what are we fighting for?’ We have an incredibly rich arts culture here: British actors and films are winning Oscars, Adele won all those Grammys. British theatre is the best in the world. We should be very, very proud. But I love sport too.

RK The thing about sport is that it’s got untold drama in it. It’s why Shakespeare wrote about kings: where the stakes are highest, people live in heightened states.

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