Whitby schoolboy on his transformation into leading man

Sam Barnett in rehearsals for Twelfth Night, for which he has been nominated for a Tony award'Copyright: Shakespeare's Globe
Sam Barnett in rehearsals for Twelfth Night, for which he has been nominated for a Tony award'Copyright: Shakespeare's Globe

From shy Yorkshire lad to New York’s lead man, it’s been a long journey for Samuel Barnett.

The former Oakridge and Caedmon School pupil is celebrating after being nominated for one of the theatre industry’s most prestigious awards - a Tony.

Still as fresh-faced as he was when he burst onto the scene as the timid schoolboy Posner in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, the 34-year-old is hoping the nomination will help him graduate into mature roles.

It has been a long journey from Hinderwell to Broadway for Sam, who has received the Leading Actor Tony nomination for his role as Sebastian in Twelfth Night.

He is up against distinguished names, such as Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame, but for Sam, it’s a genuine case of being happy to be nominated.

“I don’t feel any pressure for this award,” he explained. “There’s simply no way I’m going to win, but that’s fine for me because of the category I’m in, it’s an honour to be nominated.”

It is the second Tony nomination for Sam, who was recognised for his role as Jewish schoolboy Posner in 2004.

The award ceremony takes place on June 8, when the Shakespeare double bill will be hoping to win any of the eight awards it has been nominated for. Same said: “It’s an amazing feeling and a nice reflection of how Broadway has taken us to their hearts.

“We haven’t been on for months, yet they have nominated us for eight awards.”

Richard III - in which Sam played Queen Elizabeth I - and Twelfth Night have finished their run, having performed at Shakespeare’s Globe as well as on the West End and Broadway.

So Sam now finds himself in that unique thespian state of being between roles.

Having returned to London, he is hoping to take a break from the theatre and is auditioning for film and television roles.

With family in Fylingthorpe, there’s even the occasional trip back to Whitby.

The History Boys centred around its message of how the course of a life can be defined at an early age and hinges upon moments in life such as the hour or so it takes to complete an entrance exam.

It talks of the potential within each boy. Ten years later and it is no cliché to say Sam has fulfilled that potential and progressed from pupil to teacher.

He said: “I have been out of drama school for 13 years, so there are 13 years worth of graduates behind me.

“Doing The History Boys was an extraordinary time and I’m very happy that I was involved.

“But now I do feel older and I do feel I’m able to pass that knowledge on. It’s something that comes with age.”

So after over a decade in the business, what advice does Sam have for the next generation of aspiring Whitby actors?

“This industry isn’t fair,” he said. “It doesn’t owe anybody a career. It’s just about luck, determination and showing up and being professional. The rest is out of your hands.”

But he doesn’t want to deter anyone from the career, after all, it’s all Sam has ever wanted to do and he admits that if a career in acting had not been a success, there was no “Plan B”. So he added: “It’s one of those jobs where if it’s in your blood and you have to do it, then you end up doing it.”

Sam Barnett reacted with understanding when he heard that author Graham Taylor had said his belief schoolchildren should not be taught Shakespeare.

However, he said: “I don’t agree that it shouldn’t be taught. I think part of the problem with Shakespeare is it’s studied, whereas actually it’s written to be spoken.”

Sam admitted he did not like Shakespeare at school and it was not until he had a good teacher in Richard III and Twelfth Night director Tim Carroll.

Sa, said: “One of the ways you can really learn is actually speaking it out loud. If you are just studying and reading, I’m not surprised people don’t understand it,”

Even the language barrier should not prevent students from understanding the 400-year-old plays, said Sam, adding: “It’s like saying French shouldn’t be taught because you don’t understand it because it’s new. Shakespeare is just like learning a new, exciting language.”