Gareth Southgate: 'Dear England’ actor Joseph Fiennes discusses why England manager is his 'hero’ | Football news

Fiennes plays Southgate in the stage production of 'Dear England’ at the Prince Edward Theater now until 13 January 2024 – book your tickets at; „I think he might have challenged what other managers have established,” says the 53-year-old

By Rob Dorset, Senior Correspondent, Sky Sports News @RobDorsettSky

7:02, UK, Thursday 12 October 2023

„Gareth is a hero to me, I think how he changed the game.”

The highest praise for an England manager from a superstar of stage and screen.

Joseph Fiennes stars as Gareth Southgate in the drama 'Dear England’, which begins a landmark West End run this week. It was the first play to be staged at the Prince Edward Theater since World War II.

This is the story of the England men’s football team, how since Southgate took over in 2016, how he changed the entire ethos of the team and made the nation fall in love with the men’s national team once again.

„Gareth is unique,” says Fiennes. „I think he might have challenged what other managers have positioned, which is fear and masculinity – going out there and winning.”

Fiennes’ portrayal of Southgate is strange. He has the same body shape, the same beard, waistcoat – of course. But, more importantly, he captured the essence of the England manager – his mannerisms, his firm but gentle rapport with the players.

Rob sat down with Joseph Fiennes to discuss his portrayal of Southgate in James Graham’s 'Dear England’.

„I was definitely nervous about portraying someone who is so well-known and in the news every day,” explains Fiennes. „But the drama itself is a bit spectacular.

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„For me, beyond the mannerisms, the mimicry and the hip coats – it’s great for the audience because they go 'Oh, that’s Gareth’ or 'Oh, yes, that’s Harry Kane’ – and then the play has other themes underneath that.

„I think Gareth’s big moment was 1996 (when he missed a penalty against Germany in the Euro semi-final at Wembley).

„It’s fascinating to me how it changed him, how he grew from it, how it led to the person and manager he is today. It’s all the bad things that we think can happen to us that are mysteriously created. The new you.”

More than 75,000 people saw the show at the National Theater in the summer – which earned 'Dear England’ a West End run, which has just started and continues into the New Year.

The play was written by one of the most famous people in English and American theater and television – James Graham.

He has written several plays that have been staged in the West End and Broadway, and is currently filming the second series of his BBC drama 'Sherwood’.

„We all have a relationship with the England football team,” says Graham.

„We’ve all watched the journey Gareth and those players have made over the last few years. It’s been an extraordinary transformation.

„Losing Iceland in 2016, crashing out of the Euros, Sam Allardyce’s only game – it felt like a nadir in the game and we wondered how we were going to get out. .

„So the fact that Gareth has done it so quickly, beautifully, and focused on things that managers haven’t focused on before – masculinity, culture, fear, vulnerability, identity, history – is compelling!”

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Dervla Kirwan – well-known to UK TV audiences and winner of a National Television Award for her work on Ballykissangel – plays Dr Pippa Grange, a psychologist brought in by Southgate to work with England’s team in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup. .

Dr. Grange was rarely seen by the media, but behind the scenes had a huge impact on changing the mindset of the players.

„Perhaps her invisibility isn’t as much to do with misogyny in football as it is personal preference,” explains Kirwan.

„Because women get a negative and violent response on social media and in the press – maybe that’s his way of protecting himself. And he’s very private, pushing the players aside, talking to them, acting like a horse-whisperer or a football-whisperer.

„But all credit to Southgate for bringing her in. He realized there was an imbalance and he needed a female presence.”

Inevitably, England’s checkered history with penalties in major matches is central to the drama. From Southgate’s miss at Euro 1996, through the historic win against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup, to Harry Kane’s uncharacteristic miss from 12 yards in Qatar 2022. All are dramatized in the full glare of the theater audience.

„Our play is learning fear and looking fear in the face, looking at the keeper, walking away and taking your time and being ready,” Fiennes says.

„That’s where England seemed to be let down in all the best games – penalties. So, there was a big reform; softer and more involved.”

Another central theme of the play revolves around England fans learning to love the England team again. Spending time with the cast and crew, it’s clear that – even non-football fans – are admirers of Southgate and his brave, outspoken players.

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„I used to have a very negative view of footballers,” admits Kirwan. “I thought they were prima donnas and I saw them getting paid so much.

„This play allowed me to understand them on a human level. They are all very young, they are 18 years old. They are children.

„And the eyes of the world are on them, and the negativity that comes out on social media. It’s tough. I don’t think all the money in the world is enough when you’re a kid growing up and wanting to play football.”

While the play has a beginning, a middle and an end – so does Fiennes’s story – which makes it clear that the end of Southgate’s story has yet to be written.

If dear England’s message of renewed hope is accurate, the journey from Euros disappointment in 2016 should culminate in Southgate and his team lifting the Euro Cup in Germany next summer.

That will be some dramatic finale.

Dear England On at the Prince Edward Theater now through January 13, 2024. Book your tickets here

Sky Arts is a proud partner of the National Theatre, part of Sky’s commitment to supporting the UK’s creative and cultural economy.

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