Actor Ben Richards is used to playing nasty roles, like Bruno Milligan in Footballers’ Wives, so he’s not worried about playing villain Bill Sikes in Oliver! at the Crucible.
As well as the fading football club captain and jealous and controlling husband, he was the nasty boss Franklin who a trio of women workers took revenge on in the stage musical version of 9 to 5.
However, Ben agrees that his looks are more leading man than bad guy. He said: “I’m lucky in getting a reputation that I can take on the character roles and make them my own.
“It’s exciting and that’s what’s brilliant about our director, Daniel Evans. I was a left-field choice.
“When I was in 9 to 5 I was a left-field choice too. It’s usually an older, more fatherly and balding actor that plays that role.”
Of course, Ben has also played good guys. He has fond memories of his time as Pc Nate Roberts in The Bill: “It was brilliant, amazing, and I worked with fantastic people.
“There’s a long hall with dressing rooms off and make-up at the end. You walk down this long corridor and I can guarantee you if you were in a bad mood when you opened the first door, by the time you got to make-up you were laughing.
“I had great fun with people and learned so much.
“It was a great learning situation about what everyone’s job is on a TV set.”
Ben says of his latest villain, Bill Sikes: “He’s horrible and has killed people in the past. He’s a nasty piece of work. I’ve played quite a few nasty roles. I was a wife beater in Footballers’ Wives.
“The approach is to find the humanity in it. No-one’s born evil. The good thing about Bruno Milligan was you saw the side about his family and how much he loved his wife and kids especially.
“He was a bad guy and what he did was bad.”
He added: “With Bill it’s hard, he doesn’t show vulnerability at all. In his relationship he has with Nancy, when he’s beating or strangling her, that’s how he shows his passion. “The rehearsals have been really exciting.
“You push it as much as you can. Daniel says go with it, go as far as you want to go.”
Ben is excited about coming to the Crucible and heard about the role from his best friend, Damian Williams, who is Sheffield Lyceum’s popular pantomime dame.
He said: “Damian told me about this ‘way back’. I was in 9 to 5 in Birmingham in the Christmas period.
“I came up here and spent New Year with him and got a feel for the place. I like it.
“Midway through this year I heard Sheffield is doing Oliver! I think he’d spoken to Daniel and he’d said he was an admirer of my work and wanted to work with me.
“He’s hot stuff. Everyone’s talking about him winning awards right, left and centre.
“I wanted to work here but especially this theatre. The top theatres at the moment are the National Theatre in London, the Crucible and Chichester Festival Theatre. They’re the ones creating the buzz and most stuff that’s happening.
“The Crucible stage is amazing, incredible. I’ve always wanted to play it.”
There’s an added bonus: “I get to spend Christmas and New Year with my best mate working with Daniel Evans in a fantastic musical that I haven’t been in for 30 years to the month.
“My first show was as one of Fagin’s gang and now I’m in a theatre playing a role I’ve always wanted to play in Bill Sikes. It ticks all the boxes for me.”
Ben says that the characters fascinate him. “When did Nancy become a prostitute? When did that happen? When was Bill part of Fagin’s gang and when did he go out on his own? These characters are complex, all of them. “Relationships with them are odd and strange, like Bill’s with Fagin. It’s interwoven and goes back years. They’re thick as thieves but they’ve both got stuff on each other and are mutually dependent.
“He has a strange obsession with Nancy.
“She’s got so many opportunities to get out and her choice is going back. She can’t live with or without them.”
It’s obvious that this isn’t going to be a run of the mill version of the musical.
Ben said: “It’s going to be a really exciting and different piece. We take it to the next level, or what’s the point? People can come and watch an exciting production.
“There’s something fresh, exciting and new about it. People will be talking about different characters and how they were played.”
Oliver! is at the Crucible Theatre from next Friday, November 29, to January 25.
Box office: call 014 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk