How many actors can say they’ve travelled across the world to visit the small town and the unique characters who inspired the play they’re about to work on?
In the Toronto theatre world, not many. But Kim Coates is not your average actor.
When Kim said yes to tackling the role of Johnny “Rooster” Byron in our upcoming production of Jerusalem, he told us he needed a year to wrap his head around it.
His summer was pure madness—travelling to Vancouver to shoot a new Netflix series, Buffalo to film a passion project, and Amsterdam for Comic Con—and he hasn’t been home to Los Angeles in almost five months.
But he’s carried Jerusalem with him everywhere he’s gone.
“Did I read it every day?” he says. “No. But I had it with me, and I would look at it here and there.”
After Comic Con, with only a few months to go before rehearsals were to start, it was time for Kim to turn all his attention to Rooster. And, being the internal actor he is, he knew he needed to go on a pilgrimage to the English village the play is based on and meet the people who inspired the story.
So he flew from Amsterdam straight to London, rented a car, and was guided by his GPS to make the twists and turns through the back roads of England, attempting to arrive in Pewsey, in the county of Wiltshire.
“You finally find this thing called Ram Alley. And I’m not kidding, it is just like the forest in the play. You think giants are going to be coming at you at any second. It’s a little two-way road, but there’s certainly not room for two cars. And I did meet two cars. One had to back up, and two of us went up the side of Ram Alley so we could squeeze by each other. That was my welcoming committee to Pewsey.”
Once in Pewsey, Kim met up with the “king of the town,” Jerry Kunkler, a councilman for Wiltshire who knows everyone in town and who owns the Moonrakers Pub, which is featured in Jerusalem.
“Jerry opened his arms to me. He insisted that I stay right above the pub with him in a two-bedroom flat. Thank god I did because when you go to Pewsey, with these wickedly wonderful misfits, there’s a few pints that are consumed, a few rolls of cigarettes to be had.”
Kim stayed there for six days, hanging out with the locals, listening to the accents, feeling the vibe, and learning about Micky Lay—the infamous legend who was the inspiration for Kim’s character, the free-spirited ageing daredevil Rooster.
“Micky Lay was a magical gypsy. He was a fighter and a scraper, he smoked and drank, but he was a poet deep down.”
Micky died three years ago, three steps from the Moonrakers Pub, so Kim never had the chance to meet him. But over the course of Kim’s six-day-stay at Moonrakers, he got to spend time with Micky’s family.
“I’ll tell you one story, about Scotty Lay, Micky’s son,” says Kim.
Scotty, now in his late twenties, was just a kid when playwright Jez Butterworth lived in the area and was transforming the folklore of the village, and of Micky, into Jerusalem. In the play, Rooster has a son, named Marky, who is based on Scotty.
“Scotty wanted to play pool. And I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And he’s one of the best pool players in town, maybe the best. He’s a very quiet, soul-thinking man, this Scotty. And to know that I wanted to play pool with him, that’s how we broke the ice.”
Kim and Scotty played pool for an hour and a half, and then partnered up, not losing to anyone. “That’s when he opened up to me, after all the laughing and having a good time. That’s when we went outside on the cobblestone streets and started talking about his dad. To hear his voice… I know that his father sounded like him, I’ve been told that by everybody in town.”
Kim heard stories he never would have known otherwise. And not just from Scotty. Everyone had tales to tell about Micky, about the village.
“I got all these flavours of what the play is about by being there. I know how the people think, what the young kids are doing. I know why it’s such a magical town. It’s full of stories and life.”
See Kim Coates on stage in our production of Jerusalem, beginning February 13, 2018, at the Streetcar Crowsnest.