Friday, October 5, 2007


Danny Lee Wynter, who plays the title role in Joe's Palace, can hardly believe what has happened to him over the last year. "Just four months ago, I graduated from the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), and now I'm starring in a Stephen Poliakoff film," he declares, unable to keep the smile off his face. "It's incredible!"

He still remembers the moment when he heard that he had won the role of Joe, the caretaker of a grand house owned by a reclusive billionaire, Elliot (Michael Gambon). The call came after the most testing set of auditions of Danny's life.

"The final audition was Stephen and myself in a room for four hours, but as I left the room I wasn't convinced it had gone that well. Then, three days later, I was rung by my agent and told I had got the job. My reaction? I fell silent on the phone to my agent, that's the first time that's ever happened!"

Danny, who also stars opposite Dame Maggie Smith in the BBC Two film, Capturing Mary, was delighted to be able to get his teeth into such a meaty part. Joe is at the core of the action in the first film.

He helps Elliot get to the root of the mystery surrounding the origins of his father's wealth, and he also facilitates the affair between a charismatic, ambitious politician, Richard (Rupert Penry-Jones) and his beautiful lover, Charlotte (Kelly Reilly).

According to Danny: "The two films are about a young man who goes on a journey. At the start of Joe's Palace, he is incredibly forthright. He sees everything in black and white. But by the end of the first film, he has grown up a lot.

"He learns a great deal from both Elliot and Charlotte. Elliot is at the heart of Joe's development, they have a very rewarding relationship, but every person Joe encounters helps him to grow. The great thing is, he's incredibly curious about everything. He finds everything around him fascinating."

Danny also reckons that Joe, who comes from a council estate and whose mother is a cleaner, has a profound relationship with the house that he is looking after. This mansion sits at the heart of this story, its significance is underlined by the title of the drama.

"The house itself is a major character in Joe's Palace. It's an empty vessel which holds a lot of unanswered questions, both about the past and the present.

"Just as he latches onto the loneliness of Charlotte and Elliot, he latches onto the loneliness of the house. He finds it an extraordinary place to explore, and being there gives Joe a great sense of responsibility."

Danny is in awe of the cool way in which Joe takes on that responsibility.

"Everything in this world is alien to Joe, he comes from a completely different class, culture and age, so the responsibility bestowed upon him is enormous. But, unlike me, he just takes it in his stride. He's not fussed about anything. He just lets it happen. This young man just says, 'ok, I'll deal with that'.

"Even when this 17-year-old boy is asked to go for dinner with his boss, Elliot, a prospect that should be quite terrifying, he simply says 'no problem'. That equanimity, which comes naturally to Joe, is very intriguing."

Danny, who has previously played a part in Trial & Retribution, says that the fact that Joe is not of their world helps him to be relaxed in the presence of the great and the good.

"He's an outsider and doesn't have to apologise for himself. He's a very self-contained character. He is never obliged to dig deeper or ponder issues which he can't do anything about. That's not worth his time. He's much more interested in observing than participating."

All the same, the actor adds, he does get embroiled with two characters.

"He finds himself inexorably drawn to both Elliot and Charlotte because they're both lonely people who have great regrets about their lives. Unconsciously, he seeks out their loneliness because they're isolated souls. In contrast to Joe, they're very emotional people and they take him under their wings. They feel a great affinity with this other outsider."

Danny expands on Joe's relationship with Elliot: "Elliot sees a lot of himself in this young man. He sees someone who needs to be cared for and nurtured. He feels it's his duty to give something back to the world by taking on this bright young man. For his part, Joe sees Elliot as a father figure. He comes from a single-parent family and doesn't have a relationship with his father, so Elliot fills that gap."

Danny concludes by paying tribute to Michael: "He's the most marvellous actor, humour and intelligence pour out of him. He's always been a hero of mine, in fact, he was someone who made me want to act in the first place.

"I was an usher at the Royal Court Theatre for five years, I only gave it up to do Joe's Palace. I remember sitting through 32 performances of Caryl Churchill's A Number, which Michael was starring in.

"I didn't have to watch every show, but I wanted to. I was just mesmerised by what Michael was doing on stage. Never in a million years did I imagine I'd end up playing opposite in a film with him! I have to keep pinching myself. This has been a dream job!"