nigel pivaro

Interview: Nigel Pivaro

Interview: Nigel Pivaro

The actor and journalist talks his career, performing at New Wimbledon Theatre and his passion for maps…

Born in Manchester to an Italian father and English mother, Nigel Pivaro graced many a screen as Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street over several decades – in fact, he clocked up more than 400 episodes of Corrie. But it is far from all that his career has involved. Having spent more time as a journalist than on stage or telly for the past 15 years, he is now back to acting and is on his way to Wimbledon – and not for the first time, either. “I’ve played at Wimbledon at least once – it was a production of Wuthering Heights going back many, many years. I played Hindley and Hareton,” he says.  

Now, he is coming back as a star of The Commitments – a jukebox musical by Roddy Doyle, about a group of unemployed young people in the north side of Dublin who start a soul band. Nigel loves theatre: “I’ve done dozens upon dozens of plays, from new writing to old established pieces to funny, peculiar ones and really, God knows what else. When I first left Coronation Street, I did a play in London and Cardiff and then took it up to the Edinburgh Fringe. And we won that year! It was called No Further Cause for Concern. A very tough play and a lot of things could go wrong,” he recalls.  

“I played a very violent prisoner called Danny Monk who barricades himself in a cell during a prison riot with a prison officer as hostage. The pencil or pen that he was set to use to write his demands was knocked off the stage – and I mean, actually went flying off the stage. So when it came to this scene, the prison governor shouts ‘right, well, what exactly do you want?!’ I get this guy, tell him to write my demands down – and I see he looks at me with these terrified open eyes, ‘what am I supposed to write it with?’. I obviously can’t break the character; my mind is racing 10,000 miles an hour – and there are these bird cages in the cell on stage. And I just shout, ‘write it with bird sh*t!’” 

Having played Terry over many plotlines from 1983 to 2012, he believes that being the bad guy is always more interesting. “There’s always layers to them, there’s always more interesting histories as to why they are who they are, a deeper psychology. Usually to be bad, something has had to make you become bad. And that’s always, from an actor’s point of view, infinitely more interesting.” 

Nigel is excited about The Commitments. “It’s just such an iconic piece,” he says. “The music is wonderful. It’s an incredibly successful formula too, a great story. You’ve got these poor kids in Dublin with what is essentially Black music from America from 25 years before.” He sings very little – mercifully, as he says himself. “I only have a couple of bars, really. I just do the acting. It’s for the better,” he laughs.  

He’d previously left acting for years to pursue a career in journalism. “It wasn’t exactly a switch-on-switch-off moment. I didn’t do anything but acting for some 20 years. And I just lost the hunger, the desire. I got an opportunity to go to university to pursue something that I’ve always been very interested in – contemporary military and international history. I did a degree, still mainly acted for a living but then came an opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. Only then did I start thinking about utilising that knowledge and actually becoming a journalist. There were certain stories I was very passionate about. So I did it properly, got my journalistic qualifications, worked for a local paper. It was a passion but at the same time a gradual progression. And now, after so many years again, I have a desire to act once more.” 

“It’s a bit of a responsibility on me to come back after such a long break and have my name on the posters,” he admits “The good thing is, we got plenty of rehearsals. And – it’s a cliché – but acting is a bit like riding a bike. Plus the cohort of actors and musicians that I share the stage with is brilliant, they really know what they’re doing.” 

Nigel has one more passion: maps. “I don’t hate GPS and I do use it sometimes, especially in new cities. But the thing about GPS is, you’re being led by the machine. With maps, if you go wrong you can stop and you can unravel what you’ve done. I also find maps quite romantic, especially on long distance journeys. I pick out which route I want to go, not just take the one some algorithm wants to take me. I collect old maps as well. I honestly just love them.” 

Image: Ellie Kurttz

The Commitments runs at New Wimbledon Theatre from 9 to 14 January.