Spotlight on David Tennant

Updated on 28 February 2020

It’s commonplace for many big-name actors to stick to just one genre throughout their careers, and understandably so. Why take risks when you can place all bets on something you’re good at, right? Adam Sandler, for example, is best known for skewing towards comedy films while you’ll almost always catch Jessica Chastain in the latest drama flick. But then there’s David Tennant ⁠— an actor who’s not afraid to shake things up.

From playing a transsexual barmaid named Davina on the Scottish comedy series Rab C. Nesbitt to starring in the fourth instalment of Harry Potter and in sci-fi phenomenon
 Doctor Who, David Tennant is certainly no one-trick pony and has even openly admitted to being “quite promiscuous with genres.” But just how polygamous is Tennant’s body of work, really? Find the answer to this question and more as we shine the spotlight on one of the most famous actors to come out of Scotland!

David Tennant biography

David Tennant, 48, was born David John McDonald in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland and is of Northern Irish descent. Despite his parents’ reservations about Tennant becoming an actor, he always had his sights aimed for the stars. He performed in many school plays when he attended primary school and secondary school and became one of the youngest students to study at the Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where he was admitted at just 16 years old.

While studying at the academy between the ages of 17 and 20, he officially adopted his stage name, David Tennant, which was derived from the surname of Pet Shop Boys lead vocalist Neil Tennant. It was confirmed by the star back in 2008 that the name change was due to the policies of the Equity union in which no two actors with the same name could be on the books. He was later forced to officially change his name due to the strict guidelines of the Screen Actors Guild.

David Tennant as Doctor Who

It goes without saying that Tennant is best known for playing the tenth incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who, but did you know that the British television series has always formed a large part of the actor’s life? The actor was reportedly an avid fan of Doctor Who from a very young age and even later admitted to watching nearly every single episode of the show when he was growing up. He has also claimed to have met Tom Baker at a book-signing in Glasgow when he was young (Baker had been playing the fourth incarnation of the Doctor at the time). When Tennant was just three years old, he told his parents that he wanted to become an actor one day. Little did he know at the time that his dreams of becoming an actor would come true and that he would even go on to star as the beloved Doctor himself.

Before landing the lead role on Doctor Who, Tennant had minor roles on Rab C. Nesbitt and in the 1996 film, Jude, in which he shared a scene with Christopher Eccleston, who just so happened to play the ninth incarnation of the Doctor long before Tennant’s own Doctor Who story arc was launched. Later, in 2003, Tennant was a guest star in the Doctor Who audio drama, Exile, in which he played an unnamed Time Lord. In 2005, the same year in which he debuted on the revival of Doctor Who, Tennant became a household name worldwide when he starred as Barty Crouch Jr in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire alongside Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and
Rupert Grint.

What has David Tennant been in on stage?

What many people may not realise, however, is that Tennant initially made a name for himself as a stage actor. He has most frequently collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has appeared in a total of 11 of their productions so far in his theatre career. His most notable stage credits include Arthur in Merlin (1992) at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, As You Like It (1996, RSC), The General From America (1996, RSC), The Herbal Bed (1996, RSC), Edgar in King Lear (1999, Royal Exchange Theatre), The Comedy of Errors (2000, RSC), Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (2000, RSC), Katurian in The Pillowman (2003, National Theatre), and the title role in Richard II (2013-14, 16, RSC at The Barbican), which earned him a WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actor in a Play. A few years later he won the same exact award again for his most recent stage role to date, Patrick Marber’s Don Juan in Soho (2017, Wyndham's Theatre).

What's David Tennant doing now?

The Scottish actor has been as busy as ever, recently lending his voice to How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) and both executive-producing and starring in an upcoming new miniseries entitled Deadwater Fell (2020). But despite remaining active on screen, many UK theatregoers and die-hard David Tennant fans have been wondering what he'll be starring in next in London’s West End. No stranger to the Harold Pinter Theatre, Tennant has notably starred in highly acclaimed productions of The Real Inspector Hound (1998) and Black Comedy (1998) at the venue back when it was known simply as the Comedy Theatre. And in as recently as 2018, Tennant was rumoured to headline The Lover/The Collection for Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious Pinter at the Pinter Season, but sadly he was never confirmed for the role.

Does David Tennant have any upcoming theatre projects for 2020 and beyond?

The Harold Pinter season, and its staging of Pinter Two: The Lover/The Collection, in particular, enjoyed huge success regardless, but many were anxious to see just how well the actor could have assimilated into one of Harold Pinter’s most erotic plays (The Lover). After all, whilst filming sex scenes for his 2010 television miniseries, Single Father, Tennant confessed that he found the experience to be "embarrassing" and rather "unsexy." Perhaps a revisit to the genre and a bit of performance anxiety could make for a triumphant performance? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for certain: we can expect David Tennant to continue showing diversity in whatever future onstage acting endeavours that await him.*

*UPDATE (14 Feb 2020): David Tennant will appear in Good at London's Playhouse Theatre for a limited 10-weeks only after the conclusion of Jamie Lloyd's season of classics. For more details read our news piece about Tennant starring in Good here.

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Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

Ephram is a jack of all trades and enjoys attending theatre, classical music concerts and the opera.