Joseph Fiennes on playing Gareth Southgate: He has a steel spine

Joseph Fiennes says Gareth Southgate has “a steel spine” as he prepares to step into the role of the England football manager in a new play at the National Theatre.

The actor, known for his villainous role as Fred Waterford in The Handmaid’s Tale, said it was a “huge relief” to be playing a character audiences would sympathise with.

Dear England, which starts a two-month run at the National Theatre on Saturday, begins after Southgate became caretaker manager following the humiliating Euro 2016 exit.

England Squad Announcement – Wembley Stadium
Gareth Southgate (Zac Goodwin/PA)

As a player, Southgate made 57 appearances for England but is best remembered for missing a penalty kick against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final shootout at Wembley.

According to the BBC, the play is “inspired by Southgate’s journey” since the infamous penalty miss.

Fiennes told the BBC Southgate had “a sort of moral integrity and compass.”

“He’s been brought up as a young player in a very toxic male environment and you can imagine that he wants to unshackle himself, giving players their voice,” he said.

Southgate has won over the nation in recent years following the England team’s successes in major tournaments, including reaching the World Cup semi-final in 2018 and the Euro 2020 final.

Children and the Arts gala concert
Fiennes is due to step into the role of the England football in a new play at the National Theatre (PA)

“A big part of the gravitational pull was the idea that I could play someone that’s decent for once,” Fiennes said, adding that decency should not be mistaken for weakness.

“You can’t possibly run the England team without having some kind of backbone.

“He’s someone who has a temperate way of dealing with emotions, unlike probably what he saw in the changing room (as a player).

“But don’t be misled by that. He has a steel spine.”

Dear England was written by James Graham and directed by Rupert Goold.

It is due to run at the Olivier theatre from June 10 until August 11.