WHEN Nigel Harman tells the true story of the tale most of the press ran back in his early Eastenders days it reveals so much of the actor.

Harman, currently starring in David Mamet classic Glengarry Glen Ross in Glasgow this week, was reported as being a Sainsbury delivery driver on the day he landed the soap role – playing Dirty Den’s son, Dennis - that launched his TV career and won him a series of awards.

That much was true. But the story suggested a long-struggling dancer-actor who had continually failed to find work.

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It wrote Surrey-born Harman up as a Cinderella character, forever consigned to the drudgery of endless, fruitless, disappointing auditions.

It made great headlines of course. Except the real story was a rather different.

“It was a great bit of PR,” he recalls, grinning of the events of 2003.

“But I wasn’t plucked from obscurity. I had actually been working as an actor 15 years.”

He adds, smiling; “When I got to 27 I realised I had a career mapped out for me as a dancer, or a small part player in West End musical theatre.

“But it wasn’t enough so I stopped doing musical theatre and plays completely.

“I now wanted to carve out a career in television so to concentrate my efforts I took the job as a delivery driver. “ He smiles; “I still had a mortgage to pay.”

The story is revealing; Harman had the ambition and the self-assuredness to step away from performance in order to get back in at another level.

“I had this idea I’d give it ‘till I was 30,” he says of the plan. “If TV hadn’t happened I’d go back to the West End. But I knew there was a risk involved.”

The risk paid off big time. The actor, then 29, landed the role of Dennis Rickman in Eastenders, and in 2003 the National Television Awards gave him the first of many awards to come.

Yet, in 2005, he found himself stabbed and dying in a pool of blood. Was leaving the soap about playing different characters?

“I was quite happy to leave and go experience other things,” he says in convincing voice. “I love a challenge. For me it’s about playing characters who have this duality about them.”

He smiles; “I did a play guy once when I played a nice guy. I did it to see what it was like and although I was in almost every scene I was really bored.”

Harman is the very opposite of bored right now. In Glengarry Glen Ross (touring the UK for the first time) he’s playing the role of head salesman Ricky Roma in this tale of desperate salesmen commanded to sell southern real estate which is virtually worthless.

Roma, played by Al Pacino in the 1992 film, has been described as “a shark in a sharkskin suit,” a man who would sell his granny’s inhaler for the price of a fish supper.

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“It’s an amazing part in a great play,” he says, smiling.

“Roma has the gift of the gab so he rarely stops speaking, a man who can charm the birds out of the trees. He has a great brain, a fascinating philosophy, but he’s also ruthless. He’ll do what he has to when faced with a tricky situation.”

He adds; “I think all the characters are likeable, and despicable in the same sentence. What makes the play work for me is it’s selling the message there is good and bad in all of us.”

Which part of his own soul does Harman does reach into in order to find the Ricky Roma badness?

“That’s the thing,” he says, grinning, “even the Dalai Lama has darkness in him, he just chooses to follow the good.”

There was inevitability about Nigel Harman becoming an actor, growing up in a small village in Surrey.

His father, a retired bank manager, and his mother were committed am-drammers and young Nigel warmed to the spotlight. “Me and my mum made a pact: that I’d go for six auditions and if I didn’t get anywhere, we’d knock it on the head. On the sixth one, I got the Oxo ad.”

He was eight at the time. But had Katie Oxo and co not come along would he have gone on to drama college?

“Acting has always been a bit of fun,” he offers. “And this whole notion of what is success and fame is so transient. I’m not fussed by all of that.”

He wonders; “I’d probably have gone on to university. But because acting has been so prevalent in my life and I always seemed to be working.”

He may not be fussed about fame, but when he talks at great length about the acting process however you can feel his commitment. “When you go out on stage you’re putting yourself in danger. You’re out there to be judged.

“You just have to stay as calm as you possibly can and hopefully the audience will come with on the story.” He reflects; “That’s what I’m working on as actor.”

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Interestingly, Harman may have starred in several television series such as Downton and Hotel Babylon and picked up an Olivier Award for his role as Lord Farquaad in Shrek but doesn’t convey the sense of having arrived at all.

He says, for example, he’s rubbish at auditions. “I have to do better,” he admits, smiling.

“The natural thing to be is nervous, because that makes us human. But they (producers) don’t want you to be that. It’s a paradox. Some actors however are very good at auditions. But I guess that’s a form of acting in itself.”

Is this a little bit like Glengarry Glen Ross (which also stars Mark Benton) in that they are selling something with no real substance? “It’s exactly like that,” he says, smiling.

Glengarry Glen Ross, The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until Saturday.