First published in the SUNDAY EXPRESS in 2012

#Throwback Thursday: 2012 Interview with Imelda Staunton about Sweeney Todd & Gypsy

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NICOLA WALKER ON HAVING AN EYE ON THE NEXT JOB (BUT WORRYING THERE WON’T BE ONE)
nicola-walker-view-from-bridgeNicola Walker, malady currently riding high starring on Broadway in A View from the Bridge (in which she is pictured left with co-stars Phoebe Fox and Mark Strong), there and being seen in two TV series at the moment — BBC1’s River, tadalafil and ITV’s Unforgotten., interviewed by Rachel Cooke in The Observer:

On the apparently sudden recognition:

“It’s ridiculous, and very lovely. But I’m glad it didn’t happen when I was 21. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I felt very exposed by those two shows going out at the same time, and while it turned out OK, you’re always frightened someone is going to pat you on the shoulder, get you to sit down, and then tell you that you’ve had your go. When you’re working, you’re in the present, but you’ve always got one eye on where your next job might be coming from, and I don’t think that will ever go away. I’ve been doing this since I was 21. This is how I’m wired.”

On her admiration of her co-stars:

“Once you’ve sat in a room annoying Derek Jacobi while he’s trying to do his crossword, you’re prepped for working with the greats. But, yes, Unforgotten was a roll call of great British actors. I mean: Peter Egan as my father. Luckily, I managed to be very professional and not fan-girl him. At one point, Tom Courtenay did a 12-page scene in one take. When he’d finished, the room broke into spontaneous applause. He and Gemma Jones are utterly committed to their work, and they still love it, it’s really inspiring. They still really want to be there, and I have worked on things in the past where I wondered if that was the case for all the actors involved.”

NOMA DUMEZENI ON BELIEVING IN THE UNIVERSE
lindaInterviewed by Liz Hoggard in The Observer on December 20 about taking over from Kim Cattrall in Linda  (pictured left) at very short notice, after working at the Globe and Almeida with the same director Michael Longhurst (the day after this interview appeared she was announced to be starring in next summer’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, playing the adult Hermione):

“I’m starting to believe in the universe right now, I really am. I’m in my late 40s, and if you look back things do happen for a bloody reason. I went to meet Michael because I saw Constellations which he directed. In the past I’d been so snobby about the Globe – you think: “Oh my God, it’s vast, how do you control an audience?” – but it turned out ’Tis Pity was in the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker theatre, warm and dry. And Michael offered me the part of Hippolita, a wronged woman and a baddie, and it was absolutely joyous. And later he offered me Carmen Disruption at the Almeida.”

CYNTHIA ERIVO ON COMING REALISE THAT DIFFERENT CAN BE BEAUTIFUL, TOO

Interviewed by Michael Paulson in the New York Times on December 22, Cynthia Erivo talks about reprising her London performance in The Color Purple on Broadway.

On her identification with the role she’s playing:

Over the course of the show, during which she ages from 8 to 50, Celie comes to see herself as beautiful, a journey that has parallels in Ms. Erivo’s own self-assessment.

“When I was 15, I didn’t think I was the prettiest at all. But then something happened when I was 20-something — I thought, actually, I really like what I look like. Just because I don’t look like everybody else doesn’t mean that I can’t be just as beautiful.”

cynthia-erivo-color-purpe cynthia-erivo-jennifer-hudsonOn playing the role in New York, in whcih she co-stars with Jennifer Hudson (pictured left):

Although she is not American, and is now playing a quintessentially American role, she said she felt at home with the cast and the material.

“I don’t think it’s different to be a black girl in England than it is to be a black girl from America. We all collectively share in a pain of displacement, and not feeling like we quite belong in places.”

On her work-out regime and personal appearance, Paulson writes:

She is tiny (5 foot 1), muscular and stylish, with hair dyed blond, multiple ear piercings, and, on opening night, blue lipstick. She begins each day with green juice and a workout; she boxes, does yoga and rides a scooter, and then at night, she said, “I like to do four sets of 10 to 15 push-ups, then four sets of 40 mountain climbers, just to get the blood moving.” Ordinarily, she lifts weights, too, but she has taken a break while playing Celie to prevent bulking up. (“My body is one that kind of looks at weights and then all of a sudden I have muscle.”)

JIM BROADBENT PROVES NOT TO BE AN EASY INTERVIEW

christmas-carolInterviewed by Tanya Gold in the Sunday Times about his current run in A Christmas Carol in the West End (pictured left with Samantha Spiro),  every journalist will identify with this: the courteous but reluctant subject.

Broadbent is not an easy interview, despite, or maybe because of, his courtesy. He answers gravely and giggles a lot, but I know even before he speaks that he would rather do pratfalls than talk about himself, and this makes him likeable, if impenetrable. He also wants to be interviewed with Barlow, his friend and collaborator of 35 years, so the “interview” is largely two grown men laughing and complimenting each other. They worked together as the National Theatre of Brent, where they would fight, as themselves, on stage, over who had the best costume and part. They do it for me now: “I thought I was playing that!” “What are you wearing that for?”

Broadbent says he was waiting “for something irresistible, and this was that. There are so many colours and shades — of joy and anger and fear and pain and nastiness and generosity. [There is] no other character I can think of with such a marked, glorious arc of story, from the depths of nastiness to the heights of glorious generosity. It’s wonderful.” But he can’t really go further, at least not as himself, and I hadn’t thought to ask him to do this interview as anyone else: “As soon as I start talking about it, I don’t really know what I am saying.”

NICOLA WALKER ON HAVING AN EYE ON THE NEXT JOB (BUT WORRYING THERE WON’T BE ONE)
nicola-walker-view-from-bridgeNicola Walker, sick currently riding high starring on Broadway in A View from the Bridge (in which she is pictured left with co-stars Phoebe Fox and Mark Strong), medicine and being seen in two TV series at the moment — BBC1’s River, treat and ITV’s Unforgotten., interviewed by Rachel Cooke in The Observer:

On the apparently sudden recognition:

“It’s ridiculous, and very lovely. But I’m glad it didn’t happen when I was 21. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I felt very exposed by those two shows going out at the same time, and while it turned out OK, you’re always frightened someone is going to pat you on the shoulder, get you to sit down, and then tell you that you’ve had your go. When you’re working, you’re in the present, but you’ve always got one eye on where your next job might be coming from, and I don’t think that will ever go away. I’ve been doing this since I was 21. This is how I’m wired.”

On her admiration of her co-stars:

“Once you’ve sat in a room annoying Derek Jacobi while he’s trying to do his crossword, you’re prepped for working with the greats. But, yes, Unforgotten was a roll call of great British actors. I mean: Peter Egan as my father. Luckily, I managed to be very professional and not fan-girl him. At one point, Tom Courtenay did a 12-page scene in one take. When he’d finished, the room broke into spontaneous applause. He and Gemma Jones are utterly committed to their work, and they still love it, it’s really inspiring. They still really want to be there, and I have worked on things in the past where I wondered if that was the case for all the actors involved.”

NOMA DUMEZENI ON BELIEVING IN THE UNIVERSE
lindaInterviewed by Liz Hoggard in The Observer on December 20 about taking over from Kim Cattrall in Linda  (pictured left) at very short notice, after working at the Globe and Almeida with the same director Michael Longhurst (the day after this interview appeared she was announced to be starring in next summer’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, playing the adult Hermione):

“I’m starting to believe in the universe right now, I really am. I’m in my late 40s, and if you look back things do happen for a bloody reason. I went to meet Michael because I saw Constellations which he directed. In the past I’d been so snobby about the Globe – you think: “Oh my God, it’s vast, how do you control an audience?” – but it turned out ’Tis Pity was in the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker theatre, warm and dry. And Michael offered me the part of Hippolita, a wronged woman and a baddie, and it was absolutely joyous. And later he offered me Carmen Disruption at the Almeida.”

CYNTHIA ERIVO ON COMING REALISE THAT DIFFERENT CAN BE BEAUTIFUL, TOO

Interviewed by Michael Paulson in the New York Times on December 22, Cynthia Erivo talks about reprising her London performance in The Color Purple on Broadway.

On her identification with the role she’s playing:

Over the course of the show, during which she ages from 8 to 50, Celie comes to see herself as beautiful, a journey that has parallels in Ms. Erivo’s own self-assessment.

“When I was 15, I didn’t think I was the prettiest at all. But then something happened when I was 20-something — I thought, actually, I really like what I look like. Just because I don’t look like everybody else doesn’t mean that I can’t be just as beautiful.”

cynthia-erivo-jennifer-hudsonOn playing the role in New York, in whcih she co-stars with Jennifer Hudson (pictured left):

Although she is not American, and is now playing a quintessentially American role, she said she felt at home with the cast and the material.

“I don’t think it’s different to be a black girl in England than it is to be a black girl from America. We all collectively share in a pain of displacement, and not feeling like we quite belong in places.”

On her work-out regime and personal appearance, Paulson writes:

She is tiny (5 foot 1), muscular and stylish, with hair dyed blond, multiple ear piercings, and, on opening night, blue lipstick. She begins each day with green juice and a workout; she boxes, does yoga and rides a scooter, and then at night, she said, “I like to do four sets of 10 to 15 push-ups, then four sets of 40 mountain climbers, just to get the blood moving.” Ordinarily, she lifts weights, too, but she has taken a break while playing Celie to prevent bulking up. (“My body is one that kind of looks at weights and then all of a sudden I have muscle.”)

JIM BROADBENT PROVES NOT TO BE AN EASY INTERVIEW

christmas-carolInterviewed by Tanya Gold in the Sunday Times about his current run in A Christmas Carol in the West End (pictured left with Samantha Spiro),  every journalist will identify with this: the courteous but reluctant subject.

Broadbent is not an easy interview, despite, or maybe because of, his courtesy. He answers gravely and giggles a lot, but I know even before he speaks that he would rather do pratfalls than talk about himself, and this makes him likeable, if impenetrable. He also wants to be interviewed with Barlow, his friend and collaborator of 35 years, so the “interview” is largely two grown men laughing and complimenting each other. They worked together as the National Theatre of Brent, where they would fight, as themselves, on stage, over who had the best costume and part. They do it for me now: “I thought I was playing that!” “What are you wearing that for?”

Broadbent says he was waiting “for something irresistible, and this was that. There are so many colours and shades — of joy and anger and fear and pain and nastiness and generosity. [There is] no other character I can think of with such a marked, glorious arc of story, from the depths of nastiness to the heights of glorious generosity. It’s wonderful.” But he can’t really go further, at least not as himself, and I hadn’t thought to ask him to do this interview as anyone else: “As soon as I start talking about it, I don’t really know what I am saying.”

This weekend on Dec 27 Imelda Staunton reprises her recent Chichester and West End performance in GYPSY in a filmed version of the production. In this 2012 interview I did with Staunton, doctor first published in the Sunday Express, medical as she prepared to reprise her Chichester performance as Mrs Lovett in another Sondheim musical SWEENEY TODD in the WEst End, order she mentions that she was already thinking of doing GYPSY next….

***

FROM ARCHWAY TO LA, BY WAY OF THE WEST END
The last time Mark Shenton met Imelda Staunton he offered her a job. Now she’s an Oscar-nominated star of films, but has returned to her stage roots in Sweeney Todd.

Imelda Staunton and I first met 14 years ago — and as a result, she became a Diva at the Donmar. Allow me to explain: I was helping the Covent Garden theatre to programme an inaugural cabaret season that later became a regular yearly fixture, and I was looking at who to book when I wandered into a Covent Garden record shop Dress Circle that specialises in musical theatre. She happened to be in there, and I promptly invited her, on the spot, to be part of it; and what’s more, she immediately agreed. As she wrote in a programme note then, “It all happened because I met a man in a shop.”

imelda-staunton-mrs-lovettAnd now she’s in the West End reprising the role of Mrs Lovett (pictured right) in a new production of Sweeney Todd that has transferred to the Adelphi Theatre after a hugely acclaimed run at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, and as she tells it, “It all happened because of a man I met on a radio show! I get all my best breaks like that!”

The man in question on this occasion was Michael Ball, and he was hosting his regular Radio 2 show, for which Imelda came in as a guest. “He put a record on, and then said to me, ‘I want to ask you something, but not right now’. I told him to ask me straight away — and he said he wanted to play Sweeney Todd and said, ‘Do you fancy doing Mrs Lovett?'”

She jumped at the chance — she’s played in Sondheim before, starring as the Baker’s Wife in the original 1990 London production of Into the Woods, and it won her an Olivier Award. But despite that pedigree, she says, “I knew I could never make it happen myself, so thank God Michael suggested it to me.”

imelda-dolores-umbridgeIn a varied career that has began in theatre and has since spanned an Oscar-nominated performance in the title role of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and playing the scene-stealing role of Dolores Umbridge (pictured ldft) in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as TV roles like Miss Pole in Cranford, she has also played Dorothy in the RSC version of The Wizard of Oz (long before the current London Palladium one, cast by reality TV), as well as twice starring as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the National.

She actually began her London stage career in the latter, appearing in the chorus first as a Hotbox Girl to Julia McKenzie as Adelaide before subsequently taking over, and she says now, “I remember thinking what am I doing here — I’m in the chorus of a musical, but I’ve done St Joan and Electra already,” referring to the long apprenticeship she had already served in regional theatre. “But the pragmatic side of me said, this is me working in London, and you’re watching Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson — where does it get better than that?”

Actually, there was one thing better: she also met her future husband Jim Carter in that production, who was playing Big Jule. They have been together ever since, and she remembers that when she saw Julia McKenzie play the role of Mrs Lovett at the National Theatre, “I was pregnant with my daughter Bessie. She’ll be 19 this year! Oh my goodness!” Jim — who has finally become a household name thanks to playing Mr Carson in Downtown Abbey — also works constantly, and in 2007 Jim, Imelda and daughter Bessie all appeared in Cranford together.

The Laurence Olivier Awards 2013 held at the Royal Opera House - Arrivals Featuring: Imelda Staunton,daughter,husband Where: London, United Kingdom When: 28 Apr 2013 Credit: Lia Toby/WENN.com

Bessie (pictured above with mum and dad on the red carpet for the 2013 Olivier Awards) now looks set to follow in her parents footsteps towards an acting career; she’s doing A Levels in English and drama, but goes to RADA classes on Saturdays, which is where her mother trained, too. Imelda welcomes it: “She’s got a headstart, because she feels very comfortable in the world of acting, whether the theatre or a film set. It took me years to be that confident!” But she’s also cautious: “It’s not an easy road being an actor, and I worry that there might be comparisons, which I’ll just loathe, because she’s everything I could never be — she’s gorgeous, 5’9″, with legs up to there!”

Unlike her daughter, Imelda had no theatre in her background at all. Born of Irish immigrant parents in Archway, North London and educated at a local convent school, she says now, “I only started going to the theatre when I was 17. But we had an elocution teacher at the convent, Jackie Stoker, who I still see now, and I started doing drama classes with her after school. I did the school plays and liked doing them, and she said to me, ‘you will be auditioning for drama school, because that is what you’ll be doing’. I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I had no idea how to be one or what you did to become one.”

That she ended up at RADA, one of the world’s best, is she says, partly thanks to the fact that “I didn’t get into the others.” She also auditioned for Central and Guildhall but was rejected. But she’s come a long way since; in a newspaper interview the day before we met, Stephen Sondheim called her “absolutely remarkable” and spoke of how she’d be ideal to play Momma Rose in Gypsy, the musical he wrote lyrics to Jule Styne’s music for.

Imelda would love to do it, too: “I’ve always thought she’s a terrible woman, and I like that. She’s an ogre!” Mrs Lovett is equally morally complex, if not downright ugly. Sondheim has called them “the two juiciest female parts: they’re sort of the Hamlet and Lear of the female repertoire.” Imelda notes this and says, “Yes, they’re tough. I don’t know what Gypsy is like, but Mrs Lovett is so difficult and therefore it is terribly rewarding to do. It’s not an easy job. And that’s why I like it! The bigger the challenge, the better it is. This really is stretching every bit of me.”

The same is true of her co-star Michael Ball, and not just because it shows an entirely different side to him: as Sondheim quipped, “Who knew he could grow facial hair for a start?” But for Imelda its about something else: “Not only is he physically transformed, but also his voice. When I’m standing behind him when he’s signing the Epiphany, I wonder to myself: does anyone know what it feels like to stand here, being so close to the magnitude of his talent?”

The respect, she says, is mutual: “We absolutely adore each other, because we know we work very hard. All I’m interested in is getting it absolutely right, and he’s the same: it’s all about doing whatever it takes to get there.”