Category Archives: Acting

Simon Jay on the inauguration thoughts of the OTHER President Donald Trump

Simon Jay - Donald Trump

Simon Jay’s show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Simon was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

For about nine months, Simon Jay has been getting noticed for his one-man show Trumpageddon in which he riffs as the esteemed President Elect, who gets inaugurated this Friday.

“Are you doing anything to celebrate?” I asked Simon via Skype this morning.

“I’m going to go on Facebook Live,” he told me, “and, at 5.00pm (UK time), as you watch the inauguration on TV, you’ll be able to hear his thoughts streamed via Facebook Live –  as voiced by me.”

“When you first started doing Trump,” I said, “you must have thought: I want Trump to be elected President because I can get a four-year-long act out of this.”

“I was hoping he would LOSE for two reasons. One, obviously, for the good of the planet. But also because, genuinely, I think he has a very limited shelf-life as effective satire. It will become less effective.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there are three possibilities. One: he will get shot. Two: he will get impeached. Three: he might turn into a good President because you don’t want a nice, principled man as President. Jimmy Carter, apparently nice man: ineffective President. Richard Nixon, a right shit: internationally, a pretty good President.”

“I think that’s a little over-simplistic view of American politics!” laughed Simon.

“That’s my speciality,” I told him. “The trouble is Trump is not a hard, cynical politician. He’s a little schoolboy throwing tantrums and trying to bully people… So do you feel an affinity to him? How do you ‘become’ Trump?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “it’s like drag. You put on the orange make-up, put on the suit and red tie and flop the hair about.”

Simon Jay being made into Donald Trump

“It’s like drag. You put on orange make-up and flop the hair”

“You wear a wig as Trump?” I asked.

“No! It’s my own hair. Unlike him, I actually use my own hair.”

“He wears a wig?” I asked.

“It’s monkey glands,” Simon replied. “Implants, like Elton John. Trump’s hairline goes in two different directions. Half of it grows from one angle and the other half from another angle. It’s like M.C.Escher hair.”

“And his psychology?” I asked.

“He’s so easy to play,” said Simon, “because he thinks everyone loves him. No matter what happens or what I say, I will be loved – so it’s perfect. It’s a wonderful narcissistic power trip.”

“How,” I asked, “do you put yourself inside his mindset?”

“I just go blank,” explained Simon. “It’s a kind of Zen state, because he doesn’t say anything particularly. His verbal mannerisms are just so airy, it’s almost like Beat Poetry – the same couple of phrases and words over and over again. It’s not like thought, is it?”

“He really IS like a school kid stamping his feet,” I said.

“Well,” said Simon, “if you look at his childhood, he used to bite his nannies and attack them. Terrible anger issues.”

“Have you,” I asked, “watched Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live?”

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

Alec Baldwin in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

“Yes. It is really interesting to see Saturday Night Live go a bit further in its takedown of a politician, but it’s still nowhere near like our satire. We are a lot more horrible to our politicians. Saturday Night Live say: Oh, Trump is obsessed by money and is a bit sexist! On Spitting Image, we had Thatcher as Adolf Hitler, gassing people! They could be a bit tougher. When Tina Fey did Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was still a nod and a wink and the real Sarah Palin actually appeared with her.”

“Trump has gone wrong on the PR,” I suggested, “by attacking Saturday Night Live. Politicians have to be seen to laugh with comedy digs.”

“But maybe Trump is very clever,” Simon replied. “Everyone is reporting: Look at him! He can’t even take a joke! That distracts people from the politics: Look! He’s appointed this cabinet that are going to roll-back so many things. They’re pro-life, anti-gay, racist. People are talking less about that when they’re talking about him and Alec Baldwin.”

“So,” I asked, “how do you differ from Alec Baldwin?”

“I’m nowhere near as famous!” laughed Simon, “and I have nowhere near the same influence.”

“Will you be doing 20-minute spots in comedy clubs as Trump?”

“No, because it’s not an impression; it’s a whole hour-long show. It’s a characterisation in its own surreal world. So seeing it for a few minutes would not work in the same way.”

“Is there a risk,” I asked, “that you get so typed as Trump in the next four years that Simon Jay will lose-out as a performer?”

“Yeah. I’ll do other projects. I want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe and do Trump AND something else. Everyone is advising me against doing two shows again, but I would like to.”

“So your Trump show at this year’s Fringe…?” I prompted.

Orange is the new black in the US Donald Trump Simon Jay

For voters in the USA, it seems orange really is the new black

“The Trump thing has been taken on by a proper producer now – James Seabright – so it will be more packaged and slick though it will still be the same raw, slightly unpalatable truth it was last time.”

“Any reaction so far from the man in the Trump Tower?” I asked.

“No,” said Simon. “Part of the previous show was a bit where I was molesting a rabbit and I got the audience to take pictures of it and said: Can you Tweet the pictures to me? meaning me. But some people sent them to the real Donald Trump. So he maybe has a lot of photos of me looking like him, molesting a rabbit, but I have had no complaint from him yet.”

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Two stars. Two totally different acting methods. One worried movie director.

The Legend of Hell House poster

When I was a kid growing up, living with my parents, watching television a lot, there were two people who established in my brain the importance of the director.

One was Mike Hodges, who directed some of the ultra-stylish ABC TV Arts series Tempo. He went on to direct movies including Get Carter and Flash Gordon.

John Hough

John Hough’s feature films include Escape to Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods, Twins of Evil and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

The other was John Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) who directed five years worth of The Avengers TV series under producer Albert Fennell.

I always reckon, if you see an Avengers scene shot through an empty wine glass or with exceptionally arty angles, it was a John Hough episode.

Last night I went to a rare screening of The Legend of Hell House, a movie produced by Albert Fennell and directed in 1973 by John Hough from a script by the brilliant Richard Matheson based on his own superb humdinger of a novel Hell House.

After the screening finished, John Hough was asked which actors he most enjoyed working with in his career.

John Cassavetes,” he replied, “was really interesting to work with. I did a couple of films with him (Brass Target and The Incubus). He genuinely never read the script. He would ask: What’s the situation? He just wanted to know what the scene was about and how the character was feeling and then he would ad-lib the scene brilliantly.

John Cassavetes co-starred with Sophia Loren in Brass Target

John Cassavetes co-starred with Sophia Loren in Brass Target

“But, when I did a picture with him and Sophia Loren (Brass Target) she could not ad-lib so, when I said Action! she was waiting for him to say what was in the script and he didn’t say that. I was in big trouble there. She couldn’t do it.

“So I rang up MGM – it was their picture – and the answer came back: The poster reads SOPHIA LOREN… and John Cassavetes. So he had to learn the script.”

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An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

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Learning to be a comic: “Maybe there are more mad men than mad women.”

Trish Bertram at the London Olympics

Trish Bertram – stadium announcer at the London Olympics

I probably first met Trish Bertram in the 1980s when she was freelancing around the UK as a voice-over on TV trailers and as an announcer.

More recently, she was the live stadium announcer for the London Olympics, the Baku European Games and the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

Even more recently – just a couple of weeks ago – she finished an Amused Moose comedy course run by Logan Murray. She took the course not because she wanted to become a comedian but because she was interested in comedy techniques.

“It was a cross-section of people from all walks of life from their 20s to their 60s,” she told me. “We did eight Sundays of 5-hour afternoons. I wanted a challenge. I wanted something that would scare me and I hit on this idea because I’m a big admirer of stand-up comedy because I think it’s very brave.”

“But surely,” I said, “if you die on stage in front of 15 people in the upstairs room in a pub, that’s not as bad as buggering up an announcement in a stadium of 100,000 people and a TV audience of several million.”

“Well,” said Trish, “Whenever I do voice-over work – and I’ve worked for you – I’m sitting in a studio, I never see or smell the audience, I read a script – I don’t have to learn it – and, with the Olympics, I conned myself that I was in a television studio and, when I looked through the window, I was just looking at a TV screen.

“With stand-up comedy, you are completely naked and exposed, you have to remember what you’re going to say AND you’ve got to make people laugh. That is terrifying and I wanted to see what that felt like. If 15 people in the room in a pub hate you, you have nowhere to go.”

“And you have never been an actress, live on stage,” I said.

Trish Bertram on stage at the Amused Moose showcase

Trish on stage at the comedy course showcase

“No. I was a stage manager at the National Theatre, Royal Court, Young Vic. I blagged my way into telly from nowhere. So live performing was a big new thing for me.”

“At the end of Logan Murray’s course,” I said, “you performed in a showcase…”

“It was the weirdest feeling,” said Trish. “I have no memory of having done it. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. In my head, I can see myself doing it, but I can’t remember what it felt like.

“My biggest fear beforehand was, amazingly, not standing on the stage – and it was not talking into the microphone, because I do that all the time. My biggest fear was my memory, because I’m not used to learning material. I was terrified I was going to forget it. I had just seen Stewart Lee perform. How does he remember his act? How does Janey Godley remember her act? How do they all remember an hour of material?

“Logan Murray told me: If you try and learn this like a Shakespearean soliloquy, you will come unstuck. I was trying to learn my five minutes word-for-word. But the audience doesn’t know what they don’t hear. And, when it works, people don’t realise it’s a script. They think the comic is just chatting to them.”

“I’ve got bored,” I told Trish, “of comedy bills that are just four or five competent male comics doing much the same material as each other and, if they’re new, talking about wanking. It used to be that women comics were just as bad – they all talked about periods and how awful men are. But now women have a tendency to be more interesting than men because their material is more varied.”

TrishBertram_headphones

Shared angst builds confidence?

“On the course,” said Trish, “the women were much more open about admitting to each other they were struggling with it, whereas all the boys were very stoic and that’s a male thing in general: Don’t admit your weakness.

“The boys looked like the confident ones at first but towards the end the women – I think because they’d all shared their angst with each other – were actually more super-confident on stage than some of the boys.”

“There is that cliché,” I said, “that men are interested in things and women are interested in people. I think there’s a bit of truth in that. And, if it’s true, women are going to be inherently more interesting doing comedy because ‘things’ are not really funny. People are funny – or people and their interaction with ‘things’.

“Women are more interested in psychology and emotions. Comedy plays with the emotions and, for that reason, maybe the most interesting comedy is about tragedy and, because women are more interested in emotions and men don’t so much show or express emotions, women have more interesting material. Maybe women are more attuned to getting comedy out of tragedy and men are not.”

“But men ARE funny,” said Trish. “There was a perception for a long time that women aren’t funny. Maybe because there was no culture of female comedy.”

“Well,” I said, “there is a problem because, on the circuit, you’re basically talking about rooms above or below pubs. Lads’ drinking culture. Not pure comedy clubs. Pubs that have comedy shows within them. I think originally there were fewer women because they weren’t attracted to the milieu. That has changed a bit.”

“What the course has done for me,” Trish said, “is give me renewed respect for every comic I see, whether they’re massively famous or new.”

“You haven’t met them off-stage,” I said. “They’re all barking mad. Maybe there are just more mad men than mad women.”

“People assume,” I continued, going into auto-gabble mode, “that comedians have to be self-confident extroverts to get up on stage, but they’re actually on stage because they are insecure. They want the validation of laughter and clapping and being in control of other people’s emotions.

Trish Bertram abseils down a building in 2000 (don’t ask)

Trish was abseiling down a building in 2000 (She likes risks)

“If your gig is a big, big success, there is the fear that your next one can only be less good. If your gig fails, then you know the audience knows you’re as bad as you think you might be.

“There is no upside at all. It’s all downside. If you are a success, you are about to fail. If you fail, you know that’s because you are not good enough. The only positive psychological ‘hit’ is at the specific point when you get the adrenaline rush if the audience whoop and laugh and love you. Insecure people get addicted to performing comedy.

“It really is like a drug. You feel bad; you take a drug; it gives you a sudden, brief high; then there’s the come-down afterwards. But you keep wanting to re-experience that big adrenaline hit so you keep taking the drug.”

“At the start of the course,” said Trish, “Hils Jago (of Amused Moose) told us: This is not therapy. this is a serious business. But, actually, it was therapy. Every person I got to know a little bit on the course had some therapy shit we were working out. Everyone seemed to be there because of some inner angst or a confidence anxiety thing or whatever. Comedy is a kind of a weird therapy.”

“Except for you?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Was I…? I did freak out.”

“But you didn’t want to be a comedian?” I asked.

“No, I don’t want to be a comedian. I’m too old and I don’t want to be one. But I like comedy and I like laughing and I’m interested in how the world works. I’d quite like to be Hils Jago.”

“So, as you don’t actually want to become a comic, you will never do stand-up again?” I asked.

“I might.”

“Why? Have you got the bug?”

Trish at London Weekend Television

Trish in the continuity suite at London Weekend Television

“I don’t know. I was so stunned that people laughed. I had about seven mates there at the showcase and they all laughed. Now I just want to know if they were being kind. So I might do one more at an open mic night and see if I can make total strangers laugh. I might do one more out of curiosity. Just one more.”

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Some brief advice to performers

You can never be certain of the sincerity of a compliment.

There can be all sorts of reasons why people pay you compliments.

But you can always be certain of the sincerity of an insult.

However, that does not mean the person is right.

You have to weigh up the pros and cons and decide for yourself.

Conclusion:

You can never trust anyone, so you might as well go on your own instinct.

Fuck ‘em.

That’s tonight’s catchphrase, ladies and gentlemen.

Fuck ‘em.

Be yourself.

Listen to other people.

Realise that no-one KNOWS anything.

Decide yourself.

Be yourself.

Fuck ‘em.

 

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Lewis Schaffer’s Giant Leap into acting (but has he always been acting anyway?)

the thames from Blackfriars station yesterday

The  River Thames, seen from Blackfriars station yesterday

With my co-host Kate Copstick un-Skypeable in Kenya, I persuaded comedian Lewis Schaffer to join me on The Grouchy Club Podcast this week. We met on Platform 2 at Blackfriars station, which straddles the River Thames in London.

I thought it would be quirky recording it in the middle of the Thames with the sound of trains and tannoy announcements in the background. This may or may not have been a good idea. It lasted 19 minutes. 

Lewis Schaffer talked about Lewis Schaffer, about the Edinburgh Fringe, about a new play project and about Lewis Schaffer. Here is a short extract:


Lewis Schaffer talked to me on Platform 2 at Blackfriars station

Lewis Schaffer talked to me amid the trains at Blackfriars

JOHN
So you’re doing a play at the Edinburgh Fringe.

LEWIS SCHAFFER
I am. How amazing is that? Well, I’m not doing a play. I’m rehearsing for a play.

They still have a chance to fire me. The last play I was in they fired me.

JOHN
What was the last play you were in?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Well, I say I was in The Odd Couple, but I was in another play. I’m trying to remember what play it was. You Can’t Take It With You? No. I can’t remember, but I had a musical – singing – role and they auditioned me for a regular speaking part and then, when I met the guy who was doing the music, he fired me. I remember that walk home at night from Great Neck North Senior High School back to my house – in Great Neck, when I was living in Great Neck – and I was crying.

JOHN
Aaaah. Bless. Why do you say you were in The Odd Couple?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Because I… I… I think that was the last one that I did. I’m not sure. I was only seventeen years old and I haven’t done a play since.

JOHN
Which part did you play? Because all the men in The Odd Couple are actually quite old, aren’t they?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
We were high school people. Of course you gotta play… You can’t just play young people.

JOHN
It was a school play?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
It was a school play. It wasn’t like a regular play. It was a high school play. I was Roy. If you’re a nerd out there and you know plays…

JOHN
So basically the school you were in decided to have a play called The Odd Couple about a homosexual relationship in America?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
At the time, I don’t think people knew that it was about a gay relationship. Maybe it’s not even about people being gay in The Odd Couple. It could be, now, looking back on it. Maybe that’s why I’m divorced: because I was in that play. Maybe it traumatised me for life about marriage.

JOHN
You call this life?… So now you’re doing another play. What’s this play that’s going to be at the Fringe?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Giant Leap. It’s a new play by guys named Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, directed by Alexander Lass – young kids.

JOHN
Who is Alexander Lass?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
I dunno who he is. He calls me up and says I have a part for you and I accepted it.

JOHN
This is Phil Nichol’s company doing this, isn’t it?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
I think it is.

JOHN
Basically, you’re in a play by people you don’t know and you’ve no idea who’s producing it.

LEWIS SCHAFFER
I didn’t even know what the play was when I said Yes. I just said Yes. I’m gonna do it. I don’t wanna do it, but I’m gonna do it. If they’re crazy enough to hire me, I’m gonna do it.

JOHN
And they’re paying you to do it…

LEWIS SCHAFFER
They are actually paying me to do it. They’re paying my way up there and they are…

JOHN
… paying your way back.

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Putting me up. They got a room, yeah.

JOHN
Putting you up what?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Putting me up in a room. They’re gonna hoist me by my own petard… I don’t even know what that means.

JOHN
No-one does. Like most English phrases, no-one knows what they actually mean, when you get down to it.

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Exactly. It just sounds so good. Just assume it’s a cricket phrase…

JOHN
It has to be French, surely – Petard

LEWIS SCHAFFER
If it’s not French or Shakespeare, it’s cricket.

JOHN
Or Oscar Wilde.

LEWIS SCHAFFER
If you laugh, it’s Oscar Wilde.

JOHN
So you’ve been doing rehearsals for this play in Crouch End or somewhere?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Yes. It’s with Tom Stade, who is…

JOHN
Canadian?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
Canadian. But I look at him and don’t really feel he’s Canadian.

JOHN
You think he’s better than that?

LEWIS SCHAFFER
I like him, so he’s better than Canadian. I don’t mind Canadians; I just feel sorry for them. They’re America Lite.


The full 19 minute audio version of this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast is on PODOMATIC and iTUNES.

The Grouchy Club is live at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-29th August, unbilled in the official programme to keep out the riffraff. You can come.

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Why her grandma might have had to kill the actress/producer Cassandra Hodges

Cassandra Hodges is an actress who works with multi-Oscared movie producer Norma Heyman, is resident producer at the Hope Theatre in Islington and is involved in two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in August: the Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show at the Pleasance and the Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour at the Assembly

As if that were not enough, in a couple of weeks, she tells me:

Cruising for trouble on the high seas

Cruising for trouble on the high seas with Fred Olsen

“I’m also doing a murder mystery cruise for Fred Olsen. If that goes well, it will go round Europe next year. Different people die every night and there are seven of us players. It was the Duchess of Northumberland who set it up, because she’s obsessed with poison gardens and fascinated by poison as a concept. All the food and drink on the cruise will be poison related. It should be another mad experience of doing something new. I’m also developing a couple of films with friends.”

“So you have been at it a while?” I asked.

“I left drama school six years ago. I sort-of started doing producing when I came out of drama school because I wanted to be in something and the phone wasn’t ringing, so I started making my own work. I come from an acting family, but not my mum or dad – my cousin is the actress Julia Foster, so that’s were the thespian bit comes from; she’s now doing the new Dad’s Army film. My mum is a fashion designer; my dad’s a historian.”

“What was his speciality?” I asked.

The Bayeux Tapestry and that period. As a child, I was always being taken to castles, which was great, but maybe it made me a bit of a dreamer. Interested in history. Reading novels and my dad’s books rather than watching television. My dad was always playing classical music when I was younger and I did ballet as a kid with the Royal Academy of Dance. On the other hand, I grew up on the Carry Ons and Dad’s Army and all that.

“I wasn’t very academic at school but I went to Sussex University and did English with Drama and wrote my dissertation on Jane Austen, whom I’m obsessed with, and Shakespeare.”

“You write as well?” I asked.

Cassandra Hodges chatted at the Soho Theatre

Cassandra Hodges chatted at the Soho Theatre

“No, I’m not really a writer, but I did have a psychic reading the other day and he told me I should not rule out being a writer.”

“Oh,” I told her, “I had a psychic reading in Battersea Park when I was seventeen. I was wearing orange-coloured cord Levi jeans and the fortune teller said I would go to the US and work in banking. I was not impressed.”

“This guy was good,” said Cassandra. “Anthony Lewis Churchill.

He said a lot of things which he could not have known about my family – like how my dad was born in Wales, which is not anywhere on the internet because my dad is really private.

“And once I auditioned for something that I really shouldn’t have auditioned for, because I would never have got it, and Anthony Lewis Churchill said to me: Someone’s telling me to tell you not to bother auditioning for things you’re not going to get like The Lion King. And I had never told anyone about that.”

“He knew you were an actress, though?” I asked.

“Yes, but I’d never told anyone that fact and he knew it exactly, so that was a bit weird. He does aura and life coaching and he has a TV show he’s about to launch in America: him and a fashion designer. They go into someone’s house and take a dress out of their cupboard and he analyses the history of the dress. The UK wasn’t interested in it, but America was.

“The US has become my favourite country. I went over in April to do an Industry Hollywood course. They’re more direct out there. They’re very Yes-or-No, but at least you get an answer. Here I often get: Oh, we’ve already got a blonde in her twenties and I think You obviously haven’t bothered to watch my showreel because there’s comedy stuff on there; it’s not just boring leading lady. That’s not my casting.”

“So you went went out to the US on this course…?” I prompted.

“Yes. A couple of friends of mine went out for the week too. One of them wasn’t doing the course. He got himself an agent and got married within a week. Someone I introduced him to. They went off to Las Vegas. He had only known her for four days. They’re going out to live there now. Somebody from Comedy Central told me: Oh my god! You’re the new Emma Thompson! You need to come out here!”

“So you’ll have to get a visa,” I said.

“I’d like to get an O-1 visa,” Cassandra told me.

“That lasts three years?”

“Yup. then, after five years, you can apply for a Green Card.”

“What can you do on an O-1?”

“There’s one that’s just for acting. But there’s a performance one, where you can do singing-dancing-acting. I’ve done a bit of opera and I do musicals. I’ve done Sweeney Todd – I was the beggar woman – and I’d really like to do more Sondheim. I do flute, ukulele, piano. So that’s the one for me. I had heard horror stories about America for women but I actually found it to be not horrific.”

“You mean casting couches?”

“Yes. And also I’d heard you couldn’t succeed as a woman unless you were stick-thin or fat. You couldn’t be middle-sized like me.”

Following in the footsteps of Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascall?

Cassandra: following in the footsteps of Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascall?

Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascal made it,” I said. “But maybe you can only run a studio, not be an actress. Presumably it helps that you have what they will call the ‘cute little English accent’.”

“I do the posh thing, yes. That’s what I always get cast as: posh or comedy roles.”

“I suppose the accent is quite posh,” I said. “Stephen Merchant said, in this country, people hear his accent and think he’s a West Country yokel but, in the US, they think he’s speaking like a member of the Royal Family.”

“It was interesting going out there,” said Cassandra. “They put us in front of a lot of casting people and I also got a 3-hour accent coaching session. I met a couple of people who used to direct Star Trek and they were lovely.”

“What sort of parts do you want?”

“I’m looking at what Miranda Hart is doing. I think Big Bang Theory was a big turning point. I think you’re starting to see more real people on sitcoms. I feel comedy is changing and it’s a good time for Brits to be out in the US. They seem to like us, even if a lot of people thought I was Australian when I was in the US. British actors have usually changed to go to the US, but I think people are starting to go out there and be themselves – like you were saying about Stephen Merchant. I’m going out in September with the Borat hope of getting some work by meeting up with some of those fabulous contacts I made.”

“And, in the meantime,” I said, “the poison cruise and Edinburgh?”

“In Edinburgh,” said Cassandra, “I’m playing Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice.”

“And,” I asked, “you’re also involved off-stage in Bite-Size plays in Edinburgh?”

“One is called Quack, about a man who falls in love with a duck and takes her to work with him, then realises she is a duck and has to explain to her that she can’t wear trainers. It’s quite sad. It’s a real mixture. There are some touching plays in among the comedy.

Alan Turing and bear coming to the West End

Alan Turing & his bear coming to the West End in November

“And I have a play which is transferring to the West End in November. It’s a play by Snoo Wilson called Love Song of the Electric Bear about Alan Turing. I produced it at the Hope Theatre for three weeks in February. We got the play published by Methuen and, on the last show, Simon Callow and Alan Rickman came to see it, which was great. The play is basically Alan Turing’s life told through his teddy bear. I think my grandma might have worked at Bletchley Park.”

“But,” I suggested, “if she had told you she would have had to kill you.”

“Maybe,” said Cassandra.

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