Tag Archives: acting

A meeting in a sex shop led me to tea with actor William Sebag-Montefiore.

Hell and a meeting in a sex shop brought me together with William Sebag-Montefiore.

In January last year, I wrote a blog about the shooting of a sitcom pilot called Hell, set in a sex shop.

Well, OK, it was a film set pretending to be a sex shop.

The would-be TV sitcom pilot was eventually re-titled Whipped, posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing this, has had over 365,000 hits. Another result was that, last week, I had tea at the Soho Theatre Bar with William Sebag-Montefiore. He had acted in the film.

I figured: He must be related to British historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore. How many Sebag-Montefiores can there be around? And Wikipedia said Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s great-great-uncle was an international financier who worked with the Rothschild family.

I thought: I might get a free cup of tea out of this.

And I did… but…

William told me: “We’re not really that related. Simon Sebag-Montefiore is my cousin twice removed. I have a name that sounds like I have connections but, in reality, I don’t. I was brought up in Leeds. My mum is Scottish; my dad is Canadian. My grandma is from Inchinnan in Glasgow.”

“Have you got siblings?” I asked.

“Two younger sisters. One’s at the University of Essex studying International Relations. The other is a nurse. So she saves people’s lives and I run around pretending to be someone else.”

“Are there other thespians in the family?”

“My dad’s a clinical oncologist and my mum is a Special Needs Assistant.”

“So no thespian tendencies?” I asked.

“When dad was at medical school,” William proffered, “he did all the comedy revues and used to sing a song called Praise The Colo-rectal Surgeon. And mum loved Billy Connolly.”

“Do you have any medical tendencies?” I asked.

“Well, when I was 17 and started working in a bar, I thought about being a paramedic. It might have been because I watched Casualty on TV when I was a kid. Maybe I just want to be in Casualty. In fact, I still do.”

“You wanted to be an actor?” I asked.

“I am an actor,” William said. “I did a year’s Masters at the Central School of Speech and Drama.”

“Acting is easy, isn’t it?” I asked. “You just have to pretend to be somebody else.”

“I was doing an hour-long one-man show,” said William, “which was a terrifying experience. An hour of me talking and it was not comedy. It was a play about a man made out of newspaper: The Inevitable Disappearance of Edward J Neverwhere, written by a gentleman called Igor Memic.”

“Surely,” I suggested, “doing an hour acting as someone else is not as terrifying as doing an hour of stand-up comedy as yourself?”

William with a hot tea sheath and a crushed Kit-Kat wrapper in London’s Soho Theatre Bar

“I haven’t done stand-up,” said William, “because of the autobiographical angle. I can’t find a way of expressing myself through it, because I would be doing an imitation of someone like Stewart Lee – and a poor one.”

“But you could always be a character comedian?” I suggested.

“I think the problem,” said William, “is more that there’s an hour of responsibility on me. The reason I like acting is because I like listening and responding. When I like watching actors on stage, it’s when they’re listening and reacting. When it’s live, it has to change all the time and, when there is another person there, if you lose focus for a second, the likelihood is they will stay focussed and bring you back in. But, if you are on your own…

“We were doing that terrifying one-man show in a listed building in Peckham – as part of The BasicSpace Festival – and somebody with four dogs knocked on the door saying: Someone told me I could watch the show.

Somebody with four dogs knocked…

“He was just a bit of a local oddball. I stood there, looked at him and thought: I have to acknowledge it. So I looked over at the door, looked back and had no idea where I was in the script. There is that responsibility of focus and continuation…”

“Now you are doing sketch comedy,” I said. “You seem very trendy. Sketch comedy is out of fashion, isn’t it? What’s the attraction?”

“I just think it’s silly and it’s fun. The thing that really made me love it was radio sketch comedy –  John Finnemore and his Souvenir radio programme.

“I tried to write a sketch when I was about 10 or 11 which was directly copied from a Harry Enfield sketch about someone coming round to rob a house but they were like a door-to-door salesman.

“And I did a lot of improvisation and sketch comedy at Newcastle University. I studied English Literature, then graduated from Central and went into this industry where I thought: Everyone will want me for everything and I’ll be in a Hollywood film in a year… But people soon told me: Ah! That’s not how it works and now TV only makes sitcoms with established comedians.”

“Do you consider yourself,” I asked, “to be an actor or a comedy performer?”

“I am an actor who does comedy. People have put me more in the comedy bracket which is great, because that’s the stuff I like to create.”

“And.” I said, “you are now forced to have tea with me to plug the show you are doing at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London on 7th and 8th April – Just These, Please. Will it make your fortune?”

Just These, Please foursome together – (L-R) Georgie Jones, William Sebag-Montefiore, Philippa Carson & Tom Dickson

“We won’t make money out of the show. It’s for love of the form and wanting to get our name out there. We are a comedy sketch group, but we are all writing sitcoms and stuff and having pipedreams. There’s this hope that we will be so endearing and hilarious that people will think: We need to put these guys everywhere.”

“You’re a foursome.”

“Yes. Tom Dickson and I met at Newcastle University, in a play where we were brothers with exceptionally questionable Irish accents. Now he is a trainee lawyer, so he has a real career in him. It was revealed to us that our Irish accents were questionable by one of the girls in our troupe: Philippa Carson, who’s intimidatingly talented – an award-winning film editor and actress. She went to film school; she’s an improviser. And Georgie Jones is our other member – she’s a member of the National Youth Theatre and in the poetry collective at the Roundhouse Theatre. Fundamentally, they’re just hilarious women and very talented actresses.

Just These, Please at Canal Cafe Theatre

“The group has, technically, been going for about two years. We did one show with about 30 sketches about two years ago but then did nothing. We filmed some sketches but haven’t yet released them. Since last October, we’ve written 60 new sketches for this one.”

“So is the future going to be YouTube?” I asked.

“I think so. We have about four sketches – our longest one runs maybe 5 or 6 minutes – filmed and we are waiting to find the right time to release them.”

“Which is?”

“Exactly. This is the problem with a bunch of creatives trying to do the business side of it. I would say around the summer time.

“I’m also a member of an improv group called Very Serious People who have a monthly residency at the Bridewell Theatre near Blackfriars. Maybe I like doing too many things.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Theatre

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.”

2 Comments

Filed under Acting, Movies

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

 

1 Comment

Filed under Acting, Poverty

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting

Comedy actress writer Jo Burke wants to scream about her life in her new show

Jo Burke iScream designed by Steve Ullathorne

Jo Burke is slightly worried about her new show

Jo Burke is slightly worried about performing her new show. She is performing it at the Brighton Fringe for three nights in May. Then at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“I’m on the Edinburgh train again,” she told me, “but with far fewer suitcases. I started writing the new show in my head from the minute I realised I had taken on too much at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Why too much?” I asked.

“Because I took up not one but two shows that I had written and was producing and was flyering for and was teching… and one of them involved hoofing up with a projector and a projector screen and I had basically made my life as difficult as possible and I was exhausted. I had done Edinburgh four or five times before and that was the worst one I had had – I did not enjoy a single day.

“If you look at the reviews and audiences, I took up two 4-star shows and that side of it was all great but, personally, I was absolutely miserable. I know that’s how you are supposed to feel when you are performing at the Fringe but, up until then, all the other years I’d been up, I’d always really enjoyed it. It was always hard work, but not THAT much hard work.”

“And,” I asked, “your show this year is called…?”

iScream

“With a very good poster,” I said.

“The spec I gave the designer, Steve Ullathorne, was basically the Carrie poster, because I love dark humour and my shows are always dark.”

“Good use of blood,” I said. “And your show is basically about your three-and-a-half weeks of hell at the Fringe in 2014?”

“No,” said Jo. “Not that. I specifically did not want it to be a rant about Edinburgh because, if you’re not a performer it would mean nothing to you. Just the first five minutes are about last year – to put it into context – then the rest of the show is entirely different.”

“And you’re slightly worried about it?”

Jo as her Mary Magdalene character

Jo as her Mary Magdalene character

“Well, I have only ever done character shows – I have never been ‘me’ on stage for an hour – so this is my first ‘personal’ show and, because I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, I think maybe I have over-shared. It really is warts and all. You get me on a plate, basically. It is not necessarily pretty or clever, but it is definitely me… the kind of shit that’s gone on in my life.”

“You wrote a dating book, didn’t you?” I asked.

From Strangers With Love, yes.”

“Is that in it?”

“No. The normal things are covered that a stand-up does when they talk about themselves. But they are covered in a non-normal way. At the moment, my head is in this world of terrifyingly opening myself up to the public whereas, in the past, I have not been ‘me’ on stage.”

“Actors,” I said , “often claim stand-up comedy is the most difficult thing to do, because you have to be yourself.”

“Yes,” agreed Jo, “I never wanted to do comedy. I just shifted into comedy because the need and wish to perform over-rode the fact that comedy wasn’t really what I wanted to do. However, I seem to be able to do it.”

“You called yourself a writer earlier,” I said, “as if you put being a writer above being a performer.”

“I think I probably am. I think I would never not write, whereas I can see myself not performing. At the moment – though it’s been a bit interrupted by preparing for the iScream previews – I’m towards the end of writing eight monologues that I’d like to put on as a single show – four female monologues and four male monologues. They’re basically different characters at the same rough life stage. The overall title is Broken, which is what it is about.”

When I chatted to Jo, she had come straight from attending a course – Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The real Jo Burke

The real Jo Burke, after her Neuro-Linguistic Programming

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

“Because,” she told me, “as a writer, I have a natural interest in why we do things and how we are capable of changing those things. Intrinsically, everything you do informs your writing. So there is quite a clear clue as to what’s been going on in the iScream show – I’m not going to say what, because I don’t want to give it away.”

“What’s been going on with what?” I asked.

“With my writing and where I’m at… It just makes you realise patterns that are maybe not helpful that you’ve been doing. Things like self-sabotage and unhelpful thought patterns.”

“Doesn’t sound very linguistic to me,” I said.

“Well, how people speak is a massive clue to how people are feeling about themselves and other people. I mean, everyone has a friend and every time you meet them it’s all negative and, when you walk away, you feel drained.

“I’ve gone from what I would consider being a walking re-action to everyone, to deciding how to react to everything. Or not. If you suffer from road rage, you can notice what is building up and choose whether or not to get into that state. A lot of people don’t realise they have a choice: they think it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to a situation: If this happens, I WILL lose my rag or feel sad or eat biscuits. Everyone’s got these patterns and habits.

“You can’t really be a writer and not be interested in – and I don’t mean just a comedy writer, because I write other stuff as well – I don’t think you can be a writer and write about humans and the human condition and not be interested in why we think like we do and where those thoughts come from.”

Jo is previewing iScream at the London Theatre in New Cross this Thursday, then at the Leicester Square Theatre on Good Friday.

Rather obviously, I asked her: “What if you get crucified?”

“I will rise again on the third day and do another show on the Monday,” she told me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Psychology, Theatre, Writing

An actress: delicious, dateless, banned

Nicole Harvey - Delicious & Dateless

Nicole Harvey – Delicious & Dateless in Edinburgh last year“

“Is it your real name?” I asked actress Nicole Harvey last week.

“Yes.”

“It’s not just Harvey Nichols back-to-front?”

“No.”

I saw Nicole in the Freestival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, performing her show Delicious and Dateless about her love life.

“Any luck in love in Edinburgh?” I asked.

“I did wonder if people would interpret it as an advert,” she replied, “but they didn’t. Audience-wise, there were lots of middle-aged, Middle England, 40+ couples who just ‘do’ the Edinburgh Fringe. And I had younger girls in their 20s going Mmm, she’s right. It IS like this.

“I just did two weeks at the Fringe because my birthday was in the middle of the month and I went on holiday with my mum – I’d not performed at Edinburgh before and I thought I might be playing to three people looking bored so I had thought I might be quite glad to escape. But, as it turned out, I had full houses and ended up having to move to a bigger room… I didn’t get any reviews, though, because my run was short.”

“Are you going back to Edinburgh again this year?” I asked.

Nicole Harvey

Nicole Harvey – in Soho last week

“No. But I’m doing Delicious and Dateless at the Brighton Fringe in May – I managed to get evening slots in the first two weekends and Brighton is nearer to home and warmer than Edinburgh. I remember having to buy vests and socks in Edinburgh because it was hailing.”

“You sound very posh,” I said.

“I went to Harrogate Grammar School,” Nicole told me. “I remember auditioning for Bugsy Malone and getting the part of Tallulah but then they didn’t even bother to stage it, because creativity was not deemed ‘important’. It was literally: If you’re thick, go and be a hairdresser; if you’re smart, work in a bank or be a diplomat.”

“So you…?” I asked.

“I was on the debating team. I believed in justice. I was naive. I wanted to work for the UN and save the world. So I went and studied law at Bristol University.”

“Being in court is a form of acting,” I suggested.

“Well, I thought being a barrister would have been interesting, but everything I found interesting in law had a human element in it. When you’re in it as a career, though, everything has to be black or white; there’s no grey. I nearly did an MA in medical ethics because it’s all grey, it’s all fascinating.”

“I am,” I said, “not a great admirer of the English legal system.”

“It was a three-year course,” said Nicole. “At the end of the first year, I knew I wanted to change my degree, but my dad said No.”

“Why did you want to change it?” I asked.

“Because I realised I had been very naive, believing in justice and idealism… and the legal system is nothing to do with that. I was a country girl. I grew up just outside Harrogate; we always lived in villages.”

“Still sounds very posh,” I said.

“But there wasn’t even a village shop. I grew up with my horse.”

Nicole Harvey grew up with her horse

Nicole Harvey grew up near Harrogate… with her horse

“What did your father do?”

“Just lots of very traditional things. Personnel Director and Distribution Director and things.”

“Did your mother work?”

“She was around and then, when my younger brother grew up, she worked in a doctor’s surgery because she wanted something to keep her busy. In fact, she is really talented at water colours, but it’s quite a solitary pursuit so she doesn’t do it. She has not really found her purpose since we all fled the nest.”

“You sound,” I said, “like you really did want to flee the nest.”

“I lived in Paris when I was younger and worked in distribution – buying and selling TV rights. And I worked in TV production here.”

“For Avalon and the trendy Planet 24 production company,” I said.

“Yes. Planet 24 had a legal show they wanted to do, so I was a researcher on that.”

“How had you got that?” I asked.

Nicole Harvey publicity pic

Nicole Harvey – TV producer or dolly bird?

“It was the summer of finishing my degree and I’d devised this big fashion show for the NSPCC. Then I’d gone and done some presenting at HTV in Bristol.

“I really enjoy making documentaries and I’ve done some TV anchor stuff, but I don’t see where I fit into telly. You either need a specialist subject – which I don’t; I’ve done lots of different things – or be a hostess dolly and I realised as a producer, seeing the bigger picture, getting the deals – all of that – I’m good at. But crunching numbers in Excel I’m not that good at.”

“You sound like your mother,” I said. “As if you haven’t found your exact thing yet.”

“Well, we’re talking about my past,” explained Nicole. “What I feel now is a good ‘fit’ is being able to write my own stuff and perform it and get it made. It’s firing on all cylinders now because I’m a ‘doer’. I have the performance side, but I’ve also got this practical, resourceful nature. It’s satisfying to get stuff done and make things happen.

“I’m on my second wind as an actress. As a younger actress, it’s all Get yer kit off,  cry, don’t say very much, be the pretty girlfriend. Which is not very fulfilling. Whereas, when you are slightly older, you get a chance to play The Lawyer or whatever.

“I think the first time round, I just didn’t try hard enough with acting. I trusted the wrong people and made a lot of shit decisions. I wasn’t very grounded and didn’t have a lot of self-belief. Whereas now I think I’m in a better place and that comes with age. I’m comfortable in my skin.”

“To me,” I said, “you seem perfect for TV.”

Footballers Wives - a lucky escape

Footballers Wives – a lucky escape

“I’ve only had a few TV auditions in my life. I was pencilled to play the lead in a spin-off of Footballers’ Wives called Extra Time. They’d asked me how I felt about on-screen nudity and I’d said: Well, if it’s story-appropriate, it’s something you deal with. If it’s gratuitous, then I’m not so down with it. Then, of course, the whole angle was gratuitous. I watched an episode and the character I would have played was spread-eagled, getting banged by a 60-year-old dad.

“So I tried to move to the States. In Britain at the time, they were all: Well, you look like a leading lady, but you haven’t got the CV because you didn’t do the drama school thing and you’re too young for character stuff. We don’t know what to do with you.

“So I thought: Well, in the States, being attractive is not held against you. I thought: Fuck it, I’ll go there and feel like I’m on holiday every day. But I got deported for waitressing illegally for two weeks in Los Angeles.”

“Surely,” I said, “half the acting profession is illegally waitressing in Los Angeles?”

“You would think so,” agreed Nicole. “In my show, I say it’s a case of: How dare they! These foreigners coming over and taking the Mexicans’ jobs!… Basically that broke my heart more than all the boys I’ve ever met.”

Nicole Harvey - banned from US for 5 years - but not for this

Nicole Harvey – banned from US for 5 years – but not for this

“Can you go back to the US?”

“I was banned for 5 years – that was 12 years ago. Back then I enjoyed acting because I escaped reality – Why would I want to be in some kitchen sink drama? – but I don’t think I look desperately right for period drama, except maybe Poirot.”

“Why not period drama?” I asked.

“They usually pick brunettes and they usually pick… I dunno. I think I look more modern than English rose… After L.A., I ran off to Buenos Aires for a bit.”

“Why Buenos Aires?”

“They like horses; they speak Spanish; I had an agent for commercials and the rand had got strong in South Africa so they were using Buenos Aires cos it looks like a European city.”

“Was there a Spaniard involved in this?”

“Yes, it’s in my show. I thought I’d get kidnapped by some handsome hunk but I met an evil dwarf instead.”

“So now, comedy,” I said.

“When you’re acting,” explained Nicole, “all the things you work on are all about screaming at each other and crying, so comedy is a bit of a revelation for me. I started with this monologue – and then I thought: Mmmm. Each of those points could almost be content for a webisode.”

“Why webisodes?”

“It’s nice to be creative and to be seen.”

Nicole’s first webisode is currently on YouTube.

“So,” I said, “there’s your one-hour show and upcoming webisodes… but not stand-up comedy as such.”

“I did pop my 10-minute spot cherry in Edinburgh,” said Nicole, “but, because I wasn’t talking about my periods, I didn’t really fit in.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Edinburgh

Kate Cook – Potential Lady Macbeth with a pipe and an invisible wooden leg

Kate Cook at Soho Theatre

Kate Cook talked about her invisible woman at Soho Theatre

“I did comedy for two years and then I stopped because my sister died and I stopped finding anything funny,” actress and comedian Kate Cook told me.

“But didn’t you have to laugh because it was so awful?” I said. “As catharsis?”

“I tried. But I stopped doing comedy and then it was difficult to get back into it psychologically – dragging myself out there again. But, now I am doing it again, I’m really loving it.”

I met Kate Cook at the Soho Theatre Bar in London.

“You are an actress and a stand-up,” I said: “Kate Copstick recently told me she could never be a stand-up comic, because you have to be yourself. Actors are the opposite.”

“I have to say,” Kate Cook said, “that I do find it very difficult being myself when I’m doing stand-up comedy – to just be myself and to tear down that barrier between me and the audience.”

“I think,” I suggested, “that you can very often tell the difference between someone who is a comedian by nature and an actor who is performing as a comedian.”

“I suppose,” suggested Kate, “that comedians do act the comedy differently. They’re maybe a bit more ramshackle, whereas actors are a bit more prepared and anal and they have to tear down that prepared analness.”

Doodle and Bug were Harriet Williams (left) and Kate Cook

Doodle and Bug were Harriet Williams (left) and Kate Cook

“I think comedians tend to make good actors,”I said, “because it’s all about the timing, but actors sometimes become very cardboard comedians. They spout the lines but there isn’t that genuine madness within them.”

“But there are a few actors on the comedy scene,” said Kate. “So it can work.”

“I’m usually not keen on character comedy,” I said.

“I think in the stand-up comedy scene,” said Kate, “maybe sometimes character doesn’t work so well because the fun of comedy is that it’s so raw and spontaneous and the comedian is connecting with you whereas, with a character, it’s all a bit fourth wally.

“But, if you’re an actress AND do stand-up, they help each other. You get massive confidence from doing stand-up comedy – connecting with the audience.

“I’m going to do a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year called Invisible Woman.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m obsessed by women in World War II…”

“A few years ago,” I said, “you…”

“Yes,” said Kate. “I wrote and devised this thing called Doodle and Bug – I was Lady Penelope Bug. I devised it with my friend Harriet Williams, who is an opera singer. She was my housekeeper Mrs Dorothy Doodle. We did a few cabaret venues and festivals and a couple of spoof Ministry of Information films that are on YouTube.”

“Why the big  interest in World War II?” I asked.

“I love the innocence of the era and I love the heroics of the women. I love all those stories about the Resistance and spies. I’ve been reading the Mass-Observation archive and there’s one diary in that I really love – This well-to-do woman who lives in Maida Vale and she’s a widow with two children and she loved the War. She really found it thrilling and exciting and was desperate to help but kept getting thwarted. She failed her ambulance-driving test. You would think they’d be so desperate they would take anyone. She had servants and she was always horrible about her servants.”

“Is she in your play?”

“I wanted her to be, but she’s not a very likeable protagonist. So I have turned her into a man and made the whole show about his downtrodden housewife who then becomes a spy for the Resistance.”

Kate Cook - Invisible Woman

Cross-dressing and invisibility are standard

“This is set in France?” I asked.

“No. They’re a couple who live in London and he has a wooden leg because he is a World War I veteran. And he’s a bully and they have a 15-year-old daughter who’s a bit of a dreamer. The woman can’t get a job and the husband sends her away to stay with her mother and while she’s there – because she’s half-French – she gets spotted by the War Office and becomes a spy for the Resistance, where she finds love, freedom and adventure. Meanwhile, the one-legged husband is trapping the daughter.”

“You play the wife?” I asked.

“No. I’m going to play everybody except the main character – the Invisible Woman. She never appears. She is brought to life by everyone around her.”

“So the characters you play,” I said, “include the one-legged husband – always good value for money in a comedy. Do you have any previous experience of playing one-legged husbands?”

“No,” laughed Kate, “But it’s always been my dream.”

“To be a one-legged man?” I asked.

“Yeah. And I’m going to have a pipe as well. I’m developing the play with Gerry Flanagan, the Artistic Director of Shifting Sands Theatre.

“I’ve written the story and we’re going to pull it apart and make it come to life for the stage. There are two previews of it at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in London in March and I’m taking it Brighton Fringe for three days in May. Then it’s at Just The Tonic at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.”

“Does the audience see the wooden leg?” I asked.

“No. They imagine it. This whole play is about imagining. You’re imagining the main character. You’re imagining the adventure.”

Kate Cook at Soho Theatre

Kate Cook – a phone + an interesting concept

“The invisible woman is never present?” I asked.

“She’s there,” explained Kate. “She’s there throughout, but everyone is reacting to her. The audience will be the invisible woman. At the beginning, her husband is talking to her. Then she goes off and her mother is talking to her and she goes over to France and is interviewed and…”

“So,” I said, “ when her husband is talking to her, he is talking to the audience?”

“Yes. That’s the idea.”

“So she and the audience are the object of monologues?”

“Except,” explained Kate, “that, occasionally, I play two or three characters talking to one and other.”

“So how long have you been in therapy?” I asked.

“Maybe,” laughed Kate, “this is working as therapy.”

“How is the other acting going?” I asked.

Word Weather

Weird Weather – coming soon to a Vault

“I’m doing a play in March at the Vault Festival in London. It’s a play called Weird Weather, written by Matt Cunningham.”

“Are you playing the title role?” I asked.

“No,” said Kate. “It’s about love, relationships, family and teenage angst, but it’s funny. It’s a funny play. Matt is a good writer.”

“Do you prefer comic acting?” I asked. “I can see you as Lady Macbeth.”

“That would be good,” said Kate. “I would like to be really evil or funny.”

“You have the dark looks of The Wicked Queen in Snow White,” I suggested.

“Spot on,” said Kate. “Sorted.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Theatre, World War II