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:
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.