20 Questions With...Rachel Leskovac
Date: 11 March 2002
Actress Rachel Leskovac, Olivier-nominated for the musical Spend Spend Spend, makes her 'straight' theatre debut this week in Frame 312 at the Donmar Warehouse. She talks about JFK, conspiracies & Stephen Sondheim.
Bradford born and raised, actress Rachel Leskovac made her West End debut in 1999 playing a fellow Yorkshire lass in Spend Spend Spend.
The homegrown musical told the story of Viv Nicholson who, in the 1960s, famously won a fortune in the Pools and then lost it all in a frenzied spending spree. Spend Spend Spend proved a hit in London, and later on tour, winning both the Critics' Circle and Evening Standard Awards for Best Musical as well as eight Laurence Olivier nominations.
For her part as 'young Viv', Leskovac was nominated for the Best Actress in a Musical Olivier, only losing out to her co-star, veteran Barbara Dickson who played 'old Viv'.
Leskovac's other stage credits to date have included Annie, Bugsy Malone, Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; while on television she has appeared in Heartbeat, Where the Heart Is, North Square and Peak Practice.
This week, the actress takes on her first play, Keith Reddin's Frame 312, which opens this week at the Donmar Warehouse as part of the theatre's annual American Imports season.
Date & place of birth
Born 5 June 1976 in Bradford, Yorkshire.
Now lives in...
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, founded by Paul McCartney
First big break
Spend Spend Spend, which I did in the West End and then on tour. Playing young Viv is a real showcase for any actress. There's such a wide range of emotions and you get to age as well, starting as a 16-year-old and ending up in your 40s. Lots of people saw the show too because it was a new musical. I miss the show very much.
Meeting Stephen Sondheim. He came one night to see Spend Spend Spend and I met him after the show. I was very excited. He's a genius, and he said Spend was one of best British musicals he'd ever seen. The Oliviers that year was a nice time for me; being nominated, I felt like my hard work had paid off. This production of Frame 312 is also a highlight. I've always respected the work at the Donmar; I can't believe I'm going to be working there. And I'm really looking forward to meeting Philip Seymour Hoffman (who is directing Jesus Hopped the A Train, in repertory with Frame 312). I'm a massive fan of his.
Barbara Dickson. She is just the most wonderful person, so lovely; it's impossible not to gush about her. She's a very strong and centred woman who's got all her priorities right. She's also very professional, generous and warm. Who doesn't want to be like that? More recently, I've worked with Celia Imrie on Heartbeat. She's such a great actress and very inspirational. We had a scene together in which we were allowed to improvise and it was fun playing off her. She's very creative and funny; she stretches herself and pushes you to do the same.
Jeremy Sams. He gave me a lot of freedom doing Spend and allowed me to find my own way with the character. He's very inventive and quite off the wall sometimes, which certainly keeps you on the ball. I'm also enjoying working with Josie Rourke on Frame 312. She shares a lot of similar qualities with Jeremy. She's very bright and always one step ahead which makes you feel very safe as an actor.
What roles would you most like to play?
I don't like to say. I like to do whatever comes along.
What was the best thing you last saw at the theatre?
Privates on Parade at the Donmar. I really liked that.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
It's important for people to be able to escape their everyday lives, which is what theatre is all about. I think the government should promote theatre in a more positive way, not as something that's elitist. Theatre's for everybody.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Marilyn Monroe or Doris Day. They got to do all those great movies. Doris Day in particular is such a great icon. She worked with so many great actors and was adored by so many people.
Favourite holiday destination
The Lake District
I quite like www.fish4.co.uk. I've used it to look for a new car and also to see what kind of houses are on the market.
Why did you want to accept your role in Frame 312?
When I finished doing Spend, I was hoping to do something very different. I didn't want to be typecast, especially with being a native Yorkshire girl (like her character Viv Nicholson in Spend). Many people expected me to do that kind of role again or another musical. But my ambition is always to give myself new challenges, and I think it's good for people to see you in a different light. Frame 312 is totally different to what people have seen me do before. Lynette is a really intense character, and her journey is so interesting.
How different do you find doing a play as opposed to a musical?
With musicals, you've got to be aware of your health because stamina is such a big part of being able to sing every night. That's not so true with a play, but mentally, you've got to be prepared in a different way. Plays are much more focused; you can't rely on the music to carry the story along and, especially in smaller space like the Donmar, you've really got to pay attention to the detail. Still, the crossover between plays and musicals isn't that difficult; they're both acting. Some people think musicals aren't 'proper' acting, but good musicals should allow an actor to become a character, just as in a play. You've got to know your journey from start to finish.
How much did you know about the Kennedy assassination before Frame 312?
Obviously it was before my time, so not much. I'd watched JFK the movie, and I really took to Oliver Stone's viewpoint. That film opens your eyes. It makes you realise how much the public want to know the truth and yet, at the same time, to not know it as well. There's a line that you cross when you think, okay, I don't want to know anymore, I want to go back to how things were before and get my own life. It's almost too big to talk about.
Who do you think killed the president?
I don't know, but I'm very suspicious about the assumption that he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald on his own. Having now watched the Zapruder film carefully, the whole 'magic bullet' theory is ridiculous. I can't believe that, at the time, such conclusions by the Warren Commission were accepted by people. It's really dodgy. It makes you think - could that sort of cover-up happen over here? Has it already happened? It gets you really paranoid. It's like with my character in the play, who keeps thinking, "If they can do that, what can they do to me? Who am I?"
What's your favourite line from Frame 312?
"I could learn to love martinis, they make you feel..."
What's the oddest thing that has happened during rehearsals for Frame 312?
We've been rehearsing in a church hall in Kennington. One day, Nicky Henson and I were doing a very serious scene when we were interrupted by this old dear who wandered in to keep herself warm and then started chatting and helped herself to a cup of tea. A few minutes later a homeless person came in too.
What are your plans for the future?
First off, I'm going back to TV for Where the Heart Is. I've got some more episodes to film. After that, who knows?
Will you return to the stage?
Oh yes. I do prefer doing theatre to television. My experiences in the theatre have all been so fantastic. I haven't had any TV job to match up to it yet. The feeling, the immediacy, the adrenaline that goes through you - being on stage is the best feeling.
- Rachel Leskovac was speaking to Terri Paddock
Frame 312 opens at the Donmar Warehouse on 14 March 2002 (previews from 11 March) and continues to 30 March, as part of the theatre's annual American Imports season, featuring premieres of five new American plays over five months.