20 Questions With...Samantha Spiro
Date: 8 April 2002
Actress Samantha Spiro, last year's Whatsonstage.com Best Actress in a Musical for Merrily We Roll Along, is now grappling with the challenges of Richard Briers, Rome & Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce, opening this week.
Actress Samantha Spiro started acting at the age of ten and hasn't looked back since - and the world of theatre is all the richer for it.
Although Spiro has appeared regularly on television (in series such as Cold Feet, The Knock and The Bill) and on film (Beyond Bedlam, Cor Blimey, From Hell), it's on stage that she's really made her mark.
Her theatre credits include Cleo Camping Emmanuelle and Dick, As You Like It, Jumpers, Teechers, The Tragic Roundabout, Roots, On the Piste, How the Other Half Loves, Glyn and It.
In 2002, she made her musical debut in Michael Grandage's production of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar Warehouse. The production won numerous awards, while Spiro won both a Laurence Olivier and a Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
Spiro is now appearing - alongside Richard Briers and June Whitfield - in the first West End revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 1975 comedy Bedroom Farce, which opens at the Aldwych Theatre on 8 April 2002.
Date & place of birth
Born 20 June 1968 in London.
Lives now in... Queen's Park, north London.
First big break
In terms of opening doors, it was playing Barbara Windsor in Cleo Camping Emmanuelle and Dick (NT Olivier, 1998).
Career highlights to date
Working with Michael Grandage (As You Like It at the Sheffield Crucible/Lyric Hammersmith in 2000 and Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar Warehouse in 2000/2001). That's been my best experience as an actress so far. Michael is a master.
What impact did the many awards for Merrily We Roll Along have for you?
It's quite tricky to put into words. After finishing a production like that, you just don't know which made the big impact - the production itself or the awards? It certainly doesn't do any harm to win awards. And, at the time, winning feels like the most important thing in the world. A couple of months later, you get a bit of perspective. It's just really nice to have the recognition and to be able to think, great, I've achieved that now. Whatever happens, at least you've got that honour to keep forever.
Also, I'd like to say thanks to Whatsonstage.com for your award last year - it was very nice.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Merrily We Roll Along, Cleo Camping Emmanuelle and Dick and As You Like It.
Daniel Evans (from Merrily We Roll Along), Adam Godley (from Cleo Camping Emmanuelle and Dick) and Victoria Hamilton (from As You Like It). They're wonderful, generous actors who you can just have a good time with.
Michael Grandage. He does so much work before you start and has a total understanding of how the production is going to be. He has amazing vision. And he works very closely with the choreographer or designer to give you a lot of freedom but with a safety net at the same time. Michael also really knows how to use the text and he puts trust in you as an actor. Terry Johnson (Cleo Camping Emmanuelle and Dick) was fantastic to work with, too, and I'd love to work with him again.
Shakespeare - it sounds a bit naff but it has to be. Alan Ayckbourn (who wrote Bedroom Farce) came in to see us the other day; he's pretty damn clever as well. And Terry Johnson (Cleo Camping Emmanuelle and Dick) is brilliant. They all understand the human condition and they write wonderful characters.
What roles would you most like to play still?
You always want to go on to do the opposite of whatever you're doing at the moment. It might be nice to do something quite Russian next. There are so many brilliant roles. I'll take whichever comes along. There's not a definite plan for the rest of my career. If you plan, you're probably going to be disappointed because nothing ever goes in the direction you think it will.
What do you enjoy about working in theatre as opposed to television or film?
The rehearsal process. That's something you don't have in television or film unless you're really lucky or really famous. In rehearsals for a stage production, you develop a great relationship with the other actors. You feel like you become a family. As a result, the work is that much more in depth. Also, because you're playing it night after night, you can continue to work on your performance and you have a lot more control. With screen work, you could end up on the cutting room floor or be edited in ways you don't even contemplate. And of course, theatre is wonderful because it's live and you get immediate feedback. That's very rewarding.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Nightsongs, which I saw recently at the Royal Court left me absolutely devastated. It got very mixed reviews. Some people obviously didn't get it, which is a shame for them because I was so moved by it.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Money should go into building up the reps and developing new writing. The studio spaces of each of the reps should concentrate on new writing. Money is needed to encourage playwrights to keep writing for the stage rather than go into TV and film.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I have no idea. I'd have probably been a dog walker because I'm mad about dogs. But really I couldn't do another job, I'm not very good at anything else. I was far too young, only ten, when I made the decision to act but I don't regret it at all. There've been highs and lows but I've been very happy.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Maybe an actress from another era. There have been times when it's been easier to be an actor, when you could rely on working all the time. When the rep system was going, actors could just do one play after another. Now your career is so diverse, you do lots of bits and bobs. It's never just theatre anymore because that isn't a secure enough lifestyle. If I could make a living out of it, I'd probably only do theatre. But that's not possible.
I've just finished True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey and really enjoyed it, so that's probably my favourite at the moment.
Favourite after-show haunt
Out of the stage door and find the nearest pub.
Favourite holiday destination
I've just come back from Mauritius, where I went for my honeymoon. It was the most beautiful and romantic place, shame it was only for a week.
Why especially did you want to accept your role in Bedroom Farce?
I do think it's a really good play. I did it at drama school where I played Kate. Now I'm playing Jan, who's a bit more of a grown-up. It's not a part I would have automatically cast myself in so that's interesting to me. It's also a fantastic cast; I am very excited to work with all of them.
What special challenges, if any, do you think there are with a farce?
There are unique challenges. You've got to make the people real - it's the situation they find themselves in that is farcical. You've got to be straight and believable so that the audience are absolutely pulling their hair out once the situation becomes apparent to them.
What's your favourite line from Bedroom Farce?
It's just one word that Richard Briers says - every time he says it, we have to try and keep a straight face. The word is 'Rome'. It's the way he says it. How can a person make one word sound so funny?
What's the funniest thing that happened during rehearsals for Bedroom Farce?
Rehearsals were quite giggly. But just before we opened in Guildford, it started to take on the feeling of a morgue. At that point, you really need an audience because nobody in the company is laughing anymore; we've heard it all so many times.
- Samantha Spiro was speaking to Terri Paddock
Following brief engagements in Guildford and Richmond, Bedroom Farce opens at the West End's Aldywch Theatre on 8 April 2002.