|Victoria Hamilton in Home & Beauty|
20 Questions With...Victoria Hamilton
Date: 28 October 2002
Whatsonstage.com’s Best Actress Victoria Hamilton, who opens Somerset Maugham’s comedy Home & Beauty this week in the West End, explains how Eddie Izzard has helped her out of her classical phase & into laughter.
Victoria Hamilton certainly has the knack for making an impression on awards judges. In her brief career to date, she’s already received the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Newcomer, the Critics’ Circle and TMA Awards for Best Actress, a Laurence Olivier nomination for Best Actress and, last but not least, the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Actress.
And those awards only cover three of her stage appearances - Retreat, As You Like It and last year’s A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.
Her other numerous theatre credits – for the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Almeida, in the West End and elsewhere – include King Lear, Summerfolk, Money, Troilus and Cressida, The Provoked Wife, The Country Wife, The Doctor’s Dilemma, The Master Builder, Memorandum and The Seagull.
On film and television, Hamilton has appeared in Before You Go, Victoria and Albert, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Goodbye Mr Chips, Babyfather and The Savages.
The actress is currently starring, opposite Jamie Theakston, in the West End revival of Somerset Maugham’s bigamist comedy Home and Beauty, which has a limited run at the Lyric Theatre. In early 2003, she and Eddie Izzard will accompany A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in its Broadway transfer.
Date & place of birth
Born 5 April 1971 in Wimbledon, south London.
Lives now in...
Tufnell Park, north London.
First big break
My first theatre job was in a two-hander, with Tim Piggot-Smith, called Retreat at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. Peter Hall's casting director came to see it and then asked me to read for a production of Ibsen's The Master Builder which went into the Theatre Royal Haymarket (for which Hamilton won the Critics' Circle Award for Best Newcomer).
Career highlights to date
Playing Rosalyn in Michael Grandage's production of As You Like It (for which Hamilton won the TMA and Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Actress). Doing A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, first with Clive Owen and then with Eddie Izzard (for which Hamilton won the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Actress). Also on stage, I'm now having a fantastic time doing Home and Beauty. And on telly, Victoria and Albert was wonderful. In fact, I've enjoyed most of the productions I've done. I still can't quite believe people keep paying me to act!
Loads! Definitely Eddie Izzard. Also Ian Holm, Joseph Fiennes, Nigel Hawthorne and Penelope Wilton. The list just goes on.
Again, there are many. I've done lots with Peter Hall, Richard Eyre is wonderful and Christopher Luscombe (who's directing Home and Beauty) is great for comedy. But top of my list must be Michael Grandage. He is extraordinary. He creates an atmosphere in the rehearsal room that takes away people's fears. He's also totally unpretentious, only concerned with finding the truth of the play and the character. He's a hugely gifted man and his energy is incredible. I'm absolutely sure Michael will succeed in luring me to the Donmar now that he's running it. I definitely want to do it, but it's finding the time in our schedules - we've been trying to plan a project together for two years now!
Now that list really could go on forever. I love Chekhov, Shakespeare and Ibsen best as far as the classics go. As for modern writers, Harold Pinter, Patrick Marber...and so many more!
What roles would you most like to play still?
Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and one of those wonderful women that Tennessee Williams writes. I'd also like to do some new stuff. I have a great passion for new writing though I've done mainly classical to date.
Why is it that you've done mainly classical theatre?
It was a conscious decision. When I left drama school, I looked around at the actresses I most admired, people like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, and I noticed that they'd all started in classical theatre. So I decided to do nothing but that for five years. I really believe it's the best grounding you can get and I've learned so much. Now I feel ready to take on other things as well. Anything to get me out of corsets!
How do you feel about film & television work versus theatre?
Television and film has only really started to happen for me over the past couple of years. I've been lucky as most of what I've done have been genuinely good scripts with good directors so it's been a nice springboard. The fact is, as an actor, you need to do telly to live. You can live on theatre while you're working but once you stop working, you can't get by. Still, I'll always come back to theatre. It isn't that I think film or television is a lesser art form, but theatre is an actor's real workout, it's where you learn most. I'd ideally like a balance between the two.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
As a kid, I thought I'd be either a writer or a psychiatrist. Psychiatry, because I'm fascinated by the way people mind's work - most actors are - and writing was just what I loved. If there's such a thing as dyslexia with numbers, I've got it, but words I’m good with. I would still love to get the courage up to write one day. It's a terrifying prospect, though. Writing is such a brave, personal thing to do. When you're acting, you may be the one up there, but you're only pretending to be someone else. When you write, you're opening yourself up to criticism, it's much more personal. If I were to write, I think I'd like to start with comedy.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Afterplay. Penelope Wilton and John Hurt are two of my favourite actors, although I'd never actually seen him on stage before. They were wonderful to watch.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Keep giving us more money, I guess. I also agree with some of the things Andrew Lloyd Webber has been saying about the West End. Transport-wise, London is just up the spout. And coming out of the Lyric Theatre after a night's performance of Home and Beauty is not a nice experience. Soho is filthy and feels dangerous. And it seems to be getting worse. London is such a beautiful city - it's sad to see it becoming like this.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
I'd be a man, any man, just for a day. Just to know what it's like.
At the moment, I'm reading everything ever written by or about Charlotte Bronte. I'm going to be playing her in a new BBC film called Searching for the Brontes. They were such an interesting family - all extremely precocious, brilliant children. The things that Charlotte Bronte was writing even at the age of seven were amazing.
Favourite holiday destinations
Earlier this year, my best friend and I went riding across the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia, but that wasn't terribly relaxing. There are two places I've always wanted to go: India and Africa.
Favourite after-show haunts
I'm a member of Blacks, which I love. I tend to always end up either there, Soho House, the Groucho Club or Teatro.
Why did you want to accept your role in Home and Beauty?
I wanted to do a good comedy. Apart from Joe Egg and one Restoration comedy years ago, I've done mostly drama. I think that's because my first two jobs were dramatic, so people kept casting me along those lines. But working with Eddie Izzard made me fall in love again with making people laugh. I love high comedy and playing a monster.
How does Home and Beauty compare to other Somerset Maugham works?
I was amazed with Home and Beauty because it's genuinely not what you'd expect. The play is like three episodes of Fawlty Towers back to back. Maugham wrote it when he was very ill, but he was obviously in a good mood - all he wanted to do was make people laugh. You can't believe this is by the same person who wrote Of Human Bondage. When I'm playing it, I can feel the audience being surprised.
Why do you think Maugham's plays are currently in vogue?
It's funny how playwrights come in and out of fashion, isn't it? I think it's just a knock-on effect. One director puts on a production and then every other director takes notice.
What's your favourite line from Home and Beauty?
"Women are scarce in Manitoba." You won't get it unless you see the play, of course. There are loads of corkers, though. He's a bit like Wilde in that way, with gems of one-liners about every 15 lines or so.
What's the funniest thing that has happened during rehearsals/performances to date of Home and Beauty?
Rehearsals have been a giggle but hard work. When watching Home and Beauty, you should just think we're all having great fun - and we are - but we've also been incredibly disciplined. We've analysed every single line. If you get the stress and the music just right, you get the laugh; if not, you don't. It's very difficult. It's also quite physically demanding. High comedy means high energy. We come back to the dressing rooms and the boys are dripping with sweat. This production is keeping us all fit.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm in Home and Beauty until 11 January 2003, at the same time as filming Searching for the Brontes during the day. Then we're taking Joe Egg to New York for six months from 11 February. Eddie and I are the only London cast members going and really the only reason I'm getting to go is because of Ben Brantley (the theatre critic for the New York Times). Though Eddie is known in the States for his comedy, I'm not nearly famous enough to qualify for American Equity's exchange rules. But Ben Brantley came to London, saw Eddie and me in the play and wrote a rave review.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Yes, I want to say thank you again for the Whatsonstage.com Award you gave me for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. I was really thrilled, especially because it had been voted for by theatregoers.
- Victoria Hamilton was speaking to Terri Paddock
Home and Beauty, directed by Christopher Luscombe, opens at the West End's Lyric Theatre on 29 October 2002, following previews from 15 October.
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