20 Questions With...Marcia Warren
Date: 10 February 2003
Actress Marcia Warren, who this week follows her Olivier Award-winning turn in Humble Boy with classic comedy Arsenic & Old Lace, describes the joys of rehearsal, gardening & being Judi Dench.
During her extensive acting career, Marcia Warren has won two Laurence Olivier Awards; played seasons with every major rep company in the UK, including a year at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre and four with the Bristol Old Vic; appeared in numerous television series such as Keeping Up Appearances, Dangerfield, Leaving, Just William and No Place Like Home; and recorded more than 100 dramas for radio, her favourite medium.
Warren was most recently seen on the London stage in Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy, which in 2002 won the actress her second Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress. She last claimed that same honour in 1984 for her performance in Stepping Out and was also nominated in 2001 for another Jones play, In Flame.
Amongst Warren's other notable stage turns are: in the West End, Joking Apart, Seasons Greetings, Blithe Spirit, Pygmalion, The Weekend, Family Affair and True West; at the National Theatre with Alan Ayckbourn's company, A Small Family Business, Tons of Money and Visiting Hour; and regionally, Nude with Violin, The Importance of Being Earnest (Manchester Royal Exchange), The Lady in the Van (Birmingham Rep), Gym and Tonic, Lettice and Lovage and Happy Families (on tour).
In addition to various television series, Warren's screen credits include the soon-to-be-released Gladiatress and Unconditional Love, with Rupert Everett and Kathy Bates.
Meanwhile, this month, she opens in the West End revival of classic Broadway comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace, at the Strand Theatre. Directed by Matthew Francis, the production also stars Thelma Barlow, Stephen Tompkinson and American Michael Richards, best known as Kramer from TV's Seinfeld.
Date & place of birth
Watford in Hertfordshire quite awhile ago now.
Lives now in...
Richmond in beautiful Surrey.
Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
First big break
Getting into Guildhall was quite a break. Later, I suppose it would be getting an Olivier for Stepping Out. That's when people really started to take notice, especially as I was tap-dancing well past an age when I should have been.
Career highlights to date
I could work for the rest of my life at the National Theatre, that's always a highlight. The standards are so high - really, really high - and you're doing a lot of new plays. I don't have any plans to return there at the moment; they need to have the plan for me first. I've only done four or five plays there over the year, three of which was with Alan Ayckbourn's company. I like to work with wonderful directors and actors. That always gives me a great great thrill. And I still get quite starstruck. I've just done a film in Chicago called Unconditional Love, which was with Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett and Kathy Bates. That suited me down to the ground.
What do awards mean to you?
It's absolutely fantastic to win awards, but it's really nothing to do you. It depends on the material you're given and the words you get to speak. After the Olivier for Humble Boy last year, I did three films, though I don't know for certain whether that had anything to do with winning.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Humble Boy because of the writing and because people like Simon Russell Beale were in it. That was pretty glorious. I don't know about them being favourite productions, but my favourite parts have been in Loot by Joe Orton, Private Lives and, most of all, Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking. They're all very very funny, and in two of them my character was quite glamorous, which is unusual for me.
Radio is my very favourite thing to do, because you can be anybody and you don't have to raise your voice. I adore listening to radio plays. I think everybody must really because the scenery's so good.
Certainly Simon Russell Beale. I'm working at the moment with Michael Richards who's just marvellous to watch and he works so hard. There are very few people I've worked with who haven't been good.
Matthew Warchus, John Caird and my director at the moment, Matthew Francis, who has worked very hard on the text. And Alan Ayckbourn doing his own plays is a revelation. He doesn't say a lot, but he's such a wonderful observer.
Charlotte Jones, Joe Orton, Mr Shakespeare and Mr Ayckbourn.
What roles would you most like to play still?
I wish I weren't too old for Rosalind in As You Like It. And I'd like to do more Chekhov please, if you can arrange it. And I'd like to do Relatively Speaking again. It's the perfectly made play and really funny.
Has the theatre industry changed since you started your acting career?
Television has changed. We don't rehearse anymore. It's awful; really, really sad. The more you rehearse, the better something becomes, but television's all about money now and time is money. I suppose with theatre, there are so many more fringe and smaller theatres now and the proscenium venue has faded a bit, particularly for young people. And the rep system has fallen apart. But basically, no, theatre hasn't changed. We still do Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov as much as ever.
Why do you like to return to the stage after screen work?
You know more what you are doing in theatre, and your bit isn't ever going to be cut out and left on the floor. You can be seen, too, without having to worry about where the camera is, and the scenes are long. Television is short and sharp these days. They think the audience's attention span is so tiny. I have just done an amazing film called Gladiatress. I was a queen wearing an afghan carpet and covered in mud. That was fun. But I adore rehearsing so theatre is the thing. I don't like the actual performance so much because you have to get it right then. But in rehearsals, I love seeing the different ways you can do each scene, how you can change things by a slightly different move or a different inflection. Of course, that depends on a very good director.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
The Tempest with Derek Jacobi, I adored. I've never understood the play properly before, even though I've seen it with Gielgud.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
We just need a lot of money for it to be good as possible. Theatre is such a medicine for people. I want more young people to be able to come and not have to the pay enormous sums like they do in the West End these days.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Judi Dench please. She's a glorious person and I'd like to see what her day's like, how many jobs she turns down and such. It must be interesting to be at the very height of your profession, revered by all your peers.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. And my favourite film is Brief Encounter.
Favourite holiday destination
France, all the time. Because of the food, the style and the language.
Favourite after-show haunt
Do you know, I never go out after the show because I'm worried about the show the next day. But if I was asked and was brave enough to go, it'd have to be the Ivy.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I'd have been a gardener - I love it. I spend too much time in my garden in Richmond. It's my favourite room.
Why did you want to accept your part in Arsenic and Old Lace in particular?
Strangely, Thelma Barlow and I have known each other for nearly 40 years. We knew it'd be such fun to do this together. There are so many shortcuts to acting if you know someone very well. And it's a glorious play.
What's the secret to an enduring stage comedy like this one?
Simply something that makes you laugh and has a very good story. It's all about reality. You have to believe the comedy and feel for the people.
In the play, your character helps old men die. Do you have a view on euthanasia?
Ooh, I say. I believe in miracles, that's the trouble. If you do, you daren't take someone's life. My sister died recently, and I did pray for her to die because she was in such a miserable state, but I couldn't have done it myself.
What's the funniest thing that's happened in rehearsals of Arsenic and Old Lace?
The two aunts are dressed all in black, like a double blackout. One of the lines is: "And go to bed you two, you look like Judith Anderson." But nobody knows who Judith Anderson is anymore. Do you know? She played Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. We've changed the line to: "And go to bed you two, you look like Edgar Allen Poe's appreciation society." Let's hope people know who Edgar Allen Poe is!
What are your plans for the future?
To retire to the country - preferably, Dorset - and have a lovely garden. So you'd better catch me now in case I go off early.
Arsenic and Old Lace opens at the West End's Strand Theatre on 25 February 2003, following previews from 14 February.