20 Questions With Ö Amanda Drew
Date: 10 September 2007
Actress Amanda Drew Ė who opens this week in the UK premiere of the German play The Ugly One - discusses face transplants, retired greyhounds, life after EastEnders and finding her identity through acting.
In 2003, Amanda Drew was nominated for Outstanding Newcomer in the Evening Standard Awards for her performance as Gertrude in Eastward Ho!, part of the Royal Shakespeare Companyís highly acclaimed Jacobean season which transferred to the West Endís Gielgud Theatre.
But even before being hailed as a Ďnewcomerí, Drew had built up an impressive line of stage credits at the Almeida (Dona Rosita The Spinster), the National (John Gabriel Borkman), the Royal Court (Mr Kolpert), the RSC (Love in a Wood, Jubilee, The Roman Actor, The Malcontent), Chichester Festival (The School of Night) and for renowned touring company Shared Experience (The House of Bernarda Alba).
Since her Newcomer nomination, Drew has gone on to appear in the West End opposite Richard E Grant and Anthony Head in Otherwise Engaged and with Penelope Keith in Blithe Spirit, as well as Enemies at the Almeida and as Emma Bovary in Shared Experienceís spin-off of Madame Bovary, Breakfast with Emma.
In addition, this year sheís become well known to television fans after 87 episodes playing Dr May Wright on BBC soap EastEnders.
Drew is now returning to the stage to star along with Michael Gould in the UK premiere of German playwright Marius von Mayenburgís The Ugly One, which launches the Royal Courtís annual International Playwrights Season in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. Lette thought he was normal. When the extent of his ugliness is revealed, he turns to a plastic surgeon for help. But after the bandages come off, Lette soon learns that there is such a thing as too beautiful.
Date & place of birth
Born 21 December 1969 in Boston, Lincolnshire.
Lives now in
Earlís Court, west London.
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
What made you want to become an actor?
I was always very shy, but I remember at six playing a flower in a play based on an Oscar Wilde story. The imaginative trick of that was so exciting. I also remember inventing and playing stories in the playground. So I always enjoyed storytelling and cloaking myself in characters. My parents moved us to Leicester for work, and I felt lonely there so I joined the youth theatre there and played Charity in Sweet Charity. It was then I started thinking it was something I might be able to do professionally.
Itís funny because this play is very much about identity so Iíve been thinking about this. I think my wanting to be an actor had something to do with feeling that my own identity was fairly insubstantial and there was something so powerful about being a different person. I felt more alive on stage. As Iíve gone on, Iíve learnt that when acting works at its best, itís actually about revealing yourself - youíre not hiding, youíre exposing. So in fact becoming an actor has had the reverse effect of what I expected.
If you hadnít become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
Anything to do with animals. I love animals and enjoy their company immensely. I get very distressed when I hear about cruelty to animals. I adopted my dog Ron from the Retired Greyhound Trust. Iím so glad that awareness is being raised about the thousands of dogs who are discarded each year.
First big break
I donít feel Iíve ever had one. It feels just like a slow continuation of work, which is what I want. I just aim to keep working and doing things that interest me.
Has being on EastEnders changed your life at all?
Very much but not in a way that I find invasive or unpleasant. I was worried about it at first, about having a level of recognition when youíre walking down the street. I left the show in June and I do get recognised about four or five times a day. People might say ďhey doctorĒ, but theyíre always nice and pleasant. I mean, obviously there are a few more people that watch EastEnders than go to see a play at the Royal Court Upstairs! Iím not going back into EastEnders though. I donít want to stay in anything too long, I donít want to cement my image with one character, and I donít want to lose my sense of anonymity.
Favourite productions youíve worked on
When I was at the RSC, I did a Jacobean play called Eastward Ho!, and I loved that because my character was just so extraordinary, so varied and extreme. It was a wonderful release from mundanity to have this journey to go on every night. Sometimes characters come along at the right time to allow you to explore something about yourself that you need to. That happened with my character on EastEnders who went a little crazy, they called her ďMad MayĒ by the end. She was very different from me. She was desperate to have children. Iíve never had a broody desire, but that was interesting to explore and playing May allowed me to come to a better understanding about my own mother.
Iíll have to say Michael Gould, who Iím working with at the moment Ė because heís fantastic kisser! (laughs) Heís a married man with children, but we do have to snog each other in the play and we have a laugh about it. The director (Ramin Gray) keeps telling me, ďgo on, get your tongue down his throatĒ. Itís a little embarrassing. Heís also a fantastic actor Ė humble but so talented Ė and thatís very exciting to work opposite.
Ramin Gray is one of a kind. He doesnít have an ego so to speak and heís incredibly open. It feels like this production is evolving incredibly democratically because he allows all of the actors to have a voice. Iíll also say Richard Wilson, who directed me in Mr Kolpert here at the Royal Court, because as an actor he has an understanding of the actorís language and that makes the work very enjoyable.
My mindís just gone blank. All I can think about at the moment is The Ugly One. But I do think Marius von Mayenburg is an extraordinary writer. Iíve never worked on a form this subversive before. I was familiar with him before this play. I saw Fireface at the Court in 2000 and Iíd done a reading of another piece of his. In Germany, heís highly acclaimed. I find him very impressive and original. He has a strikingly unique tone of humour. Itís not easily definable.
Whatís the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Dominic Cookeís production of The Pain and the Itch here at the Royal Court Ė wasnít it good? The comedy was brilliant, and itís fantastic to see plays about the liberal middle classes because theyíre the type of people, myself included, that go to the theatre in the main. We should be examining ourselves, itís good to throw the mirror up sometimes.
I was thinking the other day about how beautiful but sad Tess of DíUrbervilles is. I read it when I was 13, and it was one of the most impactful books of my life. I love all of Thomas Hardyís books. Thereís an inherent tragedy to them thatís just so powerful and moving.
Favourite holiday destinations
The last holiday I took was to Marrakech. At first I was completely overwhelmed, it was just too weird for me, but you do get into it eventually. My favourites though are all in England. I love Cornwall, I love the Lakes. England has so many fantastic places. I also hate flying so the best holidays are when I donít have to.
Why did you want to do The Ugly One?
I worked with the director Ramin Gray before in readings at the Royal Court. Heís a bit off the wall, which I really like. The last play I did at the Court was a German comedy, this is a comedy written by another German Ė and it sounded interesting.
Tell us about your character.
I play three different women who are all called Fanny Ė so, yes, Iím playing all the Fannies! One is the wife of the title character, the other is the 73-year-old mother of another man and the third is a surgeonís assistant. Of course, in German, the word doesnít have the same meaning so itís not really relevant Ė except that it is a vision of women as written by a man.
How do you tackle the characters within the structure of the play?
Because of the way itís written, thereís no time for scene or costume changes. How to differentiate? I thought Iíd have to make very clear vocal or physical distinctions, but they really do change so suddenly, sometimes virtually mid-sentence. And that unlocks the key in some way. Itís actually aspects of one woman. The way itís written is very subversive to normal theatrical convention. Sometimes the audience will be on catch-up mode. But to make it too easy for them is going against what the writer intended. One of von Mayenburgís ideas is find strategies to activate the spectators. The form here really is as interesting as the content. Itís just under an hour and I think itíll be a very intriguing little experience for theatregoers.
The Ugly One opens this yearís International Playwrights season at the Court. Why do you think seasons like this are important?
I think the Royal Court has always been about encouraging international talent. They have a department thatís been dedicated to that for many years. Having the opportunity to have many voices from all around the world is so stimulating for English writers Ė for all writers.
Whatís special about working at the Royal Court? Have you noticed a difference under Dominic Cookeís regime?
The Court is special because it always tries to experiment creatively and it sets an agenda for that - to challenge on every level is, in and of itself, worth it regardless of the end product. I think Dominic is the best man for the job right now. I worked with him before at the RSC. Heís got an incisive intelligence and a real understanding of whatís relevant at the moment. Itís great to have someone steering the ship who has a clear vision and one, of new voices alongside classics, that suits the buildingís history and traditions.
Whatís your favourite line from The Ugly One?
Itís when Michaelís character says: ďWhen I was a little boy and I couldnít sleep, my mother used to stroke my cheek. Thatís gone now.Ē Itís gone because heís had a face transplant Ė I love that!
Whatís the most notable thing thatís happened in rehearsals?
The more we discuss, the more we realise the deeper levels beneath the comedy. Thatís made us rethink how to stage the play. Our initial idea was to recreate a rehearsal room aesthetic, with bits and pieces of the actorsí own identities on show in the space. As the play is about identity, we wanted to explore how the identities of the actors resonate in the lines of the story. My contribution was meant to be my greyhound Ron, who was there in rehearsals. But as weíve become more conscious of the complexity of the story alone, weíve been stripping back and minimising the production elements. So Ron is gone now and I think heís happier for it. Heís more of a backstage dog. He only finished his racing career three months ago, when I adopted him, so to suddenly make his acting debut may have been one change too many for him in such a short space of time.
What are your future plans?
Now that I have Ron Iím wanting to buy a flat with a garden, somewhere near a big park. I havenít got any acting jobs lined up so I think itís time to concentrate on the move.
- Amanda Drew was speaking to Terri Paddock
The Ugly One runs at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs from 13 September to 13 October 2007.