Hailing from Largs in the West Coast of Scotland, Daniela Nardini's ancestors were Italian. Her distant Tuscan relatives, who immigrated to the UK in 1890, were ice cream makers and to this day the family name graces one of the country's top ice cream-making companies. Nardini had different ambitions.

She trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (1986-89) and shot to fame with the cult BBC2 series This Life, in which she played the acid-tongued Anna, earning a BAFTA award for Best Actress (1989) in the process. Since then, Nardini's screen roles have included Fay Weldon's Big Women, Undercover Heart and Sam Miller's Elephant Juice.

On stage, she's previously appeared in several plays with Pen Productions, which was set up by fellow RSAMD graduate David McVicar, who has directed her in Don Juan, Blood and Ice, Miss Julie, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, Flying Blind and her current stage project, Camille. Nardini's other theatre credits include The Cherry Orchard, A Flea in her Ear and Macbeth at Nottingham Playhouse.

In Camille, a new version of Alexander Dumas (fils)' classic love story adapted by Lyric Hammersmith artistic director Neil Bartlett, Nardini stars in the title role as the doomed 19th-century French courtesan Marguerite Gautier (Camille). It's a part that has been immortalised many times on stage and screen, perhaps most famously in George Cukor's 1937 film starring Greta Garbo.


Date & place of birth
I was born in Irvine in Ayrshire, Scotland but lived in Largs, and I refuse to give out details of my birthday just say: "1970, she lies".

Lives now in...
Notting Hill, west London.

First big break
Probably getting into drama school (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama).

Career highlights to date
This Life, my BAFTA and Camille, hopefully. Actually, I've got high hopes for this one.

Favourite production you've ever worked on
This Life because it was lovely people, great fun, great writing and the first time I'd ever been paid quite well.

Favourite co-stars
Jack Davenport, Rachel Fielding, Anastasia Hille and Kelly Spry, who's an Australian actress.

Favourite directors
Sam Miller, because he cast me in This Life and is fabulous, David McVicar (who's directing Camille) because he's a difficult dramatic genius, Suri Krishnama (I always get his name wrong and he knows that) who did Outside the Rules, and Audrey Cooke who I did Rough Treatment with.

Favourite playwrights
Chekhov and Tennessee Williams. I'd love to play some of Williams' women, particularly Blanche Dubois. I went to see the National Theatre production with Glenn Close, but her understudy was on that night. I saw the earlier production with Jessica Lange who was fantastic. I also like Neil Bartlett's work. His adaptation of Camille is wonderfully written.

What roles would you most like to play still?
Besides Blanche, Titania from A Midsummer Night's Dream, even though I've played it before. I'd also love to play Juliet but that'll have to be in my next life. Maybe Hamlet, too; I think that'd be interesting

What are the differences in working on screen & stage?
There is a huge difference. I prefer the rehearsal period for theatre, but I find filming easier. I find theatre much more taxing, but it's more exhilarating and satisfying. I enjoy both.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Shared Experience's A Passage to India was the last thing I saw, and I thought it was beautiful and evocative, with a wonderful lightness of touch.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Keep subsidising. The grant system in this country stinks. I think it's ridiculous that I got a grant when I went to drama school and it doesn't happen any more. I get loads of letters from students asking me to help with their funding. Also, they need to see acting as a proper profession. It's essential, not frivolous.

If you could swap places with one person for a day, who would it be?
Margot Fontayne or another ballerina. I'd love to be a fantastic dancer. Or I'd be Mozart for the day, to be able to play like that.

Favourite books
I've just finished The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold which I enjoyed. and I really liked The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I also love Chekhov's short stories and Dickens.

Favourite holiday destinations
Thailand and Italy.

Favourite after-show haunts
At the moment, the Lyric Hammersmith bar, and then home.

If you hadn't become an actor what would you have done professionally? Would you have joined the family ice cream business?
No way. I don't eat much ice cream, but the best is vanilla with an espresso over the top. I don't know what I'd have done. Perhaps been a teacher or a therapist, and I'd probably be bad at both.

Why did you want to accept the lead in Camille?
I admire David (McVicar) and Neil (Bartlett) and they both asked me. Also, after eight years away from theatre, I thought it was time to be terrified again. I have had stage fright in the past, but so far so good this time round.

What are the difficulties in playing a courtesan?
It's hard because she was very classy and only 25. I'm playing her older, but she looked very innocent and like a lady, and the difficulty is not playing her as a lady - trying to find a way in. I'm starting to realise she hates what she does but she's stuck in it and can't get out.

Do you think attitudes to prostitution have changed since Camille was written?
Camille lived in a very liberated society in terms of prostitution. They were well-kept women not hookers on the Seine. Men go to prostitutes now and they went then, but whether attitudes have changed I don't know. That's a hard one to answer.

What do you think it is about Camille that makes it such an enduring love story?
Because it's an impossible love. You can't expect a man to accept his lover being with other men and she's in such terrible debt, there's no way out. She's surging through her life and wants to live every minute. It's a tragic and vital story.

What are the best things about touring?
I haven't toured for ages, but being with a company and in different cities is great. There's no one you know in the audience so it's nice and anonymous. It also appeals to the gypsy sensibility most actors have.

What's the funniest thing that happened in rehearsal?
The director found a wheelchair in the rehearsal room on the first day and didn't get out of it for four weeks. Also my co-star farting on stage. It's not audible, but its odorous and he's been warned not to or he'll be in trouble!

What are your plans for the future?
I'll probably collapse after this! I'll take a holiday, and I'm trying to get a ball together to raise money for Oxfam in Scotland so I'll be doing that during the day.

- Daniela Nardini was speaking to Hannah Khalil


Camille runs at London's Lyric Hammersmith from 11 March to 12 April 2003 (following previews from 6 March), then tours until 24 May, visiting Bath, Newcastle, Glasgow, Malvern, Blackpool and Oxford.