Sandy McDade’s stage credits include Fay in the Royal Court’s production of Iron, for which she won the 2003 Evening Standard Award for Best Actress; and Janice in The Life of Stuff at the Donmar Warehouse in 1993, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress.
McDade has also worked regularly at the National Theatre. She played Angustias in the 2005 production of The House of Bernarda Alba (a play she also appeared in with Shared Experience six years previously, in the same role); Mrs Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany in 2002; and Josie in The Skriker in 1993. At the Young Vic, she has taken leading roles in As I Lay Dying and Twelfth Night.
On television, she has appeared in Secret Smile, The Office Xmas Special, Quite Ugly One Morning, Teachers, Judge John Deed, Touch of Frost, Rockface, Uncle Silas, McCallum, Friday Night Armistice, Hamish Macbeth and Dr Finlay. Her film credits include Mrs Henderson Presents, One Last Chance and Restoration.
Date & place of birth
Born in Galashields, Scotland in 1964.
Lives now in
London, Camden, I’ve been there just over a year. I live with my partner and two kids.
East 15 Acting School
What made you decide to become an actor?
I took part in the Scottish Youth Theatre when I was 15. It was nice to be with people who were coming from the same place as me because, at my school, there wasn’t a lot of acting going on. To meet people who enjoyed acting too was a great boost confidence-wise. I never found anything that I could do or that interested me as much as acting. I just loved doing it.
First big break
I suppose I always look on my first job - Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the Scottish company Communicado, which was very famous in the mid-Eighties and Nineties - as my break. We won a Fringe First and went to America and London with the show. For me that was really starting off in a great first job.
Career highlights to date
Iron a few years ago at the Traverse, with three female protagonists in a cast of four, was fantastic. It felt so different and so wonderful to be in a female-dominated play. To get really strong central characters that are female is unusual, and the writer and director were female, too. Not that I’m coming from a feminist standpoint here, but it’s a strong piece of work in every way, and it makes such a change to have a strong play dominated by strong women. There’s something like a ratio of three-quarters men to one-quarter women in most plays.
What do awards mean to you?
Obviously, I’m incredibly flattered that any work I do is enjoyed by anyone. But I suppose for me, I guess I’m a very family-orientated person… I do enjoy the rehearsal process, but I am rather shy of going to the bar afterwards and chatting to people. I’m not naturally outgoing and I find it very hard to make any speech as myself - so actually if I win an award and have to say something I find it very scary!
Yes, there’s one actor I admire enormously and I always feel he brings out the best in all the other actors as well - Robert Bowman, who I’ve worked with several times and will take any opportunity to work with him again. He’s in The Crucible at the RSC at the moment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to go and see that, but hopefully when it transfers to London I can go then.
Howard Davies who I’m working with just now I think is just exceptional. I totally trust every note that he gives, it’s always spot-on and I just totally trust his judgement. Also, he gives a great air of security within the rehearsal room and throughout the whole process. I’ve done workshops with Katie Mitchell and I’m going to go to the National to work with her in The Seagull. She’s another great director. I feel I can learn from her - she stretches you as an actor, which is a wonderful thing.
I really don’t know. I like new plays best, I suppose, but I can’t really think off-hand which ones. I tend to play people who cry a lot, I think because I find that easier than making people laugh. Comedy is very hard. I’ve occasionally done it, but I find it harder than pulling emotion from an audience through crying.
What roles would you most like to play still?
I don’t aspire to play any particular roles. I never have because it’s so hard to tell truly how you come across - that’s in the eyes of the directors. And it’s easier not being too self-obsessed and not looking at yourself too deeply. So I wait to see what other people see in me, and hopefully I can interpret whatever part they give me.
What might you have done professionally if you hadn’t become an actor?
Gosh, I’ve no idea, I have really no idea. I suppose I would have liked something to do with helping women give birth or something around helping women in the early stages of being mums, because you need support at that time.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Just make sure that the theatre is subsidised so that young people can always afford a ticket to get in so they have that experience young enough to love it throughout their lives. And keep the subsidy coming for new plays, that’s very important. It’s nice to do old plays and cover ground that has been trod before and make it relate to what’s happening in the world today, but it is tremendously exciting to be involved in a new play because you have the writer there and you can ask them questions about the characters. That makes it more immediate and a true collaboration.
Favourite after-show haunts
I don’t have any, I’m afraid. I’m terribly anti-social. I feel it’s a great lack in me, but I just go home and see my man.
I don’t have a completely all-time favourite book. There are many I like, all different. One I found particularly beautiful was The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. I enjoyed the world it transported you to. It was pure escapism of the highest quality.
Favourite holiday destinations
We go to Suffolk a lot, by the beach. I guess we enjoy very simple, timeless old-fashioned British holidays.
If you could swap places with one person, who would it be?
It would be nice to be a space man like Neil Armstrong and go and do something that not many people get the chance to do. I think that would be amazing. If I didn’t have any commitments here, then I’d like to do that!
What made you want to accept the role of Dorothea in Period of Adjustment?
Because it was with Howard Davies, who’s a fantastic director, it was at the Almeida, where I’ve never worked before, it’s a play by Tennessee Williams, which I’ve never done before, and I really like her. Dorothea’s great, she’s a wonderful character. She’s someone who’s in a difficult phase and is working very hard to try and keep her life on track with her husband. To research the role, I think I just tried to listen to what the other characters said to me and then just reacted to that. I try not to plan how I’m going to say my lines or how I’m going to respond so that, hopefully, I’m open to building a dialogue with the other actors rather than having any preconceived ideas of how I’m going to play the role… and then Howard sets you in a direction that can be very exciting.
What are the biggest challenges of this production?
Walking in heels. I’m not very good at walking in heels so I think, if I can make it look as though I’ve been wearing them all my life, I’m happy! Dorothea worries a lot about her appearance. She’s had a nose job and teeth extracted, she’s very aware of how she looks, and the high heels come as part of her image.
Are you a fan of Tennessee Williams?
I hadn’t read this play before, but in my very limited experience of Tennessee Williams’ plays, having watched some of them, I think he is a great writer.
What’s the funniest/oddest/most memorable thing that happened during rehearsals?
The set is very interesting and very beautiful. It’s on two levels and we had it recreated in the rehearsal room, but it is quite a lot smaller than in the actual Almeida space. The bed was very, very close to the edge of the upper level in rehearsal. There was one point in a scene where we were in bed when Jared (her co-star, Jared Harris) almost fell over the edge of the precipice… it was fine, and only him and me knew because we were together acting at the time, but we were slightly worried about that and it kind of subdued our bed acting!
What are your future plans?
I’m going to the National to play Masha in The Seagull next. I’m very much looking forward to that. I love working there, it’s a great place for an actor to be.
- Sandy McDade was speaking to Caroline Ansdell
Period of Adjustment opens continues until 29 April 2006 at the Almeida Theatre.