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20 Questions with...Kerry Fox

New Zealand-born actress Kerry Fox - currently starring in Luc Bondy’s production of Cruel & Tender - shares her concerns about British schools, explains why she's frustrated by award ceremonies & recalls her debut as a Siamese twin.

By • West End


British audiences would probably cite 1994’s Shallow Grave as their first acquaintance with actress Kerry Fox. But it was the Jane Campion’s 1990 film An Angel at My Table that first launched her career internationally.

Fox's other film credits include Frozen, So Close to Home, Niceland, Black and White, The Gathering, Point Men, Fanny and Elvis, The Darkest Light, To Walk with Lions, Wisdom of Crocodiles, Welcome to Sarajevo, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, The Hanging Garden, Country Life, The Last Tattoo, The Last Days of Chez Nous and Taking Liberties. In 2001, she starred in Hanif Kureshi's controversial film Intimacy with Mark Rylance.

On the small screen, Fox has appeared in Murder Room, Forty, Déjà vu, The Affair, Saigon Baby, A Village Affair and Mr Wroe's Virgins.

Her previous theatre credits include Charlotte Jones' In Flame, I Am Yours with Shared Experience and The Maids, all in the West End. In her native New Zealand, she’s appeared on stage in Bloody Poetry, Jism, Gothic But Staunch, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Philistines.

Among Fox's awards to date are a Silver Bear for Best Actress (Intimacy), Best Film Award for Acting at Dinard Film Festival (Shallow Grave), Elvira Notari Award at Venice Film Festival (An Angel at My Table) and Best Actress at NZ Film Awards.

Fox is currently playing Amelia in Cruel and Tender, Martin Crimp's new version of Sophocles' Trachiniae. Directed by Luc Bondy, it played at the Young Vic for two weeks in May ahead of a four-week European tour. This week, it returns to the Young Vic as the final show, running from 17 June to 10 July 2004, before the South Bank theatre’s two-year, £12.5 million rebuild. In August, the production visits Chichester Festival Theatre.


Date & place of birth
Born 30 July 1966 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Lives now in...
In north London, between the prisons.

Training
At Toi Whakaari, The New Zealand Drama School. In New Zealand everything has two names, one in Maori and one in English.

Why did you want to come & live the UK?
I had always imagined that I would stay and work in New Zealand on new work by native playwrights to help promote and nurture the culture there. But when I did An Angel at My Table, doors opened worldwide for me and I would have been a fool not to take up that opportunity. I put a lot of energy in trying out the US and here, and here I felt I found my niche working with people like Danny Boyle and Andrew McDonald, at a time when Channel 4 was strong and making great films.

First big break
An Angel at My Table.

Career highlights
One would be doing Intimacy because it's the first job I've done when I felt no fear. Acting can be such a frightening job, but I felt really confident in my ability and the director and what we were trying to do. Other career highlights are places I've been and people I've met. Filming in Sarajevo just after the war was amazing, so was working in South Africa just after Mandela's release.

You've won a lot of awards. How important are these to you?
The bummer is I've never ever been anywhere to collect one, it's so annoying! I won an award for Intimacy, but my son was due that day so I wasn't allowed to go! I'd like to wear the pretty frock and have photos taken, but no one actually recognises me at those things anyway.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
My favourite favourite was one I did after drama school. A group of us formed a company and did a play called Jism. I played half a Siamese twin and it was a huge success. It was quite an exciting company and continued for a few years. It helped rejuvenate that theatre in Wellington, which was great.

Favourite co-stars
My god, that's a dodgy question to ask to an actor! And unanswerable. They've all been lovely. I will say, though, that with the work I tend to do, I have always worked with interesting and inspirational people, who are committed to what they’re doing. I've never come across anyone who's a c**t.

Favourite director
That's a terrible thing to ask me, too: I love them all! I can talk about qualities that make directors inspiring. They are very feminine qualities: instinct, and the ability to inspire in an actual physical way not just an intelligent one. Good directors are incredibly curious about human nature, what makes people tick, and they’re manipulative in the best sense, they know how to get the best out of people. Saying these are feminine qualities doesn't mean they only occur in women directors.

Working with Luc Bondy is really, really exciting for me because he’s considered the best theatre director in Europe. He's very intense and the process we've gone through is very physically challenging. In many ways, Cruel and Tender is what I've been yearning for, this role and this job. In the past, I've said I want to do something rich and challenging, but I’ve been frustrated by the process - where intelligence can get in way of emotional delivery. But my experience on this production is nothing like that.

Favourite playwrights
Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, which I saw recently, was incredible so he's my one of the moment. I've worked with The Pillowman director John Crowley before and was so proud of him. Also Martin Crimp. A lot of what I'm doing in Cruel and Tender is in verse, which is just delicious. I'm finding it a joy to work with. Martin’s so clever and open and his language is so precise.

What roles would you most like to play still?
Amelia is it, this is what I have been waiting for. I’ve been interested in revenge as a theme since seeing Complicite's The Visit. It's such a complex issue, because it's so entwined in love - revenge doesn't exist without love. This is what happens with Amelia. Her actions are an act of love or an act of revenge or an act of morality. It's fascinating.

You've worked extensively in theatre, TV & film. Which do you prefer?
I approach every single job differently. The structure of your process and the processes of those around you are defined by the piece itself. You use such different skills, not just with different media but with different people. So this is a very broad question. I do really love film, I adore it. I love the camera, the intensity of it. But I'm adoring how extreme and passionate I can be with this piece, too.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
The Pillowman as I said. The scene between the two brothers was incredible. I could feel it opening my face up as I watched.

What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
That I'd actually expect them to listen to? In a realistic way, I would say really re-encourage the broadening of skills in the arts - drama, theatre and all the art forms in schools - but also recognise that these forms are one of the best ways to teach children. You know, I'm thinking about this because I've been looking at schools recently for my son, and I can't send him to a school without a drama teacher or music. I was also so shocked that there is no PE (Physical Education) here either. It's from these things that theatre will blossom.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
My answer to that would change every day... But I wonder what it would be like to be someone like Mozart, who had that amount of self-belief and that extraordinary mind.

Favourite books
I've just read, The Way the Crow Flies, by a Canadian writer called Ann-Marie MacDonald. Her first book was Fall on your Knees and I find her amazing. In many ways, I think if I could write, I'd write like her. I relate to her books so strongly.

Favourite after-show haunts
I do like the Union because Caroline, the chef there, is so great. I also like The Providores. I flatted with their chef, Peter Gordon, for a while. They serve great food and beautiful New Zealand wines.

Favourite holiday destination
Going home. Going to visit my flat at Bondi and having tea in the sun with all my girlfriends.

Favourite websites
A month ago my computer broke down and the company I bought it from told me to call Apple, who had no record of the computer so I've a feeling I've been ripped off. What do I do now? When I was online, I liked shopping for New Zealand ice breakers clothing which is made from fine merino wool. I got that from www.outdoorsports.co.nz - that was my fancy.

Why did you want to accept the part of Amelia in Cruel and Tender?
I was wooed by Luc Bondy and Ruth Mackenzie, who runs Chichester Festival Theatre. Luc is friends with Patrice Chéreau, director of Intimacy, and his reputation proceeds him. I understood he was an amazing director. Like I say, this part was what I've been looking for, yearning for, and the adaptation of an enormous Greek tragedy was something I couldn't resist. It was a big decision, but I knew in my heart I wanted to do it.

Is a British audience different from an antipodean one?
In my experience, they are. Obviously, I had a crappy audience in the British press with Intimacy, and I didn't have that in any other country. The funniest thing happened, though. I was in the theatre seeing something - I can't remember what, I think John Hurt was in it. Anyway, this older man was sitting next to me. He was very very English and at the end he got up, turned to me and said, "Don't get that in the colonies, do you?" I thought that was astounding! The arrogance to presume that the British have best theatre, it is just laughable.

Cruel and Tender is based on a play by Sophocles. Are you a fan of ancient drama?
You don't get to see much, do you? It's very rare. I saw a production of The Wasps in Sicily at a very famous Greek amphitheatre, and it was amazing, as the sun went down, watching this weird warped comedy. That was fairly impressive.

What are the best & worst bits of touring?
I've never done it before. I did it for two weeks ages ago. The effort of trying to find somewhere to live is a real drag.

What's your favourite line from Cruel and Tender?
"So why should I feel afraid?"

What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that happened during rehearsals of Cruel and Tender?
I told off Luc one day. Everyone just stopped and was so shocked. He was mouthing off about something, and I was trying to concentrate so I told him to shut up and give me a chance!

What are your plans for the future?
We tour until October so I find it hard to imagine beyond this. I would love to take the play to Australia and New Zealand. That would be a joy.

- Kerry Fox was speaking to Hannah Kennedy


In the UK, Cruel and Tender runs at London’s Young Vic from 17 June to 10 July 2004 and then visits Chichester Festival Theatre from 4 August to 4 September 2004.


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