Since shifting her career concentration from modelling to acting, Jerry Hall, the American ex-wife of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, has been regularly treading the boards, doing more than 500 performances in the UK in the past two-and-a-half years.
Her credits include, in the West End, Bus Stop, The Vagina Monologues, a guest appearance in The Play What I Wrote and, perhaps most notably, The Graduate, in which she dropped her towel as seductress Mrs Robinson. Also in the West End, last year, she broke the world record for the most theatrical appearances in the West End in a single evening, dropping into the cast of six musicals (See The Goss, 24 Feb 2004).
Amongst Hall’s other stage credits are Benchmark at the New End and Picasso’s Women, a 52-minute monologue, on tour.
On film, Hall has appeared in Merci Docteur Rey, RPM, Diana & Me, Savage Hearts, Germain Des Pres Apres La Guerre, Freejack, Willie and Phil, Urban Cowboy, Let’s Spend the Night Together, Running Out of Luck, The Emperor and the Nightingale, Batman, Bejewelled, Princess Caribou and Vampire in Brooklyn. On television, her credits include Married with Children, Just Shoot Me, The Clive James Show, French and Saunders and Cludeo.
She followed her own 2003 TV series Jerry Hall’s Gurus with this year’s reality programme Kept, in which a dozen men competed to be her new toy boy. Posters for the programme, featuring Hall holding the half-naked men on a leash, have been banned on the Underground. She’s also the author of Tall Tales.
Record-breaking attempts aside, Hall is now making her proper musical stage debut playing Mother Lord in Cole Porter’s High Society, which opens this week at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre.
Date & place of birth
Born 2 July 1956 in Gonzalez, Texas.
Lives now in
I live in Richmond. I have lived there for about 13-and-a-half years.
I’d done acting in high school and always loved it. Then I studied in New York at the Actors’ Studio and at Stella Adler and with Kate Fleming at the National Theatre and Patsy Rodenburg for voice. I did my first play about 15 years ago. It was called Bus Stop. We did it in America and the critics were really nice about it, so they brought it over here and we did it at Watford and then went into the Lyric. Then I had two more children and then got a divorce, and then I was very lucky to be asked to be in The Graduate and go back into the theatre, which I was thrilled about.
First big break
I’ve had such a long, successful modelling career, but my biggest break in acting was playing Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. It was an unexpected time of life to go back to something I’d originally loved so much, though I’d done quite a few movies, a dozen or so small parts in movies like Batman.
Career highlights to date
I toured America with The Graduate. It was great going to my home town of Austin, Texas, with it. We also toured The Vagina Monologues there. To go to the town where all my relatives live was quite a highlight. I also did around 100 performances of The Play What I Wrote in the West End and on tour, which was great.
I’m extremely excited about the show I’m in at the moment. I love it, because I’m dancing and sort of singing too. We’ve managed to find a way to do it which is quite nice. This is a fantastic challenge, and I like it because it’s a very upbeat story about love and forgiveness. I love the music, too – it’s Cole Porter and so witty and so lovely.
I had so much fun when I did The Play What I Wrote. Hamish McColl and Sean Foley were hysterical. We also did a pilot for the BBC of something which they foolishly didn’t pick up, but it was very good fun. I also love working with Ruby Wax. We did an animated cartoon called Pope Town together. She was the pope and I was a nun, that’s out on DVD now. I love doing comedy.
I would have to say Terry Johnson, who directed The Graduate. He’s just a genius. He taught me so much. I also adore Michael Rudman. We did a play called Benchmark together at the New End. He’s a wonderful director. I am also loving my director now, Ian Talbot. He’s got such a light touch, he gives fantastic notes, and he’s really clever!
Tom Stoppard. I would love to do his plays, he’s so clever about the way he weaves the story, and he’s also really got his finger on the pulse of what needs to be told now. I think he’s brilliant. I also love Tennessee Williams. His language is poetry. It’s so touching and I love all that tragic loss and the complicated screwed-up people he writes about. I find those kind of people fascinating, they’re like my relatives. I come from the South, too, so I understand it very much.
Favourite musical writers
Cole Porter is just so witty, and the tunes are irresistible. You keep humming them in your head – I’m dreaming the tunes. He’s very sophisticated, and stands the test of time. But the Rolling Stones are also brilliant. They’re the poets of our generation and I’m very proud of them. They just did an amazing show at Madison Square Garden, and Mick is coming to see my show at Christmas. We’re on very friendly terms.
What roles would you most like to play still?
I would love to play something in a Tennessee Williams play – like the mother in The Glass Menagerie.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the first?
I saw this young boy called Ben Whishaw in Hamlet at the Old Vic. It was the most moving, brilliant thing, and he was stunning. I also saw As You Like It at the new Rose of Kingston last Christmas. I'm helping the theatre because I live nearby, but I thought it was amazing because Peter Hall made Shakespeare so easy to understand and funny. And his daughter Rebecca had a very light touch and was so charming as Rosalind. The first thing I remember seeing was Mary Martin do the musical version of Peter Pan. I was in my early teens, and I was totally smitten! I'm so happy to finally be in a musical in London now. I was in The Sound of Music in high school, and I'm very keen on the older musicals. I get completely swept away by them.
What advice would you give the government - or the industry - to secure the future of British theatre?
Can they please redecorate the dressing rooms? But that’s a bit shallow and self-interested! Theatre is an important part of English heritage and for tourism, so my advice is that they keep supporting young people and the theatre – as I’m doing with the Rose of Kingston now.
I read a lot. Recently, I just read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, about growing up in Afghanistan. That was just so beautiful and moving.
Favourite holiday destinations
I adore the south of France. I think the Mediterranean is the loveliest water in the world. I like the food, and it’s easy to get there, too!
Favourite after-show haunts
I love to go to the Ivy – that’s my favourite! They’re so nice there. If you’re in a play, you can always get a table. And the food is delicious, and you see other people who are in plays, too, so it’s fun. I also like the Wolseley.
Why did you want to accept the part of Mother Lord in High Society?
I thought it was a lovely part. She’s a lovely woman. She’s going through a difficult time and handling it very well. I went to see the production in Newcastle and was impressed by it. The cast are just brilliant so I was thrilled when they asked me to be in it. I was a bit worried not having sung or danced before, but I’d taken modern jazz and ballet classes all through high school. I’m dancing every day now for hours and hours and singing, too, so I’m getting up to speed. It’s more of an acting part anyway.
How do you feel about making your musical debut?
It’s terrifying! But I’m also having so much fun with it. A lot of it is to do with confidence. I’m doing my best and going out there to enjoy myself, so I’m hoping that the audience will do, too. It’s a beautiful show and very uplifting. As for my voice, they say it’s in tune! I’ve taken lessons from Penny Harvey Piper, who teaches a lot of actors who haven’t sung before to sing. She’s very good at it. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know the other actors. On the dancing front, I practised a lot on my own, but when I got together with the rest of the company, there was some banging into each other. We’ve sorted it out now.
What's your favourite number from High Society
There’s a song we all sing and dance together on – “Let’s Misbehave”. I love that. I also love Uncle Willy’s song, “She’s Got That Thing”. But there are so many lovely songs in it.
What are your plans for the future?
I was asked at one point to possibly play the warden, Mama Morton, in Chicago. But I want to see how I get on with this one first. I would love to have a career in the theatre always. I’m completely bitten by the theatre bug and I adore it. I’m very proud and happy to be a part of it.
- Jerry Hall was talking to Mark Shenton
High Society opens on 10 October 2005 (previews from 1 October) at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre.