On television, she has starred as Fanny in Far From the Madding Crowd, Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair, Rachel in two series of This Life, Amanda in Love in the 21st Century, Gina in Man and Boy, Ellen in Dickens, Lisa in The Crooked Man, Harriet in Murder in Mind, Vicki in Spooks, Augusta in Byron, Lucy in Angell’s Hell, and Lady Hamilton in Extras.
Her film credits include The Clandestine Marriage, Another Life, Greenfingers, The Criminal, The Island of the Mapmaker’s Wife, Vanity Fair and Queen of Sheba’s Pearls.
Little is now on stage opposite Derek Jacobi and Dominic Rowan in Thea Sharrock’s new production of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father, which, following its initial sell-out season at the Donmar Warehouse, has transferred to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre.
Date & place of birth
Born 2 October 1969 in Liverpool.
Lives now in
East London. I’ve been there for 11 years. I live with my family - my husband and baby who’s nearly two.
Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
First big break
I suppose it was This Life. I had done bits of TV and a bit of theatre, but nothing major. I was in a play when I was cast in that – it was The Alchemist at the National at the time, which of course they’re doing again now. I would be very interested to go and see the new production. I had a small part and was understudying Doll. While it was on, I was going back and forth to meetings for This Life. That was a great break because, at the time, I hadn’t had much TV experience and it was a wonderful opportunity to be in a new series with new writing. The producers were amazing in that they gave all the actors in it a chance - nobody was a name and I think that was a brave thing. I’m very grateful to This Life.
Career highlights to date
Playing Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair was a great experience. She’s such an extraordinary character, even after five months of filming she was still making me laugh; and I love the book. Playing women like that is a great opportunity, so that was a real highlight. It’s not something that happens often in your career.
Voyage would certainly rank up there with my faves. It’s a fabulous company. It’s been really wonderful. We’d have all been very sad if anyone had dropped out in the transfer so it’s been lovely to be together and know we’re going to be here until December. I’ve always had a great time on all the jobs I’ve worked on, but this is particularly special.
Working with Thea Sharrock has been great. She’s so intelligent and just seems to know theatre very well; she has such a great eye and gives really incisive notes. The Novice at the Almeida directed by Richard Eyre was a wonderful experience. He’s just amazing. I think most people I know are just a little bit in love with him. He’s a remarkable man - he’s one of those directors who is so gracious, he just makes you feel like you’re a good actor, which is always nice.
Shakespeare has to be number one. Then Chekhov and Ibsen. You know that, if you’re going to be in one of those plays, you’re starting from the best position ever of having faultless writing. If that’s your foundation stone, at least you’re setting off the right foot. Also David Hare - you always in for a great evening with his plays. And Anthony Nielsen does extraordinary work, I’m always interested to see what he’s doing.
The company of Voyage. I don’t know. I want to get my address book out and think about all my mates because I don’t want to leave anyone out – but then it becomes like an endless wedding list, so I’ll stick with that.
Do you prefer working on stage or screen?
I like acting. What appeals to me about any project is the piece itself, the role and the prospect of working with really good people. I was keen to do a play when Voyage came up because I hadn’t done theatre for a little while, but I think it’s more about the other factors. It’s great to be back in the rehearsal room and back on stage. I suppose if I went years without doing any theatre or years without doing any camera work I might think it was time for a change, but I don’t feel like that at the moment. It’s more about individual projects.
If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I think now I’d be really interested in medicine and training to be a doctor of some sort, but when I was younger I was terrible at all the sciences so if I went back to studying I’d have to pull my finger out! Or maybe the law. When I was at school, that was an area I was interested in. Medicine probably would be too much work - I’d have to go back to the ABC of science for anyone to let me give them a paracetamol.
What was the last stage production that had a big impact on you? And the first?
I haven’t seen anything for a while because of Voyage, but Stitching at the Bush by Anthony Nielsen was extraordinary and moving and just had all the elements of brilliant theatre. When theatre works, it touches you on a personal level that nothing else can, and there were moments in that production that really achieved that. Sunday in the Park with George more recently was extraordinary. Daniel Evans was amazing in it. He’s such a brilliant actor, and there’s something about Sondheim’s music that hits you in a visceral place and becomes quite overwhelming at some points. The first play I remember seeing was Orpheus Descending with Vanessa Redgrave. I think it was a benefit production. It was on at midnight or something, and I remember thinking “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such rawness on stage.” I think it did inspire me, that feeling you get when you see brilliant theatre and how it touches you.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.
Favourite holiday destinations
North Devon is beautiful. I’ve had some great holidays there - even when you can’t rely on the weather, it’s still beautiful. Greece is wonderful if you do want some sun. That’s always a great holiday and there are some really lovely quiet places there. And I’d love to visit India actually sometime.
Favourite after-show haunts
We’ve been going Café Koha which is ten steps away from us at the Wyndham’s so that’s been sort of a haunt for us at the moment. But I have to say I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to the staying up all night and partying so just have a few and then I go home. Sometimes we go to the bar Hospital, but I’m not leading the drinking crew. We always somehow manage to have a bottle or two of something in the dressing room after the show.
Why did you want to accept the role of Elizabeth in Voyage Round My Father?
When I was sent the script, I thought it was an unusual piece and not like anything that you see on at the moment. It has such warmth about it, and in some ways, I suppose it’s quite old-fashioned, but in a great way. It’s quite theatrical, wonderfully written, very witty, with great punchlines. John Mortimer has such a brilliant way with words. It’s hilariously funny, but at the centre of it, there’s this love between a father and a son. It’s not controversial - I doubt that it would offend anybody so I think it was an unusual choice for the Donmar.
How would you describe Elizabeth?
I was very interested in the character of Elizabeth. She has lots say and is feisty, direct and honest. I think in the piece she’s the only character who tells it like it is so her directness can come across as quite harsh and it cuts through, she’s an outside eye on this family and that stops the play becoming sentimental. She sees the family for what they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses, and she drags the character of the son from boyhood into adulthood by giving an objective opinion about his situation. I was drawn to the play for the script. The clinching factor for doing it was when I met Thea, I think she’s the most amazing director.
How did you research your role? Did you draw on your own character or experiences?
It’s been an interesting process because Elizabeth is based on John Mortimer’s first wife Penelope, so I read some of her books, such as The Pumpkin Eaters, and there are John’s autobiographies to read. It’s a tricky line because, on the one hand, there was a stage during which I thought “I am playing Penelope Mortimer”, and I’d look at her and read about her and think “oh my gosh I can’t play this woman with the lines I’ve been given”. So I had to let myself off the hook and realise I’m playing Elizabeth in the play, not Penelope with all her facets as a real woman. I tried to catch something of the spirit of that person. Because John was around so much in rehearsals he was so open and generous about his life, that made it easier.
Has the production changed much since transferring from the Donmar to Wyndham’s?
The Donmar is such an intimate space and because the audience is on three sides it was staged in a way to use that space. It’s been shifted for Wyndham’s for the proscenium arch. A lot of people feel it actually works much better here, that this is it’s natural home. It’s been a shift from being in a very intimate place so close to the audience, walking through them at those entrances in the Donmar, to having to play it a little more out here. But this is such a great space acoustically and everything, it’s wonderful. Although it seats 850, it also feels very intimate. We’ve just had the best time doing it. I think it’s a good sign that everyone in the company has transferred with it. We were all thrilled to be asked!
A Voyage Round My Father continues its limited season at Wyndham’s Theatre until 16 December 2006.
** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to A VOYAGE ROUND MY FATHER on Thursday 23 November 2006 – top-price ticket & post-show Q&A with John Mortimer & members of the cast, all for £24.50! - click here for more details! **