Her other recent credits include Messiah (BBC), Our New Girl (Bush) and Rupert Goold's award-winning production of Six Characters in Search of an Author (Chichester/West End).
Tell us about Desire Under the Elms, in a nutshell
It's a play by Eugene O'Neill about an old man who owns a farm and his three sons who believe it to be theirs. After getting rid of his two brothers the youngest remains to fight his father for it but doesn't count on his father's new young wife putting a spanner in the works by claiming it as hers. A relationship develops, a man is cuckolded, people get fraught, somebody dies and nobody lives happily ever after. Come see - it's a riot!
What drew you to the role?
Abbie is amazing. She is so complex and tough and damaged and vulnerable, has a clear journey and I get to play every single emotion available to me as an actress - it's a dream. She's fierce. No other word for her. What's not to love?
The Lyric seems to be on a roll lately - was that an added incentive?
I love the Lyric. When people go to the Lyric (and other Off-West End theatres) you know that they are there to see a play, not just a shiny production full of famous people. As an actor I feel supported working here; I feel I am given an honest audience and I love Sean Holmes - the man is a genius and he runs a great building. People seem happy to work here and he has created a very hands on, experimental and creative space. I think the Lyric is as important as any of our other London theatres - I hope it continues to build its reputation as such. It's a bit cold though so if someone could donate some money to fix the heating we'd all be very grateful.
What's your favourite line in the play?
There are so many but of Abbie's it has to be "I got to fight for what's due me outta life if I ever expect t' get it". I also love "ye make a slick pair of murderin' turtle-doves", especially the way Finbar Lynch says it.
What made you want to be an actress?
Never wanted to do anything else. Don't remember consciously making a decision - it just had to be. No choice.
How did you make your way into the industry?
I left home at 15 and then ran away to London at 16 - thought it was game over for me then but then I started an acting class in an old nightclub on a Saturday afternoon where we did improv and all that stuff; the teacher was a tutor at a drama school and he suggested I audition so I borrowed the 35 quid I needed to pay for that (could only afford the one!) and I got in on a full scholarship for three years. Even my rent was paid so clearly something up there wanted me to train as an actor rather than piss my life away. Thank you to whatever that is. And thank you to ALRA. I met my amazing agent in my third year and I have spent eight years not earning any money for her since!
What was your breakthrough moment?
They're all breakthrough moments. A director called Spencer Hinton gave me my first ever job at the Actor's Centre in 2003 - I worked in a bar in the day and performed at night and I was in heaven. I also remember walking down Shaftesbury Avenue when I was 27 and seeing a big poster of myself outside the Gielgud theatre and thinking 'man, how did I get away with this?!' I used to collect fag butts to smoke on Shaftesbury Avenue when I was 16! Seriously, I lived like an extra in Oliver! when I arrived in this city; it's a miracle I'm still standing let alone doing exactly what I have always wanted to do. I've been having breakthroughs all over the place.
Who are your favourite collaborators?
There are loads and they are mostly friends - who wouldn't want to spend months telling crazy stories with their mates? Right now I would be happy working with Sean Holmes forever but in reality that would probably send us both over the edge. So he is a firm fave, as is Mikel Murfi who is brilliant in Desire. I just want to work with people who take the work seriously but not themselves within it - there' s too many people in this business who seem to believe that what we do is akin to open heart surgery. It's not - my sister actually does open heart surgery and she assures me the two are hugely different. I like to have a lot of fun while I create crazy people.
What have you got lined up next?
I'm doing The Shawl by David Mamet in the Clare Studio at the Young Vic, directed by a young director called Ben Kidd who has just won the Genesis Award. I'm excited to do Mamet as his books kept me sane at drama school and I like the idea of being part of the beginning of a director's journey. After that who knows? If someone could arrange for me to be in another play that would be great thanks. Otherwise you may find me collecting fag butts on the Avenue while wrapped in old posters of myself.
Desire Under the Elms continues at the Lyric Hammersmith until 10 November.