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20 Questions: Cathy Tyson - 'The story of Marie Curie is exhilarating'

The Mona Lisa star is about to appear in Alan Alda's debut play Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie at the Tabard Theatre

Cathy Tyson in rehearsals for Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie

1. Where were you born?
Kingston upon Thames.

2. What made you want to become an actor?
A speech I learned from The Merchant of Venice.

3. If you hadn't become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
An archaeologist or a teacher.

4. First big break?
Mona Lisa [1986 film with Bob Hoskins].

5. Career highlights to date?
Band Of Gold and Mona Lisa on screen, and playing Cleopatra and Portia in various productions on stage.

6. Any regrets?
At this moment in my life, no.

7. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
Swan Lake at the Liverpool Empire, when I was seven. And a circus show in Rhyl when I was chosen to go on stage and receive a chocolate button. I kept the gold wrapper for ages!

8. And the last?
The House That Will Not Stand [at the Tricycle]

9. Who are your acting idols?
Liv Ullman is a big one. Shirley Maclaine, Julie Walters, Russell Crowe, Dustin Hoffman. And numerous great British actors, known and unknown.

10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
One day at a time.

11. Why did you want to get involved in Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie?
Because I loved the subject and I admired her greatly. I also needed to experience being the lead in a play again as I haven't been for a while.

12. How have you prepared for the role of Marie Curie?
I read Barbara Goldsmith's book Obsessive Genius and Susan Quinn's Marie Curie A Life - I'm 3/4 through that one. I also had many conversations with our director [Mark Giesser] pre-rehearsal. Alongside all that I've read material online and am using children's books for the science! I've also flicked through Marie Curie and her Daughters by Shelley Emling.

13. Favourite moment in the show?
I'm still working in rehearsals so I'm discovering my favourite moments day by day - I have a lot of them so far.

14. Any rehearsal room mishaps?
I've tripped on my long skirt a fair bit, which always makes me - and others - laugh.

15. What do you hope people take away from the show?
I hope they will be exhilarated by the true story of Marie Curie.

16. What's your favourite post-show hang out?
Sometimes I pop into the venue's bar with the cast and have a soft drink and then I make my way home. There's nothing like the feeling of job done, I love my rest.

17. How do you unwind?
With a cup of tea, or I run or read. Or just sit in quiet if I can.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I would love to swap places with a person who has a house overlooking the sea.

19. Favourite theatre anecdote?
My most recent is from fellow cast member James Palmer. He told me he was on stage and was calling for a character who was supposed to enter, repeating louder and louder "where is he?", etc. Eventually he decided to go off stage and run to the dressing rooms, where he found the actor in a very relaxed state. He told him that he missed his entrance so they both ran back to the stage and resumed the play.

20. What's next for you?
I'm touring a verbatim piece called Stand. We're playing at BAC for three weeks during the election period. It's about the work and lives of six individual activists that all happen to reside in Oxford. The tour will be the second time we've done the piece.

Cathy Tyson appears in Alan Alda's Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie at the Tabard Theatre, London from 4 to 28 February