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20 Questions: Clare Higgins - 'Judi Dench gave me a nosebleed'

The three-time Olivier winner stars opposite Greg Hicks in the world premiere of Clarion at the Arcola

Greg Hicks and Clare Higgins in Clarion artwork
(© Simon Annand)

1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Leeds and Derby. I was very happy and went to a lovely Catholic school where I was taught by nuns, none of whom abused me.

2. What made you want to become an actress?
I don't really know. I've always wanted to be an actress, though if I was to blame anyone for it I'd blame Judi Dench, who I saw in a famous production of The Winter's Tale in Stratford in 1969. I was so excited I had a nosebleed and I realised I had to do what she did.

3. What else might you have done professionally?
Definitely a psychoanalyst.

4. What was your first big break?
I've never really had one. I've been fortunate in that I've worked solidly all the way along. I've never been flavour of the month or been a big star and had a huge pay day, I've just been a working actress all my life and I'm very grateful for it.

5. Career highlight to date?
To me everything I'm doing at the time is a high point. I can't possibly pick one. I see my roles as being like beads strung on a necklace.

6. Any regrets?
Everyone has regrets, but I don't have a single one about being an actress. I look at people going to work every day who look unhappy, and I'm fortunate enough that I go to work with a spring in my step because I love every minute I'm on stage.

7. What was the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

8. Who are your idols?
Judi Dench, Judi Dench and Judi Dench.

9. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Ian McKellen told me 'don't turn anything down' - I never have and he's absolutely right.

10. What was it about Clarion that made you want to do it?
Well firstly it's hilariously funny, and secondly it's deeply serious. It's written by a former journalist [Mark Jagasia], so he knows exactly what he's talking about. We thought the acting business was outrageous enough, now we realise journalism is 100 times worse.


11. Tell us more about your character, Verity?
She's an old school Fleet Street dame with lots of wrinkles and a limp, because she's been a war correspondent. She's an amalgam of those wonderful ladies of Fleet Street who really blazed a trail. She believes in standards.

12. Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
I love it when Verity stands up and slaps the horrible work experience girl.

13. Are you enjoying working with Greg Hicks?
We've known each other on and off for the last 35 years. He's hilariously funny as well as being a brilliant actor. We have to keep stopping rehearsals because I can't stop laughing at him playing this maniac of an editor.

14. Do you read reviews?
Of course. It's part of my job. I don't believe actors who say they don't.

15. If you could go back in time and see any production, what would it be?
Macbeth with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench [RSC, 1976].

16. How do you unwind?
I read like a maniac; I usually have about eight books on the go. The other thing I do is turn off all technology and enjoy the silence. I like being alone.

17. What's your favourite book?
At the moment it's A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys - it's the greatest English novel ever written, and no-one's heard of it.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for the day, who would it be?
Judi Dench. Can you spot a theme?!

19. What's your favourite place in London?
The Buddhist Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park.

20. What's next?
I did Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in Bath last year, directed by Adrian Noble, and we're hoping to bring that to the West End.

Clarion runs at the Arcola Theatre from 15 April to 16 May 2015