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And introducing...Thalissa Teixeira: fearless performer who trusts the audience to tune in

In his series shining a light on emerging theatremakers, Matt Trueman focuses on a riveting young actress who stands out in even the smallest of supporting roles

Thalissa Teixeira
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

When a young actor catches your eye, they've usually been thrust into view. Cast a RADA grad as Hamlet and we can't help but clock them. Otherwise, a runaway hit makes a newbie's name: Phoebe Waller-Bridge had Fleabag, Dominic Cooper and co, The History Boys.

Thalissa Teixeira is different. Four years out of drama school, she's yet to play a lead or storm the West End. You won't know her from telly – at least, not just yet. But Teixeira's the sort of actor who stands out regardless – even in the smallest of supporting roles. She barely spoke in her stage debut, the Old Vic's Electra, and still wound up shortlisted for the Ian Charleson Award. "They said I listened well," she cackles, backstage at the National. "Like, I had to. I had nothing else to do."

It's not just that she's striking – raised in Brazil, in Espírito Santo, she returned to Britain aged seven with her anthropologist mum – Teixeira has something that transcends talent: presence. You notice her without quite knowing why. She can hold your attention without seeming to grab it.

She never strains or over-stresses, but instead trusts us to tune in

I first saw her at drama school, in a workshop production of Alistair McDowall's Pomona, and though it's an ensemble piece, the play seemed to pivot around her. Still only 25, she's since worked with some of the sharpest directors around: Ian Rickson, Ellen McDougall, Simon Stone ("a real-life, real-time genius") – all artists with a real eye for an actor. Carrie Cracknell, another, has just cast her in Julie at the NT, as the Brazilian home-help to Vanessa Kirby's gilded, jaded millennial heiress.

Her voice helps – a cracked husky burr that catches the ear – but, onstage, Teixeira seems somehow fearless, entirely at ease in front of an audience. She never strains or over-stresses, but instead trusts us to tune in. It worked as well in Yerma's sealed-off glass box, a cool counterpoint to Billie Piper's wildfire lead, as up-close and personal, addressing Gate audiences directly in The Unknown Island. When not acting, Teixeira performs with a storytelling group, The Embers Collective – "the most terrifying performances I've ever done". They have, she says, shifted her understanding of acting: "All you're doing is passing on the right story from one ear to the next".

"Storytellers ought not to be too tame," she quotes

She pulls out her phone to find a Ben Okri quote: "Storytellers ought not to be too tame," she reads. "If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us their truest joys". Teixeira relates the idea to her roots. "Everyone performs in Brazil. There's a culture of celebration, and everyone gets involved."

That contrasts with the strict social order and stark class divisions in Julie – Polly Stenham's update of August Strindberg's Miss Julie. "It's so many plays for so many different people, but there's one line that really resonates for me. It says something like we don't have the luxury to fall in love and to flirt or to be depressed and get drunk." Her character, Christina, is a working mother on a study visa, and the same age as her boss. "It's a strange relationship: 'OK, so we're not actually friends'."

While Teixeira welcomes theatre's recent diversity drive, jobs like this have forced her to reflect on herself in new ways. "We're making more of a conscious decision about who can play what roles, but it means the conversations in the room are quite new. I'm not consciously thinking of myself and my image day-to-day, or what that represents in society, but in the last couple of years, I've had to address who I am in other people's eyes. What do people see when they see me?"

Something special, I'd say; Thalissa Teixeira's an actor and a half.

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