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Hattie Morahan: 'I used to giggle hysterically whenever I was onstage'

Ahead of her opening of Alice Birch's new play at the Royal Court, Hattie Morahan talks bad auditions, working with Katie Mitchell and what she'd change about the theatre industry

Hattie Morahan in rehearsals for Anatomy of a Suicide
© Stephen Cummiskey

I've never been in a rehearsal room like the one for Anatomy of a Suicide. We are exploring it as we go and Alice Birch [the writer] is in the room with us a lot, so every day there are new discoveries. It's nerve-wracking but also fun and fascinating.

The play's title may not seem cheerful, but the play is funny. There's dark subject matter, but the writing is incredibly original, distinctive and it's unexpected. It's essentially three plays in one, three strands which more or less happen simultaneously. It's about three generations of one family. You witness the struggle leading up to the decision my character makes. Then you see the psychological impact of that and how that bleeds through generations. Alice has approached it from a fascinating angle. It's a really rich tapestry of life.

Teachers stopped casting me in big parts at school because I would get hysterical with the giggles. I was always putting on plays with my cousins and friends but I would find the adrenaline rush of being onstage so overwhelming that I would dissolve. I only managed to conquer that in my late teens. But I was lucky because my family was in the business, so I grew up really exposed to theatre.

I look back at my early career and think I was lucky to scrape through. I didn't go to drama school and my god I was ignorant. I had been to university and had that youthful hubris where I just thought I wanted to get out there. I got a job at the RSC, which was great. But since then it has really been a patchwork progress of learning as I go. I definitely met my limit at times. But I feel very thankful that I have worked with people who I have been able to learn from.

Katie Mitchell was incredibly formative for me. I worked with her a lot at one point - although not for a few years now. She has a very methodical, clear way of approaching material and I was like a sponge. Having her philosophical and cultural approach to working with a group of actors is so nurturing. It's joyous to be back in the room with her again.

In general I think the theatre world is in a pretty healthy place. It feels like the things that bug me – diversity in casting, or gender parity – are heading in the right direction. I think there's lots of work being done in smaller theatres in terms of those issues, but it isn't always reaching the bigger stages. Regional theatre funding worries me too.

Anatomy of a Suicide runs at the Royal Court until 8 July.