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20 Questions: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore's Max Bennett - 'After this one I'll need a drink'

The rising star appears opposite Fiona Button in John Ford's classic tragedy in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

'You learn from everything' - Max Bennett in rehearsals
© Helena Miscioscia

1. When and where were you born?
I was born on 24 November 1984 in Leytonstone in East London, where I lived until I went to university.

2. What made you want to become an actor?
At school, when I was very young, we did A Midsummer Night's Dream. The bigger school, about sixth form age, needed someone small to play Puck. So there I was, this little 12 year-old, having my hair backcombed by sixth form girls and I thought it was the best thing that had ever happened! I got the bug then. It was magic.

3. If you hadn't been an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I don't know really. Maybe a lawyer, because it uses the same part of your brain as acting. I toyed with the idea of being a sports photographer when I was a teenager, but it was something I never really pursued.

4. First big break?
When I was still a kid, I got the chance to join the National Youth Theatre. That gave me a taste of what acting professionally was going to be like. It was an amazing experience. After that, the role that changed things for me was when I played a main part at the Donmar [in Luise Miller, 2011]. It was my first serious part in London, and somewhere I had always dreamed of working when I was young.

5. Any regrets?
I don't think so. You learn from everything. I almost think the experiences that aren't quite as amazing as you'd hoped , you tend to learn more from.

6. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I remember seeing a production of Conor McPherson's The Weir, which was at the Duke of York's when the Royal Court was closed for a refurb [in 1998], and it was completely mesmerising.

7. And the last?
I thought Mr Burns at the Almeida was absolutely extraordinary.

8. Did you train beyond the NYT?
No. I went to university and studied French and Italian. I did train for one year in Paris, at Ecole Jacques Lecoq, but I haven't trained at one of the big drama schools.

9. Who are your acting idols?
Jean Paul Belmondo, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench.

10. What's your favourite book?
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow.

11. What was it that made you want to get involved with 'Tis Pity She's a Whore?
Everything about it was really exciting to me. The play is extraordinary, and the part is amazing and really challenging. Mike [Longhurst, director] is really exciting, and the space is magical.

12. Could you tell us about your character, Giovanni?
You meet him in crisis. The friar describes him as the top of his class, a really cool guy, but when you meet him he's in this emotional turmoil that he's suppressed for his entire life. He's struggling with the most forbidden love you can conceive of and one he's been surrounded by for his whole life. As well as being incredibly passionate, he's very articulate and intelligent. He tries to find moral justification for his passion, which completely contradicts the world at that point.

'Emotional turmoil' - Fiona Button and Max Bennett star as Annabella and Giovanni
© Bronwen Sharp

13. You're performing by candlelight. How do you prepare for that?
We had an evening in the space a couple of nights ago and it was useful having a play with how far we can bring the chandeliers in and whether we need to use handheld candles. We haven't been using these in rehearsal so it's a steep learning curve. The play really holds up well in the space, and you don't really notice the candlelight after a while. It makes you realise how beautifully written it is.

14. Do you have a favourite line in the play?
There are a lot of funny Jacobean-isms - "thanks lovely virgins" is a personal favourite.

15. What do you hope the audience will take away from the play?
I hope they are moved to think about transgression - what love really is. It's a play that provokes big debates and conversations about the meaning of existence, all those big things. But ultimately, it's a great story and I hope people are taken along by it.

16. How do you unwind after a show?
After this one I'll need a drink! Generally speaking I like to have a nice meal with friends - I prefer to eat after a show because your body clock shifts when you're on stage every evening.

17. Any favourite haunts?
When you're doing a posh play in town Two Brydges is lovely, but anywhere will do really.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
Because I've been thinking a lot about Catholicism lately, I think it would be a Cardinal in a conclave.

19. Do you have a favourite theatre anecdote?
I do but it's incredibly rude. Let's put it this way, it's to do with bodily fluids and an actor who shouldn't have been kissing another actor... Is that intriguing enough?

20. What's next?
I'm going to visit Los Angeles for the first time. I've always been quite wary of LA, but I did a play in New York earlier this year and a really wonderful manager has been encouraging me to go out there, so I'm going early next year to see how things go.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore runs in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 23 October to 7 December 2014