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Pearl Mackie: 'My advice to aspiring actors? Keep going, it's a marathon, not a sprint'

As she prepares to star in a new revival of Harold Pinter's ''The Birthday Party'', one-time ''Doctor Who'' assistant Pearl Mackie explains how she learnt to cry onstage and what it's been like working on the show

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Pearl Mackie
© Dan Wooller

1. How would you describe The Birthday Party in five words?
Macabre, disorienting, beautiful, dangerous, tragic.

2. How would you describe your role?

Lulu is a charismatic young woman who yearns for more and gets too much.

3. Have you starred in a Pinter play before, if so which one, if not, how do you feel about taking this on?
No, never! I'm delighted and intimidated in equal measure.

4. Did you jump at the chance to perform in The Birthday Party?
I was very excited once I'd met Ian [Rickson, the director], and talked about his visions for the play.

5. Did you know the play before you took on the role?
No I'd not read it but when I did I couldn't stop thinking about it. It really grabs you and doesn't let go.

6. It's an absolutely crack cast - what has it been like in the rehearsal room?
It's been great! It's a very intense play and it's been more of a challenge than we thought rehearsing over Christmas when everyone else is out making merry, but we're really excited to get into the theatre on Friday!

7. What is your earliest memory in entertainment?
Haha I played Nancy in my schools production of Oliver! aged 10. Taught myself to cry onstage during my solo of "As Long As He Needs Me" by looking directly into the lights and not blinking. I like to think I've come on a little bit since then!

8. What do you consider to be your big break?
Doctor Who definitely. I don't think breaks come much bigger! I'm very lucky.

9. If you hadn't become an actor what would you have done?
Been very depressed.

10. What has been your career highlight?
Seeing the trailer for the Doctor Who Christmas special played for the first time at San Diego Comic Con and the whole room full of 6,500 people screaming at Bill's reveal. That. Was. Crazy.

11. Most embarrassing moment?

Too many to count! I often don't look where I'm going so I fall over a lot.

12. What draws you to the stage?
Fear, love, the feeling you get when the entire theatre is full but silent. That charge is like nothing else.

13. Who are your idols?
So many people! Judi Dench, Julie Walters, Angela Davis, Viola Davis, Dorothy Dandridge, Billie Holiday, The Obamas, my mum, oh God I could go on forever.

Pearl Mackie rehearsing for The Birthday Party
© Johan Persson

14. If you could go back in time and change one thing in your career what would it be?

Nothing. Not that it's all been rosy by any stretch but it's has certainly been character building. I always thought I had quite enough character but I don't think you truly test yourself until you've been sitting in a call centre for a year without a job. I think it showed me who I am and really made me think about what I want. 15. What have you seen on stage recently?

Saw The Barber Shop Chronicles at the National recently! Amazing! So powerful and delicate and evocative. Go and see it if you can.

16. Were you a big Whovian before you took on the role of Bill?
No not really! It wasn't on TV when I was a kid and there wasn't any catch up then so I sort of missed the wave. It came back when I was 16 when I spent most of my time skulking around in parks trying to look cool.

17. Had you always thought you would be an actor?
Yes. Nothing else even came close.

18. What do you do to unwind in your spare time?
Cook, eat, drink, chill with friends and watch telly. I love a good bath too!

19. Is there a character you'd love to play, if so what is it?

Lady Macbeth but give me time. And if you're reading this in a theatre don't say it out loud.

20. What advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Work hard. Be as prepared as you can be for every audition. Learn your lines, no one wants to act opposite the top of your head. Be bold. Make strong decisions but be open to direction. Never compare yourself or your career to others it's pointless. Your individuality makes you interesting. KEEP GOING. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

The Birthday Party runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 18 January to 14 April, with previews from 9 January.

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