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20 Questions: Ruthie Henshall - 'Your life can change anytime, you just have to make the choice'

West End veteran Ruthie Henshall, who is currently playing Mrs Wilkinson in ''Billy Elliot'', talks working with children, why she has no regrets and future plans

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Ruthie Henshall as Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot
© Alastair Muir

1. Where did you grow up?
Bromley in Kent; I'm a South-East London girl! But we had a country cottage as well so I kind of had the best of both worlds.

2. What initially made you want to be on the stage?
I was really mesmerised by the MGM musicals, Singin' in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz and all of those. That got me hooked and then I found ballet and I was a goner really.

3. How old were you when you first went to the theatre?
My father was a journalist, and my parents were always going to openings of shows. They would take us back to see it if they thought it was brilliant. I remember vividly them taking us to Chicago all those years ago. That, and Cats, were the first things that had a big impact on me, when I was about 10 years old.

4. What would you have done if you hadn't become an actress?
I've always fancied being a midwife: something to do with bringing babies into this world. I think there's nothing more incredible.

5. First big break?
That would be Crazy For You, I think. Before then I'd done quite a lot of musicals but this was the first time I got to create a role and make it my own. It was an all-singing, all-dancing MGM musical on stage.

6. Do you particularly enjoy creating roles?
Yes, when you actually create the blueprint for something, it's absolutely incredible.

7. Any regrets?
No, I have no regrets whatsoever. I think everything leads you to where you're supposed to be. When Mary Poppins was auditioning I got very close to getting the part and I didn't get it. At the time I was really disappointed and then I had my second daughter Dolly, and now I'm not sad about not having done it because I look at my daughter and I think that was what was supposed to be.

8. Are you enjoying working on Billy Elliot?
Yes, it's having a big impact on me. I'm working with so many children, and I would have thought that that would have been a nightmare, but it's actually one of the most special experiences that I've ever had in the theatre. Their courage and bravery and determination and commitment and talent blows me away.

9. What made you want to join the cast of Billy Elliot?
I saw it about five years ago, and it really impacted on me and I thought ‘Oh gosh I'd love to do that part'. Then I saw the film this Christmas on television and I phoned up my agent and said ‘When is the part up?' She said ‘you must be psychic, they've just called to check your availability'.

Ruthie Henshall with Billy Matteo Zecca
© Alastair Muir

10. Did you do anything in particular to prepare the role?
Nothing. I've danced all my life and she's a dance teacher so there was no worry there. We had to of course prepare the accent but apart from that it's just rehearsing it and figuring out what your take on it is with the director and then playing with it.

11. Favourite songs in the show?
I love "Electricity" because it tells my story as well of how I got into dancing and how I felt about dance. I very much identify with that.

12. What do you hope people take away from the show?
I think the whole heart of it is just beautiful. I know many children have, but I hope the adults also take away the idea that you can live your dream. Your life can change anytime, you just have to make the choice and have somebody who will believe in you.

13. What has the company reaction to the recent announcement that Cameron Mackintosh has bought the Victoria Palace been like?
Nothing has changed – we know we're still safe here. I think it's rather wonderful that he's going to do up the theatre, and others, because they are our treasures.

14. Do you have any theatrical idols?
I think Sarah Lancashire is absolutely brilliant, she's definitely one. But I would say Judi Dench is my biggest inspiration. I'd work with her any time. I think she's phenomenal; you don't see her acting, she just is. And she's one of the nicest people ever.

15. Best advice you've been given?
One is ‘you can have anything you want if you want it badly enough' and I'd say the other one is ‘don't hide your light under a bushel, let it shine'.

16. Favourite post-show hangout?
My life has become a little bit dull because I have to get the last train home. At the moment I get my Netflix out - I'm currently watching Breaking Bad.

17. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I'd swap places with a man, because I want to know what that feels like. Any man, doesn't matter.

18. Favourite theatre joke?
Knock knock. Who's there? Ruthie. Ruthie who? That's showbiz!

19. Any roles you'd like to play?
No, not in musical theatre – whatever comes comes. I'm very rarely thinking that far ahead.

20. What's next?
I have no idea. All I do know is that my production company, which is called Three Pin Productions has got the rights secured for a couple of things, so it will be more producing I'd say.