5 minutes with: Lois Chimimba – 'I still cannot believe that we were in Vogue'

The actress chats about ‘winging it’ in the industry and a revamped, reworked ”” opening at the National Theatre

Carly Bawden as Alice and Lois Chimimba as Aly in '''
Carly Bawden as Alice and Lois Chimimba as Aly in
© Brinkhoff Mögenburg

I lived in Malawi until I was two before moving to Scotland and living in Glasgow; my mum is Scottish and my dad is from South East Africa. I originally wanted to be a pop star so I started going to a speech school in Glasgow but realised that being a pop star was maybe not the right thing for me. I started doing drama classes every week and that became more of a focus.

I knew so little about the industry, even when I auditioned for drama school, I only auditioned for four. Being up in Scotland I'd hardly even heard of all the places you could go to and London is so far away, I'd only been to London once before. I was definitely a novice in terms of industry knowledge but I just kind of went for it.

I must have been about 15 when I first said to my mum 'I want to be an actress' . As an engineer, she gave me lots of warnings about not having any money and how I might never make it but I decided to do it anyway. I studied drama at college before coming down to London to go to Mountview and I have stayed ever since.

Last year I did a Richard Bean play with Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint. It was really good fun. The play was called Pitcairn and featured Tahitian women, it was based around the mutiny on The Bounty. At the audition Max asked me what I knew about Tahitian dance and I kind of made it up. I then had to make up an African-merengue hybrid dance for him to no music. I sat back down and he didn't even say anything about it. But I got the part. The moral is, you've got to wing it and maybe some good will come of it.

I still laugh because I cannot believe that we were in Vogue. We found out about the shoot after we'd done the Manchester run when we got an email through saying American Vogue had been confirmed and that we were to be at a studio to meet Grace Coddington who is the woman at Vogue to shoot with Kendall Jenner. I was nervous they were going to make me do loads of poses and act like a model but they mainly gave us acting notes so you didn't feel like you were having to pose. We met Kendall and she was really sweet, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. I haven't got a copy yet but when we get them delivered I'm going to carry one around in my bag to show whoever I can.

The first demos we heard for were sung by Damon [Albarn] and the music was developed over a few workshops before Manchester. Originally there was a sense of having electronic music when we were online and in wonderland and a slightly more analogue, Victorian sound for the real life stuff, influenced by the period Lewis Carol would have been writing in. But we went back to the script and reworked it all and loads of the music has changed now.

In Manchester, Aly was 12 whereas now she's 14 she's a bit feistier. There's more of a rockier element now and the music has been revved up a bit to reflect that. We don't have as much of that Victorian sound and none of the music is pre-recorded, the band now do everything live, even things that sound electronic.

I got to go to Damon's studio and work with him which was amazing, I felt a bit like a rock star. He's got every instrument under the sun. They listen to how we sing and the music has been altered in some places if there is something in our voices or something that one of the characters brings to the music that changes an idea.

Some people have really elaborate costumes which means they're completely dictated by what their costume allows. The only thing for me is that I've got really big hair but it makes me feel more like Aly. I’ve got nothing that hinders me at all. I can’t blame the costumes or the hair!

My character Aly is 14, her parents have split up and she's living with her mum and brother. The girls at school are bullying her, she finds her mum annoying and her dad has a gambling problem. The world is a bit grey and she finds solace in this game where she creates an avatar who looks more like the traditional Alice in Wonderland character. She's slim and blonde and brave and curious and through her Aly finds the strength to take on the world. I guess it's about her coming to terms with being Aly rather than having to be Alice.

I've been working with BBC3 on a comedy pilot, we're just waiting to find out if that is going to get commissioned. I'm also workshopping some new plays with Out of Joint again in the new year but we are doing up until we go to Paris in June so we still have quite a long time. runs at the National Theatre until April 2015.