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Brief Encounter With ... Abi Titmuss

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Former glamour model Abi Titmuss is currently starring in the world premiere of Lynn Howes' comedy Stage Fright at the 60-seater Canal Cafe Theatre in London.

After rising to fame as a lads' mag and reality television favourite, Titmuss turned to acting in 2006, winning a Fringe Report Award for her role in Arthur Miller’s Two Way Mirror.

Since then, she's notched up theatre credits including a national tour of The Naked Truth, Up 'n' Under at Hull Truck and, last year, grabbed headlines when she played Lady Macbeth at the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft.

Did you enjoy playing Lady Macbeth?
It was fantastic. I was full of fear at the start, but I never questioned that I could do it. When the director first asked me to play the role last summer I burst into tears immediately. I was so overwhelmed that not only would someone consider me for Shakespeare but for that part, which has been tackled by so many great actresses in the past. The bit I was most terrified of was the sleepwalking scene, but once I found my own way of doing it - which was in a complete blackout with just a candle - it became my favourite scene to perform. I'd love to play her again.

What's Stage Fright about?
There are two actors: Charles, who had success in the 80's with a hit detective show but is now losing his fame, he has fallen in love with my character. Then there's Peter, a playwright, who had early success but nothing recently. The two are best friends so Charles asks Peter to write a play for us to star in, primarily so he can get closer to me and revitalise his career.

What attracted you to the project?
For starters, it's a savagely funny satire on celebrity theatre - the script was just a page-turner, I loved it and I loved my character. Plus, I could see immediately that it would be a great part for me to show a range of different things that I can do. I'm trying hard not to get pigeon-holed as an actress. So far I've played a pole dancing teacher, a nun, a drunk hen in a comedy opera, a rugby-playing fitness instructor and Lady Macbeth – so hopefully I'm succeeding in my mission!

Explain a bit more about your character
She's called Geraldine and she's manipulative, ambitious, driven, slightly schizophrenic and unintentionally funny, but she's not all she appears to be. What validates her and her strange behaviour is that she's a great actress, she trained at RADA but also happens to be a celebrity who goes out with footballers. She's new to acting so she needs a vehicle to be famous. People might say she could be based on me, but she's actually not like me at all. At least I hope she's isn't, because she's a complete nightmare!

Why did you make the transition into acting?
Ten years ago, I started acting classes whilst I worked as a part time as a nurse. Then, after I came into the public eye, my life was turned upside down, and I was exceptionally naïve at the time. In less than three years, when I was at the height of all the publicity, I realised I was very far away from who I am and what I wanted to do, so I did the Arthur Miller play (Two Way Mirror) and things began to change.

I've been acting for four years now but the work I did before has created a very powerful image, and I'm to blame for that. But I feel that I've gone about my acting the right way; I'm serious about it, and I've done nothing but theatre pubs, fringe plays, working for free for the last three years. I think because I'm doing that I am feel more respect for myself.

Do you regret doing glamour modelling?
Not really. It was a very strange but very lucky break, and certainly got me noticed. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t realise how lucky I am to have had all this. People do different things before they finally find what they want to do, and I'm no different. Demi Moore was a debt collector, Brad Pitt wore a chicken suit and Julie Walters was a nurse.

Would you ever return to that kind of work?
No. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to do a sexy photo shoot ever again, if it was right, but I've done all that. It was a lot of fun at the time - if you ever see Gok Wan’s How to Look Good Naked and hear what the women say after their photo shoots, that is how you feel. It's quite empowering.

Lads' magazines have their fair share of critics
I did a lot of work for lads' mags and, like I said, I enjoyed it. In defence of them, I think even cavemen were drawing pictures of naked women on the walls and men will always like looking at pictures of women. The internet has changed things a bit though, and even since I was doing it I've noticed that the images have got stronger, they're getting more explicit.

The money's not quite as good in fringe theatre
Oh absolutely - financially, I've shot myself in the foot. My manager revealed that they considered dropping me when I made the decision to do Two Way Mirror, but I think when I won the award it proved to them that I was serious. Normally an actress would be hungry for fame, but I've experienced it and it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be - so in a sense my acting career's happening the other way round.

Do you suffer from stage fright?
Yes, of course. It was sheer terror when I first got back on stage, and I don't really know how I got through it. Now I tend to feel more excitement than fear, though the 'opening night' feeling never changes. I do things like meditate beforehand which helps.

What's next?
One of the boxes I definitely want to tick is the Edinburgh Fringe, which hopefully I'll be doing this year. Then I'd like to work in the West End, and I'm keen to build up more film and TV work. In terms of classical roles, I'd love to play Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Ophelia in Hamlet.

Stage Fright::L01174485184}, which is directed by Canal Cafe artistic director Emma Taylor and co-stars Sion Tudor-Owen and Alex Barclay, opens on Tuesday (2 February), continuing to 20 February 2010.


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