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Kimberley Nixon On ... Playing Vermeer\'s Girl

Kimberley Nixon burst onto the scene last year playing Sophy Hutton in the BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Since then, she’s taken roles in films including Wild Child, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and the forthcoming Easy Virtue. She makes her West End debut this week playing Griet, the titular role in the new stage adaptation of Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier’s best-selling 1999 novel inspired by 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece portrait of the same name. The 2003 Hollywood film version of the book starred Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

In Girl With a Pearl Earring, I play Griet, who’s taken in by Vermeer as a maid, as a favour to her father, a fellow artist. But because she hasn’t grown up a maid, she’s not really sure how to act and soon gets taken down a peg or two. Vermeer’s studio becomes her sanctuary and he teaches her about art, about light and composition – things a girl of that time would never usually have learnt. A love triangle, or rather, more of an octagon soon develops between Griet, Vermeer, Vermeer’s patron and the local butcher’s son. It’s all very complicated! In the film apparently there’s more of an ambiguity to the ending, though I haven’t actually watched it because I want to do my own thing with the part.

I’ve been very lucky with my career. When I was in my third year at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I got the part of Sophy Hutton in Cranford. It had some ridiculous people in it – Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton - and it was an incredible learning curve. I did a lot of shadowing people without them knowing – working with these established actors and watching their demeanour, their attitude – picking up the etiquette of working on set. Cranford opened a lot of doors for me, and led to my involvement in the film Wild Child, which was kind of a big American adventure and then Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, where I got to play an uber-bitch which again was great fun!

Girl With a Pearl Earring is my first professional stage performance, though my training was in theatre. It’s a fantastic company. Working alongside Adrian Dunbar and Sara Kestelman has once again taught me so much. It’s been lovely doing theatre again – and making my West End debut at the Haymarket, I can’t really ask for much more than that. During rehearsals I tried to get out to see as many productions as possible – I really enjoyed seeing Lisa Dillon (who was also in Cranford) in Under the Blue Sky, and then at the other extreme I saw Avenue Q and loved that as well. There’s a great variety of stuff out there.

As for future plans, I want to do everything! I love the stage, but I still have so much to learn on the film side too – about the lights, the camera angles and all that sort of thing – stuff I barely knew about a few years ago. There’s no rhyme nor reason to my career. I wasn’t necessarily the favourite at college or anything like that, but I got off to a good start. Hopefully, I can go on to do as wide a variety of work as possible. I don’t always want to play the ‘English rose’ parts – especially seeing as I’m actually a Welsh daffodil!

Following a brief regional tour, Girl With a Pearl Earring is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 29 September to 1 November 2008 (previews from 24 September). The story is adapted for the stage by David Joss Buckley and directed by Joe Dowling.


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