Actress Annabel Scholey recently tweeted a photo of her dressing room table with a bottle of Chanel No 5 gleaming underneath the iconic light bulb mirror, adorned with Vogue covers and pictures of 1920s pin-ups. While the actress may just be that glamorous, after talking to the Passion Play star we have an inkling it may well also have something to do with her research into playing a woman empowered by sex who is in part inspired by Scholey’s own objects of intrigue, Marilyn Monroe and silent movie star Louise Brooks.
While she may be playing a vamp engaged in an illicit affair with a married man by night, by day Scholey is planning her wedding and catching up with friends after a busy few years, which have seen her travel the world with Kevin Spacey as part of The Bridge Project, appear in numerous stage productions across the country and star in the BBC’s cult series Being Human.
Passion Play opened in London last night, but before the show had even arrived in the West End, Scholey took time out of the pre-London tour to talk to us about getting tongue tied around Judi Dench, shocking audiences and why playing the villain is always more fun.
CV in brief:
2005: Makes London stage debut in After Mrs Rochester at the BAC
2008: Stars in The Cherry Orchard at Sheffield’s Crucible theatre
2009: Stars in the BBC’s Being Human and Personal Affairs
2010: Appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside Judi Dench at the Rose theatre, Kingston
2011: Stars in Richard III as part of The Bridge Project
2012: Makes National Theatre debut in Antigone
2012: Appears in HBO’s Family Tree
2013: Currently starring in Passion Play at the Duke of York’s
How did you first get interested in acting?
I’m originally from Wakefield and I danced and sang and thought I wanted to do musical theatre from quite a young age. Then I got to 17 and my dad – nobody’s an actor in my family, they’re a fireman and a nurse – got all the drama school prospectuses and said ‘Maybe you should train at drama school and see what happens after that’. Then I got there and I just fell in love with Shakespeare.
Tell me about the character you play in Passion Play.
Kate is the affair; she’s the trouble [laughs]. I wanted to create a three dimensional woman, I didn’t want to create this sexpot, because I think that it would make the whole play quite thin and uninteresting and I don’t think that anyone would care about James and their relationship if he left his marriage for a bit of sex. So I found a lot of vulnerability in her. She’s an inconsolable woman who is desperately trying to find love and to be loved, and she uses sex as her power and her way of staying in control of her life, and enjoys the conquests of it, but actually genuinely believes when she’s with a man, she is in love with him.
She’s very moment to moment. We came up with a phrase in rehearsals that at all times she follows the joy. If we got stuck in a scene, if I didn’t quite know what she was doing, I was over thinking it because she doesn’t overthink anything, she just follows the joy.
Is it liberating to play a character like that?
Yes it is incredibly liberating and it’s so lovely to be so liberated physically on stage. There is nudity in it, but I don’t mean that. I’ve done a lot of classical theatre, so for the first time ever I really feel like I’m able to move, to use my body in a different way. To be able to say the stuff she says and not give a sh*t is brilliant, because you don’t get that very often in female characters, from my age group anyway.
Have you had shocked faces in the audience yet?
Some of my lines are quite risqué and I’m quite enjoying the fact that I’m getting gasps!
Is it nice to tour before settling into the West End?
It’s really nice, particularly for this play because it’s quite complex. It’s emotional but it’s also technical as there are inner voices – two actors are playing the inner voices of Zoë Wanamaker and Owen Teale – so there’s very strange cues and line learning, so it’s nice to have practice.
Is acting with characters that are played by two people confusing?
Kate doesn’t have an inner voice – I guess because she doesn’t need one because she just says what she thinks – so I’m not playing a split person, but it has been quite strange. I can’t really speak for them, but from my point of view it’s tricky in that I’ll be in a scene with Owen [Teale] and Ollie [Cotton] and as far as I’m concerned it’s just me and Owen there, but I also have to be aware of Ollie and know my cues even though Kate can’t hear him.
So you can’t bump into him?!
No, I can’t bump into him! Also there’s points where I’m talking and he’s running his hand up my leg and I can’t feel him or see him. I quite often end up staring Samantha [Bond] out by accident because when she’s talking she’s very engaging and I automatically want to look at her, but she’s not really there.
Is it an intense experience playing a character who is having an affair?
No. You have to feel really comfortable with the person and luckily Owen and I get on really well, which is great, so I feel very safe with him and I think he would say the same. And David Leveaux [the director] has created a really brilliant atmosphere between the six of us, because it is a very intense subject matter and it’s quite delicate so it was important to bond with each other and then you can be brave, which is needed in this play. You can’t not be brave otherwise it would just be a polite comedy about sex and that’s not very interesting.
You’ve already worked with some amazing actors in your career. Do you ever get star struck or nervous before rehearsals?
This was a very last minute thing so I didn’t have much time to get nervous, but I turned up for the read through and had a minor panic attack [laughs]!
The most I’ve ever felt was when I worked with Judi Dench and she turned up to rehearsals and I couldn’t speak to her for the first few days because I just think she’s wonderful. I was playing Hermia – I was 26 – and she played Hermia when she was 26, which I’d worked out pre-rehearsals, and I just thought ‘This is amazing, what more can I ask for? I’m in a rehearsal room with Judi’. She was lovely as well.
You’ve done more work on stage than on screen so far in your career. Has that been a deliberate decision?
Not deliberate, no. With theatre, if a part’s come up and I’ve got an audition and thought ‘This is going to be an amazing challenge’ then I’ve taken it, and it just so happens that the last two, three years I’ve had a continuous run of great parts that came up and there’s just no way that I would ever have turned them down; like The Bridge Project working with Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey, travelling with it and playing such a great part. I feel like as long as I get to do some more filming, it doesn’t really matter when and what order I do things in. I did a couple of series for the BBC – Being Human and Personal Affairs – and I really loved those experiences.
Being Human had such a cult following didn’t it?
That was a bit of a shock actually because I didn’t really realise that that would happen. It was fantastic. That was quite a last minute part as well; I got thrown in and had a great time playing a villain! That’s something that I would definitely like to do more of, definitely the more interesting roles.
I did a new show called Family Tree before Christmas. Christopher Guest has created it and Chris O’Dowd is the lead and it’s improvising on camera. That was kind of terrifying, but in an amazing way. The adrenaline rush was just through the roof, which I love. But that was something that I didn’t really quite know that I was good at until recently. So that’s something that I’m interested in, improvising and comedy, so we’ll see what happens.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I do yoga and I watch a lot of films. I live in Battersea so I like to run around parks, see all my friends in London and that’s it really. I’m hugely passionate about Italy in general, so I’m hoping to go to Italy this year for some relaxation. And I’m planning my wedding as well.
Have any jobs felt like a particularly big break for you?
Being Human was a big deal, but I genuinely didn’t really think about it like that so it was a bit of a shock when people start to see you in the street and you get recognised, which all went over my head a little bit. This does feel like a really, really special job for me. It’s a great role in town with an amazing cast and it’s a really different role for me. David has led me in a direction that has been really exciting from the start. I’m mad for the 1920s silent films and Marilyn a bit later, and we’ve really used these screen icons and led them into Kate, particularly Louise Brooks. My hair’s been cut in a short bob. I’m very proud of this part and I feel like whether it’s a breaking point or not, I don’t know, but for me personally it feels like that and I’ve got loads of stage time and loads of different challenges and I get to wear fabulous costumes so I’m happy!