It must be strange making your London stage debut in a play that is virtually sold out before it’s even had its first preview, but for young actress Catrin Stewart, it’s the latest success in a burgeoning career that has already seen her turn one episode of Doctor Who into four, win a leading part in Ruth Jones’ series Stella and tackle a “dream role” in acclaimed theatre company Headlong’s touring production of the most famous romance in the world, Romeo And Juliet.
At one point during our chat, which takes place in the middle of a particularly hectic day of rehearsals for Hampstead theatre’s Longing, Stewart refers to herself as having been lucky. With one leading newspaper hailing her performance of Juliet – arguably one of the most iconic roles an actress can take on – as “one of the most captivating and touching I have seen”, I think it’s safe to say there is more than just luck involved. Her down to earth friendliness and infectious enthusiasm can’t hurt either with the actress championing the importance of good old-fashioned manners and even calling me back when she later thinks of an answer to a question which caused her mind to temporarily go blank.
Here she tells Official London Theatre about playing a millionaire’s daughter in Longing, getting character notes from a Booker Prize winner and being transported back to being a kid on the Doctor Who set.
CV in brief:
2011 Appears in E4’s Misfits
2011-2013 Plays Jenny Flint in four episodes of the hit series Doctor Who
2012 Takes on leading role of Juliet in Headlong’s Romeo And Juliet
2012-2013 Stars as Emma in Ruth Jones’ series Stella
2013 Makes London theatre debut in Longing at Hampstead theatre
Where did you grow up?
What first got you interested in acting?
I don’t know, I’ve always done it. From a young age growing up in Wales there’s a tradition of performing in this thing called The Eisteddfod, which is a big tradition of competing against other schools and singing and reciting. My mum always tells me I was the one in the school concert she could hear out of everyone! I don’t think it was about wanting attention, I just loved it.
I started to take it more seriously when I went to drama classes from the age of 10 to 16 and that was mainly training for TV [Stewart appeared in TV film Hearts Of Gold and Casaulty before she professionally trained]. Then I applied to the National Youth Theatre of Wales when I was 16. Spending six week rehearsing a play with other actors made me realise I’d love to try for drama schools because it’s that same kind of intense environment. But I never thought early on ‘I want to do this as a job’, I just really loved it. Then I realised maybe I could give it a go and so far I’ve been really lucky.
Tell me about your character in Longing.
I’m playing a character called Kleopatra who is the daughter of a millionaire. They haven’t got much class, but they’ve got a lot of money compared to the people who actually live on the estate, who have grown up there and are very elegant. We come in and create this whirlwind.
I’m just kind of daddy’s little girl – she sulks a bit! She’s a bit of a madam and gets what she wants, but is totally in love with her fiancé who just wants to live a normal life working on the land. I suggest that that’s what I want, but I think once she’s actually married to him, that will change. She definitely wears the trousers. It’s a really fun part; it’s really bold and I get to wear amazing dresses and I’ve got to do a Scottish accent which is scary!
How does it feel to be making your London theatre debut alongside such an amazing cast?
I’m so excited. I’ve been wanting to do a play in London for a while, I mean I’ve lived here for two years but have not been here at all, just travelling. To work in such a brilliant theatre with actors like Tamsin Greig and Iain Glen – who I saw in The Crucible when I was 16 – it’s been so great to watch them in rehearsals and in all the runs that we’ve been doing. Just to see them playing and be so alive. It’s such a great, exciting play to be part of and work with [director] Nina Raine, who is brilliant.
It’s also William Boyd’s theatrical debut. Does being a part of something so high profile make it more daunting?
I think the fact that it’s sold out already is brilliant and exciting, but yes, it’s kind of daunting. But I think it’s going to be exciting; it’s a really fun, different part for me and I think I can have fun with it, so I’m just going to try and enjoy it.
Has Boyd been involved in the process?
Yes, he’s been in to watch runs and rehearsals. He obviously knows these characters so well so it’s been great to have him there to ask if we’re not sure of something, and if something doesn’t feel right he’s been really willing to change it or give us help with it. And he’s Scottish as well – as are Iain Glen and John Sessions – so I’ve got lots of Scots around to help!
You’ve done a lot of television work. Is that what you like doing best?
I love TV but I’ve just been filming Stella – which is a six month job – and after that I was just craving to do a play because I love the rehearsal process and the development of it. Every night is so different and it’s exploring that; that’s what I love doing. But I love that I have been able to do TV because I’ve learnt a lot and it’s a completely different technique.
Did getting the part on Stella feel like a big break?
Yes, I couldn’t believe it when I found out. To get a leading part in a TV series with Ruth Jones, whose work I’ve always admired and I’d always thought I’d love to work with her, definitely. And it was great to know I had work for six months! And good work and a character that I knew was going to have a journey and develop. I learnt a lot from six months of telly filming.
What’s it like working with Ruth?
Amazing. We’re really good friends and it’s great to have her around, even if she’s not in a scene; because she writes it, she’s there. From my first audition I felt like we clicked, because obviously we have to be mother and daughter so you have to believe that. She’s hoping to come and see this but whether she can get a ticket… I forgot to tell her it was sold out! She’s lovely and she’s so generous and encouraging, so I’m really lucky.
You appeared in Doctor Who for a couple of episodes. What was being in something with such a huge fan base?
I did one episode in 2011 and then I did the Christmas episode and I’ve got two more coming in this new series; first of all I auditioned to be a maid and somehow I got written back into three more episodes. But I didn’t realise how big it was! I’d never really watched it and suddenly I had all this fan mail and I’ve been going to conventions. I loved it as well because it was such a different part and you just feel like a big kid on set.
You last stage appearance was playing the lead in Headlong’s touring production of Romeo And Juliet. Is Juliet a dream role for a young actress?
Yes! I don’t think anything will come close to it for a while. It was odd going from that to do Stella because Juliet was such a challenge for me. Obviously Stella is challenging in its own way, but it was emotionally challenging and touring and the rehearsals were just… it was so hard. But Rob [Icke, the director] was brilliant and I actually really miss it. When you go away from it for a while then you appreciate it more. Because it was quite a long tour, we were all tired, but I was still enjoying it and finding all these new things. It was my favourite part ever.
Was playing her the most memorable thing from your career so far?
I’d say so, yes. I feel like at the age of 24, I played Juliet with a brilliant company. I still now go ‘Blimey, I don’t know how I managed that. How did I pull that one off?!’
What would be your next dream role?
I’d love to do some new writing, I’ve never done any. Obviously this play is a new play, but a really modern, new writing play where you’re there for the whole development of it and creating a new character, I’d love that.
Anyone you’d particularly like to work with?
That’s a hard question… Kristin Scott Thomas and Ryan Gosling.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I’ve started running quite a lot, going to the gym and swimming. I love going to the cinema and the theatre with friends. I meditate a bit. I also try and go away when I can, I was in India in November in a bit so I’d love to do a bit more travelling.
If you weren’t an actress, what do you think you’d be doing?
I really liked sociology in sixth form, I might have gone on with something in that, again because of the interest in people. I’m quite nosy like that.
What’s the best career advice anyone has ever given you?
I don’t know who, but someone once said ‘Be someone that people want to work with’. I’ve always thought that was really important; you can be really talented but if you don’t get on with the rest of the company or you’re a pain in the arse… I always try and remember to say thank you. I think it’s really easy in this industry, especially on set, when people do all these things for you and it’s really easy to get used to it. I always just make sure I say thank you because everyone’s got their own job to do.