Jessica Raine tells Caroline Bishop about getting the giggles, forgetting her lines and being graded by Marianne Elliott…
CV in brief:
• Graduated from RADA
• Sarah in Simon Stephens’s Harper Regan at the National Theatre
• Suzette in David Hare’s Gethsemane at the National Theatre
• Isabel of Gloucester in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (released 2010)
• UK tour of Gethsemane
• Lilly in Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock at the Lyric Hammersmith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up just outside Hay-on-Wye, on the borders of Wales, on a farm. It was an amazing childhood but I got a bit stir crazy when I hit my teens. There was the feeling of having to get out, you know, but it was definitely idyllic.
What got you interested in acting?
It probably hit me when I was about 16 or 17. I did an A Level in Theatre Studies and had a really inspirational teacher, and then I just went on to university. It was a Drama degree [at UWE in Bristol] but it was all very theoretical and I just sort of realised I wanted to do it much more practically; it sort of grew and grew as time went on and I had to go and do it.
So you went to RADA…
I didn’t get into the first year, didn’t get in anywhere, and I went off travelling for a little while to think what I was doing wrong. And I came back and did it again and got rejected everywhere and then the last one was RADA and I had to do like four recalls or something ridiculous over a period of months and then got in, and that was probably one of the best moments in my life! It happened on the day of my sister’s birthday so I couldn’t really steal her thunder too much. So we went out to the pub and got suitably drunk.
Did you ever think of giving up?
I don’t know what I’d be doing now if I [had], but I just thought I’d keep trying. I thought if I didn’t get in the second year I’d give it one more go. But something happened at RADA where I just felt completely comfortable. I was so relaxed because I just thought it’s RADA and I’m not going to get in, so I was just really chilled out!
First acting role?
It was Harper Regan, which was Simon Stephens. I left a bit early to do that. I felt like I had my third year at the National because I sort of missed most of it. Working with Lesley Sharp was like another training altogether, just watching how she worked was incredible. That show went towards my degree at RADA so I got marked, by [director] Marianne Elliott and the voice department at the National! It was quite weird! What did I get? I don’t know if I got graded – I’d like to say an A! No, I’ve got no idea.
Most obscure job?
I’ve done every rubbish job going. I’ve done a lot of waitressing. I came to London before I got into drama school, I just moved here. I got this random job at BT and I was on the phone lines and there was no training or anything and I just found myself in the middle of these global conference calls, trying to find out why something goes wrong. It was just horrendous. I was awful. You would not have wanted to get through to me because I did not know what I was doing.
Most memorable experience?
I suppose the moment when you get your job. I really remember getting Harper Regan and going bright red and screaming a lot and that was a really incredible moment, and getting into RADA was the best.
Which actor do you most admire?
Lesley [Sharp] was just incredible to work with and to watch. I love Samantha Morton, I think she’s brilliant. I like Anne Marie Duff as well. I like people who completely disappear into their roles and are not vain at all.
Essential dressing room item?
A lot of make up! I like to have lots of cards up and my bits of jewellery. Actually I am wearing a bit of my jewellery on stage which I’m really pleased about because I sort of fiddle with it quite a lot anyway, so we’ve incorporated it into the character.
Best thing about being on stage?
I feel quite in control on stage, if it’s going well. As opposed to TV and film where a lot of it is about the lighting and sound and there’s lots of people faffing around you just before you do a scene, in theatre you are just kind of left alone. Once all the technical rehearsals are over you are on stage and I just kind of love having a live audience there and being able to sort of monitor it and change it ever so slightly for whatever reaction you are getting from the audience. I really love that about it, the live element.
… and the worst?
I think you can get moments where you get a weird voice in your head, like ‘You can’t remember the next line can you? You don’t know what it’s going to be do you?’ It’s just like, argh! It kind of feels like you are falling off the edge of the world, which is always fun! It happens when you have been doing a long run – we just did Gethsemane – and you’ve just done it so many times and your brain does this weird skip and you’re like, ‘have I already said that?’ And then you end up not saying it and you look up and someone’s looking at you in absolute fear!
Most surprising thing that has happened to you in a theatre?
Oh I think it was a really amazing moment [in Gethsemane], I was like confessing something quite awful and I heard this massive snore in a pause! I almost cracked up. Nicola Walker in Gethsemane was quite bad for getting the giggles with, and I have a feeling that this play is going to be quite bad for getting the giggles.
Do you get stage fright?
Yeah, I’m really, really scared, but I think if you’re not scared I think something’s a bit wrong. God it can be really awful. You have that moment just before you go on – I’ve had it in every play – where you just kind of want to run away. There’s a whole audience and they are waiting outside and you’re like, why am I doing this again? Why? Why?
But I think as soon as you get on, as long as you maintain eye contact with whoever you’re working with – you’re in it together, sink or swim together – then it’s alright.
Which production you have seen do you wish you had been in?
I just saw Jerusalem at the Royal Court. But I don’t know what I’d want to be in it! Kind of want to be him [Mark Rylance’s character Johnny Byron]! And I also loved Saint Joan at the National, I thought that was quite mind blowing.
I would love to play Lady Macbeth at some point. I’ve basically been doing a lot of new writing which is incredible but I’d love to do a good meaty Lady Macbeth.
If you weren’t an actor what would you be?
I’d like to say something like photographer. I only did one A Level, that was Theatre Studies, and I did a BTEC in Photography as well, and I’d love to do something like that, but I don’t really have the technical brain I found out when I did my photography BTEC.
Are you anything like your character in Punk Rock?
I think there’s elements of her there but you have to really let them out more and push them a lot harder. She’s quite a messed up girl and she’s incredibly caring but it comes out in funny ways.
I wasn’t a very good teenager, I was a bit sulky. I kind of wish I was like the teenagers that I’m playing though, they are really cool!
What was it like filming Robin Hood?
Really weird! It was my first filming experience and it was with bloody Ridley Scott! I wasn’t with Russell Crowe thank God; I think I might have crumbled at that. I did it with Eileen Atkins which was probably even more scary. But it was brilliant.
What has been the highlight of your day today?
Well d’you know what, I was on the tube – it’s not a highlight, it’s quite a dark highlight but that’s kind of where the play is – and on the front page of the Metro was the boys from Manchester planning a Columbine kind of shooting and they just got busted. I let out an ‘Oh my God’ on the tube, because it was just, today of all days, opening with this play, really weird. Because it’s so plausible, what happens in this play, and it’s horrible.