facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

Introducing… Lydia Leonard

First Published 11 October 2010, Last Updated 20 August 2013

Playing Jackie Onassis could be a daunting task, but, as actress Lydia Leonard explains to Matthew Amer, the iconic figure “is a human being just like any other”.

CV in brief

2003 Wins BBC Carlton Hobbs Award
2005 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hecuba
2006 Frost/Nixon at the Donmar Warehouse and Gielgud theatre
2008 Let There Be Love at the Tricycle theatre and Casualty 1907 for the BBC
2009 Time And The Conways at the National Theatre and Casualty 1909 for the BBC
2010 Onassis at the Novello theatre


How did you become interested in acting?

I’d always wanted to be an actor, ever since I was very little. I don’t know why. I let that go and was going to be lots of other things, then it was only at school, not so much through the drama, but through English classes and Shakespeare text and books and stories that I came back to it. I suppose Shakespeare at school; I was lucky enough to have a really good teacher and that brought it to life for me.

What was your first acting role?

The nativity. I was an excellent Herod.

Professionally, I was at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and did lots of things there and then I won the BBC Carlton Hobbs Award so I did some BBC Radio drama work which is a lovely way to start out because you work with lots of great people and you’re working all the time so you’re learning, rather than sitting around and waitressing.

Then my first television job was Midsomer Murders and my first play was the RSC in Hecuba. I went to America with it and did it in New York.

How do you feel about portraying Jackie Onassis?

I’m really enjoying it. When you get a job it’s so nice to have a focused area of reading and research. Obviously that period, the Kennedy period, is really fascinating and there’s plenty of it. It’s not like I’m playing someone really obscure. It’s been great reading all the biographies and finding out as much as one can. She’s so iconic in the true sense of the word, and very rarely seen talking in interviews, so she’s quite a mysterious figure, which is interesting to get to grips with.

I suppose I should feel more pressure, but that can be a bit debilitating at first if you focus too much on the icon, because ultimately she’s a human being just like any other. I was quite obsessed at the start, reading all the books, finding out as much as I could about her, then you just have to let that go and go back to the script, the human being on the stage and the story you’re telling otherwise it’s becomes a slightly two-dimensional impression.

How much did you know about Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis before you got involved with the show?

I knew who Jackie Kennedy was in terms of being the wife of JFK and being a clothes horse, and I knew that she later married Onassis, but I had a very, very vague idea of who he was. He is obviously the central character in this. He’s lived a fascinating life. You sort of think you know who Jackie Kennedy is, but actually when you scratch the surface you realise that that image, the perfect widow idea that we have of her, which is still actually maintained in the press, is false, or certainly not the full story. I think she’s much more interesting as a result of seeing all the different sides.

What can people expect from the show?

It’s funny, it’s fascinating, it’s illuminating and probably, perhaps shocking to some people’s ideas of Onassis and Jackie and the Kennedys.

How did you find performing in historical medical dramas Casualty 1907 & 1909?

They were meticulously researched. The sets they built were incredible. I thought it had fantastic casts and I was really disappointed that it didn’t get continued actually. I thought it was right up the BBC’s street. I was quite surprised because it trod that fine line of being authentically historical while obviously trying to make it interesting and human.

I loved it. It’s fun when you have to go off and be out of London and stay in a hotel with everyone.

It sounds like a holiday…

It is a bit. The whole of the acting profession is… [she laughs]

Did you learn anything on that job?

I learned a bit about the early nursing profession. When you don’t really know what you’re talking about and you just have to learn the lines, you just have to really concentrate for about 10 minutes and then those ridiculous long medical terms go straight out of your head again. I don’t know how they do it on the real Casualty and keep a straight face.

You have worked on stage, screen and radio. Do you have a preference?

No I don’t have a preference at all. With young naivety I always thought I’d love to do the best theatre and the best films, but, of course, that’s not really the industry so I ended up doing quite a lot of television, but all stuff that I’m proud of. Television’s so quick and there’s so many other fun elements to it, but you don’t get such good scripts and the time to really make much more three dimensional characters.

What is the best thing about being on stage?

It’s difficult to say. Connecting when an audience reacts in different ways, the camaraderie of working in a cast when they’re all together in the rehearsal room rather than out filming, and the rehearsal period when you unlock parts of the script or character that had previously been wrapped in confusion, those moments when you find answers.

 And what is the worst thing?

The repetitiveness of being on stage, although you do discover new things. It can get repetitive sometimes, but then you’ll go to a place where you’ll find it really exciting.  You keep it fresh. Every night is different and fresh. You have to keep it alive – things can be done differently every night – while also retaining all the work you’ve done in rehearsals. The danger lies in people who start changing things just to keep it fresh; its just change for the sake of change rather than positive change, and it can get a bit lost in the long run.

Also the wages… and the periods of unemployment.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?

I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a barrister, which is quite similar to acting; arguments and researching the human side of things.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

It’s better not to be bitter. [Actor] Karl Johnson once told me that. It was when I was doing one of my first TV jobs. I had a small part in Rome, the HBO series. I was 21 and full of happy hope. I think older actors must find that refreshing to look at and he said never forget that, always retain that, because it’s tricky later on in that business. He’s absolutely right, because you do meet people who are a bit jaded from it. Just remember that, keep enjoying it. It’s better not to be bitter.



Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.