As Sonya Cassidy takes to the Theatre Royal Haymarket stage alongside Joanna Lumley and Robert Lindsay, the young actress tells Charlotte Marshall about her career so far which has already seen her star opposite Kevin Spacey and grace some of London’s most illustrious stages.
CV in brief
2008 Graduates from RADA
2009 Wins first leading role in the Old Vic’s Inherit The Wind starring Kevin Spacey
2010 Appears in The Prince Of Homburg at the Donmar Warehouse
2011 Stars opposite Joanna Lumley and Robert Lindsay in The Lion In Winter
Where did you grow up?
I grew up just outside Bristol.
What first got you interested in acting?
I wasn’t one of those young children that was constantly demanding attention and dancing and singing in the living room. I think it started to manifest itself in school, in my group of friends I was always the one that would like doing different accents and funny voices and endearing impressions of teachers and things like that! Then my mum got my brother and I in a youth theatre in Bristol which was run by the writer Laura Wade [Posh]. She set that up when she was at university in Bristol and that’s when I first got the acting bug. There are no other actors in my family so we sought the advice of people that ran the youth theatre and took it from there really. I started auditioning in sixth form and went to drama school and the rest is history!
Do you think you’ll ever work with Laura Wade again?
I’m not sure! You do bump into people and I do like to keep in touch with her because she’s where it all started and she’s so lovely and really talented, so I love to keep in touch with what she’s doing because I think there’s more very excited things in the pipeline for her. It’s really lovely in this industry to have that, someone I knew when I was 14, 15.
Did you go straight from school to RADA?
I did, yes. I remember I was doing my bread-baking shift in Somerfield’s in the local town on Sunday morning when I got the call and it was not long after my 18th birthday. I started auditioning when I was 17 and there are four rounds to RADA so it’s a really tense, nerve-wracking experience, but I knew I wanted it. I’ve never been so excited before, it was an amazing day.
What was your first professional acting job?
My first professional job was an episode of Lewis for ITV. That was great. It was a small role, I can’t lie, blink and you’ll miss it! But I had such a lovely experience, the cast and crew were just so supportive and friendly. It was a really valuable experience for a young actor fresh out of drama school to understand the way a set works. From then the TV roles got gradually bigger so it’s been a really lovely progression.
Do you want to work on stage or on screen?
Both definitely. I’ve started off in theatre and I absolutely love it. Like now, for example, being on the Haymarket stage, the buzz you get before you go out into that auditorium each night is just incredible and you just don’t get that on set. But I’m doing the new series of Vera for ITV and I’m a regular in that so I was doing that just before I got this Haymarket job. Thankfully I had a spare weekend before we went into tech and previews to finish shooting that, so it really overlapped.
That sounds tiring!
I can’t lie, it was quite tiring! But it’s such a wonderful position to be in. All the actors I admire, of which there are so many, are the ones that are able to prove themselves in every medium.
Who are the actors you most admire?
I knew you’d ask me that! There’s so many. There’s the kind of classic ones like Judi Dench, I’ve been such an admirer or her and her career. I was so pleased I managed to catch Michael Sheen in Hamlet at the Young Vic recently and the production was fantastic. I really love Anne-Marie Duff, I think she’s fantastic as well. Her husband, James McAvoy, is brilliant. There are so many.
Tell me about your character in The Lion In Winter.
She’s 23 and she is the sister of the recent King Philip of France and she’s been having an illegitimate relationship with King Henry II for the last seven years. As far as she’s concerned, marrying for love and having children and loving them and caring for them – a very 21st century mentality in some ways – is the thing most paramount to her. She’s in a world that’s extremely cut throat where people only really think politically and try and play games to stab at one another. So she’s a tough cookie, she’s very smart, she’s very savvy and able to hold her own in that world, but she has a very pure core I think.
Is it intimidating working with Joanna Lumley and Robert Lindsay?
A lot of people ask that and it’s only when you’re asked you go ‘God, yeah it is really’. I don’t mean that in any arrogant way but what overrides any nerves is this immense excitement to get into rehearsals and working. I was in a show with Kevin Spacey the year before last [Inherit The Wind] and again it was a similar thing.
With Joanna and Robert, they’re such lovely people, so grounded. There’s no sense of the ‘Joanna Lumley, Robert Lindsay’ name that’s brought in with them, you just feel they’re members of the cast. They’re supportive and funny and if they make a mistake they’ll laugh about it, because we all do. It’s great to learn from these actors as well, as a young actor making your way up the industry, it’s such a valuable experience.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Trevor Nunn. Did he request you audition for this role?
Yes, I was asked to audition for this role. We worked really well together on Inherit The Wind and, again, as a young actor it was amazing to be in a room with Trevor Nunn. That experience was a cloud nine experience; it was amazing with a director like Trevor, with the venue, with an incredible cast and to be playing a lead, female role was just fantastic!
There is pressure on you but the brilliant thing about Trevor is he doesn’t make you feel that, it’s a very productive but relaxed, enjoyable environment in a rehearsal room with him. He’s like a human encyclopaedia as well! It’s remarkable. I’m quite geeky, I’ll do a lot of work before we get into the rehearsal room because I like to know what I’m doing and be prepped, but you can more or less bet that Trevor will know every tiny detail which is fantastic because you do feel like you’re in very safe hands.
Which production have you seen that you wished you’d been in?
I must be honest, the Hamlet that I saw recently [at the Young Vic] I really, really loved and thought that must be awesome to be in because I feel like it’s such an incredible idea. I loved the direction, I loved the concept, I thought the acting was brilliant, and it must be so exciting to be in that with such talented actors.
You’ve worked at the Old Vic, the Donmar Warehouse and now the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Is the National next?
It would be amazing to work at the National! I love the Almeida as well, it’s a fantastic theatre. Working in spaces like the Donmar and the Old Vic and now at the Haymarket on such a fantastic play with such a great cast, I feel so lucky. You really focus and soak up each moment in each job rather than constantly thinking what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. I’ve been so pleased with how things have gone so far and I guess we’ll see, there’s a few exciting things in the pipeline but I wouldn’t want to say because you never know.
If you weren’t an actor what would you be?
That’s a really good question because in the jobs I’ve done in between acting jobs –you’ve got to pay the rent so you’ll do things like working in a bar or a department store selling fragrance – I’ve got nothing against them but I have a very short space of time before I just want to scream. That’s no comment on the job, it’s just because you’re not doing what you want to do, but that’s the life of an actor.
I think to be honest it would have to be something in the industry. I’d love to write, I think certain life experiences, like when you’re not doing acting work, give you lots of fuel for writing or directing your own stuff so I’d love to that one day. But not in place of acting. This is what I want to do.