Simon Harrison and Beth Cordingly in rehearsals for Sideways (Photo: Pamela Raith)
Simon Harrison and Beth Cordingly in rehearsals for Sideways (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Q&A: Beth Cordingly

Published May 20, 2016

When we first heard hit novel turned award-winning movie Sideways was coming to the London stage, we thought “Great, what a perfect opportunity to sit down and do an interview over a bottle or two, or three or wine.”

That’s not because we’re always more than happy to partake in the consumption of grape juice with an actor or two, though we are. In this instance, quaffing the Merlot has more relevance.

Sideways, you see, is the story of two middle-aged men who head off together on a wine tasting week. Bumping into Maya and Terra, they soon discover how delightfully freeing a glass of wine and good company can be.

So popping open the Pinto Grigio would be entirely appropriate.

But we didn’t. For reasons both monetary and professional. But mostly professional.

Instead we quizzed for The Bill, Dead Set and Family Affairs star Beth Cordingly, who plays Terra, and discovered an unsurprising love of wine, an early debut as Anne Of Greengables and aslightly OTT fanaticism for David Nicholls’ One Day.

 

What drew you to Sideways?

I loved the film when it first came out. And I’m crazy about good wine. I was certainly one of those people who stopped drinking Merlot for a while as a result of watching the film (I drink it now!). I also loved the character of Terra. And in the audition I met David Grindley for the first time and was very impressed with his direction and approach.

How would you describe your character?

I made a promise to myself and a couple of friends at the beginning of this year that 2016 would be a year of living more fearlessly, to (try and) be “BOLD and FIERCE”. I’m not sure how well I’m doing at that personally but certainly the character of Terra is both of those things. She’s strong and she knows a hell of a lot about wine, as does Ellie Piercy’s character of Maya. It’s great that Rex Pickett has given these two women that knowledge and skill.

What’s your tipple of choice?

Red wine, of course. And I’m partial to a good gin and tonic. I drink white wine too…

What’s the most unlikely situation you’ve found yourself in after a glass or two of wine?

I wouldn’t like to say…

What’s your favourite moment in the show?

There’s a moment involving the wielding of a golf club that’s pretty feisty. But actually the dialogue of the play is so pithy and clever I really do love just watching the scenes I’m not in, particularly those between the two main guys Jack and Miles. Their banter rattles along at a pace and both Simon Harrison and Daniel Weyman bring something so clever and unique to the story.

What sparked your interest in performing?

I was always singing around the house when I was very young and then when I was nine I joined a local Saturday morning drama group run by Carole Best. Lizzie Booth who taught me totally inspired me. Her attention to detail and discipline was very high. We’d do full scale musicals and when I was 10 I was cast as Anne in the musical of Anne Of Greengables. I was so thrilled that I was quietly convinced I was going to die before I got to play the part in performance because for me, aged 10, it was the pinnacle. (Slightly melodramatic. I lived.)

What is the finest performance you have seen?

That’s too hard to say. Among the many I have been lucky enough to witness, I’d include Alun Armstrong as Willy Loman, Stephen Dillane in The Real Thing and recently, of course, Denise Gough was fabulous in People, Places & Things.

If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?

If I said I’d be jinxing it as there is a play I would love to do. But I’ll keep quiet and just say that if I get the chance to work again with Matthew Needham whom I shared a stage with at the RSC last year then I’d be happy. I think he’s an extraordinary actor. I’d follow the director Matthew Dunster anywhere. I think he’s quite brilliant. And, of course, if I could work with Mark Rylance… What actor wouldn’t wish for that?

What do you consider your big break?

I think the first moment you get your first job and realise you’re actually making a living from being an actor is a huge moment.

Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?

No. I think it’s a privilege. The ups and the downs. Best job in the world. Every time I get a job I still can’t quite believe people are paying me to be an actor.

Do you have any theatrical superstitions?

I’m terrible at saying words you’re not meant to say backstage or in dressing rooms (eg the title of the Scottish play). Whenever I do it I go into a total melt-down panic expecting the other actor to brain me and hit the fire alarm or get me arrested. (It’s quite stressful.)

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Playing detectives or commando soldiers in “the dump” – a hideout my brother and I made at the back of our house. He was older than me and I idolised him. I think I probably drove him mad. I certainly do now.

Who or what has inspired you? 

My Mum and Dad. My mum worked extensively in Child Protection in the 80s and 90s fighting for more recognition of it, helping to make people more aware of the signs to look for. My dad is a writer with an incredibly strong work ethic. They’re my favourite people.

What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?

My little girl, Eliza Rose. She’s nearly three. She’s everything.

What book, film or album would you recommend to a friend?

I loved the book One Day so much I spent an entire day composing a fan letter to David Nicholls. I’ve never done that before. He replied. I framed it. I don’t mind admitting I’m a geek at heart. I like to think we all are really.

What could you not be without?

Eliza.

What ambition would you like to fulfil?

I’d love to be in a Richard Curtis film. I’ve been saying that FOR YEARS. I can’t decide whether it’s time to change the record or just keep banging on and keep hoping. Who knows?

What would you choose as a last meal?

A really good roast with all the trimmings. Or a great curry, probably a Vegetable Dhansak. Or red wine with an amazing cheese board…I’m not fussy.

Do you have any advice for young actors?

Give yourself a routine when you’re not working so your day has some structure. We all like to think of ourselves as hippies that don’t need routine but actually it can stop you from feeling lost and useless in the periods when you’re waiting for work. Get up, get busy, do stuff with your day. You’re more likely to feel like you deserve your evenings when they come round. Oh and, when you can, book a holiday. It’s the surest means of getting a job. I think I’ve come back early from most holidays I’ve ever booked!

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

A writer if I had the discipline or a counsellor if I thought I could be a good one. I’m a huge believer in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) My CBT therapist, Avy, has saved my life – or certainly my sanity – more than once. I’m in awe of teachers too; it takes such dedication and courage.

Sideways plays at St James Theatre from 26 May to 9 July. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.

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