Official London Theatre first interviewed Hapgood star Lisa Dillon over a decade ago. Back then we described her “comet-like rise in the acting world” that saw the young star, straight out of RADA, landing leading London roles in The Master Builder, Othello and Hedda Gabler.
Eleven years on, and you can add a few more impressive credits to Dillon’s bulging CV. From Present Laughter and The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other at the National Theatre and Design For Living and A Flea In Her Ear at The Old Vic to the Almeida Theatre’s The Knot Of The Heart, which was written for Dillon, and the RSC’s The Roaring Girl, which saw her play the cross-dressing Moll Cutpurse, Dillon has more than lived up to that early potential.
This winter finds the Cranford star back on the London stage, playing a spymaster in Hapgood, Tom Stoppard’s twisty Cold War-set tale of espionage, leaked secrets and betrayal at Hampstead Theatre.
To celebrate – and having Dillon back in the capital’s theatres is always worth a celebration – we quizzed her and discovered her hidden Bond side, a beachy memory and artistic ambitions.
What made you want to appear in Hapgood?
I’ve been a Tom Stoppard fan for such a long time. It began when I performed a monologue aged 14 as Thomasina from Arcadia in a Bournemouth Drama festival. I won the festival and fell in love with Stoppard. It was only going to be a privilege to play Hapgood but the icing on the cake is working with Howard Davies for the third time. He is an extraordinary director of the finest calibre.
How would you describe your character?
Elizabeth Hapgood is utterly unique. She is supremely intelligent, she runs her own spy agency and is a single mother of an 11-year-old boy with an anarchic streak in her.
How do you feel about making your Hampstead debut?
I’ve always wanted to work at Hampstead. I’ve seen so many brilliant and memorable productions there.
What has surprised you during rehearsals?
The talent of my fellow cast members. They make the difficult look easy.
What is your favourite moment in the show?
Playing a card game without cards. It’s so Stoppardian and the closest I’m going to get to being either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern!
Do you think you would you make a good spy?
I do actually. I keep a good secret and always wear shoes I can run in!
How was playing Moll Cutpurse in Roaring Girl?
It was amazing. I got to dress as a drag king, play the electric guitar with a live band, swing from chandeliers and inhabit probably the first feminist to exist. Why isn’t there a statue of her in her old stomping ground of Fleet Street???
What is the finest performance you have seen?
Imelda Staunton in Good People at Hampstead. I saw the first preview and she knocked me sideways with her talent. Incredible actress, incredible performance.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
Not a clue!
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
Not much of anything right now as time is sparse! I love to run whenever I can. It clears my head.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Coming home after a balmy hot day at the beach. My Mum cleaning the sand from between my toes. Smelling the BBQ food we are about to devour.
Who or what has inspired you?
My parents. They have a wonderful work ethic that I hope I’ve acquired. They are good people.
Do you have any regrets?
None. Life’s far too short to regret anything. You have to learn and move on.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
Not really but in my dressing room I have a collection of trinkets that follow me from dressing room to dressing room. They are very precious to me. I’d be devastated to lose them.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
Many I suppose, but the rewards are greater than any sacrifice I’ve had to make.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
My love, David. He’s my world.
What would you choose as a last meal?
Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with capers and drizzled with truffle oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. A glass of Champagne must accompany it!
What book, film or album would you recommend to a friend?
The Minaturist by Jessie Burton. Not only is it an incredible debut novel but Jessie transformed her life from jobbing actress to bestselling novelist. I’m in awe of her courage.
Do you have any advice for young actors?
Don’t rely on luck. Be ready…
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
A painter of seascapes.
Hapgood plays at Hampstead Theatre until 23 January. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.