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Q&A: Lucy Punch

Published 24 September 2014

From Woody Allen to Cameron Diaz, British actor Lucy Punch has worked alongside a star-studded line-up of Hollywood greats but, while the glamour of LA is all well and good, it seems the allure of London’s Theatreland was just too great to resist as she returns to cast some of her comedic sparkle across the West End.

Following her West End debut in 2000’s The Graduate, Punch is back on stage to lead the transfer of the National Theatre’s hit satire Great Britain at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, taking on the deliciously unscrupulous role of the uber-ambitious, uber-ruthless newspaper editor Paige Britain.

Theatre fans will no doubt be aware that she’ll be following in the much-loved footsteps of Billie Piper, who originated the role in Richard Bean’s high-profile comedy about the ethics of the free press at the National Theatre. So naturally, like one of the show’s probing tabloid journalists – just with, you know, ethics – we were curious to find out exactly how Punch felt about stepping into someone else’s shoes – in Britain’s case, we’d imagine they’d be killer Christian Louboutin’s… – and why this was the role to tempt her back to life on stage…

What first sparked your interest in performing?

A childhood interest in deception… of my parents, in order to bunk off school. I was a master in the art of fevered hallucinations, chronic coughing fits and stress induced sleepwalking.

What is the finest performance you have ever seen?

Gene Wilder falling in love with a sheep in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. The sheep wasn’t bad either.

What drew you to the role of Paige Britain?

She’s hilarious and despicable. A killer combination.  

Did you go to see Billie Piper play the role at the National Theatre or do you deliberately avoid seeing another actor in the role when you’re taking over a part?

Ordinarily I’d avoid it but this was an unusual and accelerated rehearsal process. There was no read-through of the script with the cast, so I needed to see it to have an understanding of the piece as a whole. However, I waited a few weeks until I’d answered certain questions about the character, and made some decisions about how I wanted to play it. I thought the show was fantastic; Billie Piper and the rest of the cast were excellent.  

What are you most looking forward to about the run?

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done any theatre, and it requires different skills and a different approach to film or TV acting, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of eight shows a week for a few months!

What is it about returning to the stage and appearing in the West End that appeals to you?

See above. As for appearing in the West End, it’s fun to be in central London and performing in such a stunning theatre. The Theatre Royal Haymarket is just beautiful, it’s a pleasure to come to work every day.

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

Pass! My brain can’t handle the possibilities!

London or LA?

I love both. And New York. And Rio for that matter. 

Who or what has inspired you?

My mum. She’s always been encouraging and supportive, even when I was the front of a tap dancing pantomime horse. 

What do you consider your big break?

I’ve had more of a series of little breaks along the way. Although I suppose getting cast in one of Woody Allen’s movies changed things a lot for me. Professionally, I started to get seen for bigger roles, and personally it gave me a lot more confidence in myself as an actress.

You’ve worked with some incredible people in your career so far. Who has been your favourite person to work with?

Cameron Diaz on Bad Teacher. She is even more lovely and hilarious and fun than she appears in interviews. She creates a wonderful warm atmosphere on set, she is kind, generous and fantastic to work with, and she even made me breakfast!

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

If I have done, I don’t think of them as sacrifices. I feel very lucky that I make a living doing what I always wanted to do. 

Do you have any regrets?

I am very happy with where I am right now, so all the idiotic decisions, countless humiliations, catastrophic mistakes and lapses in judgement must have all been part of some unconscious master plan!

What would you choose as a last meal?

A magnum of Champagne, barbequed prawns, French fries and a bucket of chocolate. 

What one book, one film and one album would you recommend?

Book: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Beautiful and sad.

Film: The King Of Comedy. Hilarious and sad. 

Album: All of Leonard Cohen’s albums. Brilliant and sad.

I’m feeling momentarily melancholy. 

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. 

Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?

I hurl myself around my dressing room to Die Antwoord, drink a double espresso and give myself a good talking to in the mirror…

Where do you head after a performance?

Home! To bed! It’s a very energetic show and I’m on stage for a lot of it, so I’m ready to drop just as I’m tearing off my fake eyelashes.

What ambitions would you like to fulfil?

I’d like to do more writing and producing. I’m developing a show for FX which I’m co-writing with some proper, very talented writers. I like the idea of being involved in a project from the beginning and having more creative input.  

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

An astronaut. Obviously.

"I am very happy with where I am right now, so all the humiliations and lapses in judgement must have all been part of some unconscious master plan!"

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