Glass meets rising star, actress Vanessa Kirby, and talks to her about her latest role
Good things are happening for actress Vanessa Kirby. Following on from starring roles in David Thacker’s productions of Ibsen’s Ghosts, A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare and All My Sons by Arthur Miller (for which she won the BIZA Rising Star Award), Kirby went on to star in Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton and in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
This year she again earned glowing reviews for her role in The Acid House by Anya Reiss at the Royal Court Theatre and made her first steps onto screen, playing Ruth Elms in Golden Globe nominated The Hour. Kirby is next due on our screens this Christmas, alongside Ray Winstone, Gillian Anderson and Douglas Booth in Sarah Phelps’ compelling BBC adaptation of Great Expectations. Glass thinks you’ll be hearing a lot more about Vanessa Kirby in 2012. We caught up with her at the Covent Garden Hotel, London.
Your career has really taken off this year. Have you always known that acting was what you wanted to do?
I think I can also speak for acting friends when I say that with acting it’s one of those things that you just have to do. There’s no question in your mind that you have to do it, and you will do it. That’s how you get somewhere with it. I think I knew when I quite young that it was, at least, something that felt right. Even in primary school it made me happy. All the way through secondary school it was the thing that made me happiest.
You didn’t follow the traditional drama school route, why was that?
I tried for drama school when I was 17 and they said come back in a year because you’re too young. So I travelled around Africa and Asia by myself for a year. When I came back, I decided to study English at University, where I could read everything, do loads of Uni plays and meet 3000 people who didn’t do acting. Two years ago when I was graduating and about to accept a drama school place at LAMDA, I went back to see this amazing teacher, who taught me when I was 16, who I hadn’t seen for 6 years, so he could help me with some speeches. He’d recommended Emily Blunt to an agent and he recommended me to that same agent and literally from that day, my life changed
Things took off pretty quickly from there – three plays with David Thacker, the BIZA rising star award and then further plays at the National and this year the Royal Court. It must have felt like an incredibly auspicious time, did you have a sense of it being your ‘break’?
It’s so weird thinking about it now. Yes, I just remember feeling so overwhelmed. And you know, yes, that night after I got the three David Thacker plays I was shaking. My best friend Pip came round and she was holding my hand. I couldn’t believe it. I think I was really propelled, thrown into the deep end. For three months I was terrified. And I thought oh God I hope it isn’t always going to be like this. But I think eventually you just go, no I can do this and I am good at this and actually it’s all I love doing. I couldn’t believe it and it hasn’t stopped.
Your role as Ruth Elms in The Hour was your first screen role. How have you found the transition from stage to screen?
It was a bit of a shock. There are so many technical things – like hitting your mark, different shot sizes. I knew none of this, I’d got some books about it and I’d been told about it. John Hurt, who I was working with recently [in Ridley Scott's upcoming television adaptation of Kate Mosse's novel Labyrinth], said it takes about ten years to master. And I was thinking, oh God that’s John Hurt, I’ve got another eight or something! Ben Whishaw from The Hour was so helpful, I was shaking like a leaf and he was squeezing my hand. He was just wonderful. I was worrying about being worried. It’s another thing that John Hurt said recently, “Look right you know everyone gets nervous. I get nervous, sometimes I’m nervous on the set now.” And I said, John that gives me no hope! I thought there’d be some golden answer in a year’s time when I’d stop being nervous, but the key to acting is being able to do it even when it’s the last thing on earth you want to do. Tell us about playing Estella in Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of Great Expectations?
She [Phelps] is phenomenal! I think she just wanted to make this one not sort of fluffy or light because Dickens isn’t. It’s not Jane Austen. She wanted to make it much grittier and bleak. So it’s not starting off as some grand period drama. It looks real. So I had no make-up on whatsoever at all and a black wig. But that’s good, because they didn’t wear make-up and rather than have an Estella who should be more beautiful, or more this ,or whatever iconic images people have in their minds – at the end of the day Pip met her and fell in love with her when he was young and that infatuation has driven everything in his entire life. And meeting her again, it doesn’t matter. It’s what she represents that he’s in love with.
By Tara Wheeler
Great Expectations begins on December 27, 9pm on BBC 1