Interview with Lydia Leonard who is currently performing as Anne Boleyn, in the RSC’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies which are in repertoire at the Aldwych Theatre London.
Lydia is an established actress, with credits on stage, television, film and radio.
She made her West End debut playing the Trojan princess Polyxena, alongside Vanessa Redgrave in Hecuba, at the Albery Theatre (Noel Coward Theatre). Lydia recently took time out to answer a few questions about herself, and her career
What is a favourite memory from your school days?
I went to my local village school and I loved primary school. I played Herod in a school play. Probably the age from 8-10 was the happiest of my school days.
Who or what inspired you to want a career as an actress?
I had a really good drama teacher and I also love studying English and Shakespeare at school. My grandparents used to take me to The Festival Theatre at Chichester. From an early age I knew I wanted to be an actress, and I was single-minded about it. When I left school, I went straight to drama school at Bristol Old Vic. It is a relatively small school, with fairly small year groups, with school days from eight in the morning to eight at night. So it was quite intense, but invaluable. I couldn’t have done it without the training there.
What was your first professional acting role?
When I was at Bristol there was a wonderful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that David Farr directed, and four of the students (including myself) were fairies in what was a brilliant production. It was quite a release from the pressure of being in the final year of drama school. Immediately after drama school, I won the BBC Radio Carleton Hobbs bursary award. I was then on contract with working on plays on BBC Radio for four months. It was good to have regular work and to be working alongside great actors.
You have worked on radio and screen. Do you prefer television and films or stage work?
I don’t have a preference at all. Once I have done one for a while I am then ready to do the other one. The variety is one of the benefits of the career.
For the RSC, you played the role of the Trojan princess Polyxena, alongside Vanessa Redgrave as Hecuba. Can you tell us about your role?
There are a chorus of women who dance and sing throughout the play, and they never leave the stage. I just go on at the beginning and have this wonderful long speech, where I say I will allow myself to be sacrificed, and then I die and am backstage for the rest of the play. For the time I was on stage it was quite intense and vocal, but it was a bit of any ‘easy’ ride for me.
You played the role of David Frost’s girlfriend, Caroline Cushing, in Frost/Nixon in 2006.
It was the first time I had been in such a successful show. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Michael Grandage and Michael Sheen. I enjoy a play that is based on real events, and to be able to research it. Caroline was glamorous, good fun, and it was wonderful. It wasn’t a huge part but I was very proud to be involved in the play. I was still fairly fresh out of drama school, and it was only the second play I had done.
You played the role of Jackie Onassis, in Onassis, alongside Robert Lindsay, at the Novello Theatre. Can you tell us about that?
It was such a gripping period to read about when researching for the play. I loved reading the biographies about Jackie, who was fascinating and quite reserved in many ways. Because of her reserved character, the challenge in ‘Onassis’, was to make her dramatically interesting.
You were in the immensely successful RSC production of Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies at Stratford-upon-Avon. How did it feel to be performing in Shakespeare’s home town with the RSC?
It made me feel very proud, as the RSC is such an institution. It is such a beautiful place and I had a wonderful time. I stayed in a fabulous cottage next to the theatre.
You currently play the role of Anne Boleyn: how did you research her?
I learnt most about Anne Boleyn from reading Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and that was my first port of call. I was playing a character from a book written by the pre-eminent author of the Twenty-First Century. So, in many ways, my job of research was done for me, as Anne Boleyn was described so perfectly. I also read another two biographies, but the view of the character that I play is that from Hilary Mantel’s books.
Can you describe some of the key aspects of Anne Boleyn’s character?
A lot of the way she behaves is due to desperation and fear, and at times comes out the wrong way. She is also angry and that anger comes out as fear.
What do you enjoy most about playing the role?
I enjoy it all. I find playing the role quite tiring as she is quite ‘tight’. I like it when she is being political and clever.
What can you tell us about Anne Boleyn’s costumes?
There are eleven beautiful costumes, from the RSC costume department, which is probably the best in the country, and probably the world. One of the costumes I only wear for one line. Lucy Briers, who plays Katherine of Aragon, wears a costume that weighs two stone.
Playing at the Aldwych Theatre, why should everyone get along to see Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies?
Quite simply, it’s a brilliant and fascinating story. It is a great opportunity to learn about the extraordinary characters from that era.
Do people need to see both plays to get the most out of them?
You don’t have to but I would certainly recommend seeing them both. They do stand on their own as plays.
Away from the stage what do you like to do to chill out?
I have just started riding my bike again, and it is the best ‘de-stresser’, with nearly an hour each day. Apart from that, seeing friends, restaurants, pubs, etc. With the sun out, the cast are planning some days out in London.
Thank you for your time Lydia and very best wishes for Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are at the Aldwych Theatre from 1st May 2014
Interviewed by Neil Cheesman @LondonTheatre1