“The Entertainer” - An interview with Sophie McShera

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Picture by Johan Persson

We chat to Downton Abbey actress Sophie McShera about her upcoming performance in the West End production of John Osborne's 'The Entertainer'.

Sophie McShera is no stranger to playing strong, fiery women. Known for her role as kitchen maid Daisy Robinson in Golden Globe winning period drama Downton Abbey, and as 6th Form student Ros McCain in the fifth series of BBC drama Waterloo Road, Sophie’s latest project is playing Jean Rice in the West End revival of John Osborne’s 'The Entertainer'. This play, first produced in 1957, tells the story of Archie Rice, a failed music-hall performer, and explores his relationships with his family members, which are failing almost as much as his comedy routines are. Teaming up with Kenneth Branagh who will be starring in the title role, Sophie chats to us about the excitement and the preparation involved leading up to the opening night at London’s Garrick Theatre.

London Calling: The Entertainer is opening on August 20th, at the Garrick Theatre. You must be so excited!

Sophie McShera: Really excited! The rehearsal period has gone really fast so it’s kind of crept up on us that it’s almost happening. It’s really exciting!

LC: I bet! So you’re playing Jean Rice in the play, could you describe her character a little bit for me?

SM: Oh my gosh, I haven’t done this yet! [Laughs] I definitely should know by now, we only have a week to go! She’s a great character; it’s a really interesting role. I can’t really say she’s one thing or the other. She’s complicated and she’s angry at times. She’s finding her feet for sure, and she’s finding her way in the world in a very changing time. It’s a really great part to play and it’s really challenging. I’m enjoying it.

LC: How did you prepare for this particular role?

SM: I guess we’ve had a really long rehearsal period, relatively speaking, so I’ve kind of got to find her as I’ve gone along, just working through the scenes and obviously it’s interesting to look at the time she was living in. She’s finding her political voice in the play, so I’ve had to look a bit into the time she was living in, and I’ve just been trying to watch things and read things about that time. I’ve been really lucky having quite a lot of time to play around with different ideas.

LC: And what is it about The Entertainer that attracted you to it and made you want to take the role?

SM: I absolutely love the writing. I just think it’s such a pleasure to get to say these words, and the characters are really well drawn. The play is very powerful, I loved it as soon as I read it, and working with these actors has just been so exciting and so inspiring.

LC: What’s the chemistry been like between everyone in the cast?

SM: It’s been brilliant! It’s a great show and it’s got all of these family themes in the middle of it, and that dynamic’s been really fun to find with each other. I’m really enjoying that part of it.

LC: You’ve worked with Kenneth Branagh before on Cinderella, the live-action Disney film. What’s it like working with him in such a different context?

SM: It’s so brilliant, I’m so glad that I get to work with Ken again. To work with him as an actor is completely different. I just feel really lucky to get to play opposite him. I’m so inspired by him and I’m learning loads from him.

LC: You’ve done stage, film, and TV roles. Do you prefer being on stage or in front of a camera?

SM: I absolutely love doing both. Having the opportunity to go from one to the other is the big dream. I haven’t done a play since I did Jerusalem, which I think might have been five years ago, so it’s been a little while. So being in The Entertainer is really exciting, I’m really enjoying the process.

LC: What’s been your most challenging role so far?

SM: I guess I’m always going to say the one that I’m doing, because you can look back on everything with rose-tinted glasses whereas the one you’re doing at the moment is always going to be the most challenging. So I’m going to say Jean Rice.

LC: Good answer! You’ve played a whole variety of roles and characters. Is there a role or a character that you haven’t done that you’re hoping to do soon?

SM: I’m not great at saying, “oh, this is exactly what I want to do next”. I’ll read a script and see how I feel about it and go from there.

LC: Do you have a secret favourite place in London that you love? Where and why?

SM: Hmmm, let me think. My friend has taken me recently to Romeo’s bakery in Islington. It’s a refined sugar-free bakery and they make amazing cakes.

LC: I love that place! They do really good gluten-free bread too.

SM: Oh yeah, I haven’t had that there. I didn’t go gluten-free, just sugar free. Great place!

The Entertainer will run at the Garrick Theatre from 20th August - 12th November. Book tickets online.