Once In A Lifetime - An Interview with Claudie Blakley

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We spoke to Claudie Blakley about her upcoming role in Once In A Lifetime as the witty vaudeville actress May Daniels, her pre-show rituals and enjoying the spice of life.

Once In A Lifetime, opening at the Young Vic next week, is a raucous ride through 1930s Hollywood. When the first talking motion picture is released, a trio of vaudeville actors travel to Los Angeles to make it big in the talkies. A classic Broadway comedy, it promises to be a humorous and tongue in cheek exploration of the road to stardom and the interesting characters you meet along the way. We spoke to actress Claudie Blakley about her role as the witty vaudeville actress May Daniels, her pre-show rituals and enjoying the spice of life.

London Calling: Once In A Lifetime opens next week - how are you feeling about it?

Claudie Blakley: It’s at that point now when it’s a bit scary, we’re about to start running it and we don’t know how it’s going to land. Its been great so far, absolutely brilliant. It’s one of those shows when you don’t know how the audience will react because it’s an old fashioned piece, but I think that’s part of the excitement of it. When I read it I just felt that it had such a wonderful charm and warmth, it goes on this lovely journey with the three central characters.

LC: Can you tell us a bit about your character?

CB: I play May Daniels who is part of a trio vaudeville act in the 1920s, they haven’t really made it, so they are just a little troupe touring around America. May is fiercely independent, strong, and has such charm and wit. She’s living the life as an on the road actress in a very male dominated society, but she can really hold her own. She’s very ambitious and always wants more for herself and her life, but she can get quite lonely and has anxieties, as actresses do. She’s a real tough cookie and an absolute joy to play, I’ve got some corker dry one liners!

LC: The play looks at breaking into showbiz. As an actress, could you relate to this?

CB: Yeah I guess, although it’s a bit different now. But of course being on tour and being an actress, wanting more, it’s quite relatable. I’ve been over to LA and done that mad circus, so I’ve had a taster of that world. I don’t know how much has changed, you still have to be a name and move about in the right circles. Also, shall I say it politely, I could relate to all of the eccentric people you come across!

LC: Once In a Lifetime has been a huge success since it opened in 1930. What does this new production bring to the original?

CB: I think it’s pretty faithful to the original. Design wise it will have a slightly modern edge to it, we’ve certainly tried to put our own mark on it. Also a few references, words and phrases from the original are quite old fashioned and not so much in tune with a modern audience, so a few aspects were slightly adapted. But one of the attractions is that it has a real old fashioned charm to it, so I think that’s what we’re serving up.

LC: Were there many laughs in rehearsals?

CB: Truthfully it’s a lot of work and everyone is keeping their heads down. Richard (Jones, the director) doesn’t encourage too much laughter as it could lure us into a false sense of security, and ultimately you never know what an audience will laugh at on the night! Keeping surprises for the first night keeps it more interesting I think. We do have a laugh don’t get me wrong, but we’re not laughing out loud at every joke. We’re all so busy backstage thinking about the next bit so we haven’t even watched very much yet, it has been quite different to a lot of plays I’ve rehearsed in that way. It’s such a lovely cast and it’s great to see people playing different types of characters in such a creative environment.

LC: You’ve appeared in Pride and Prejudice, Gosford Park and Lark Rise to Candleford. What would you say has been your most enjoyable role so far?

CB: I have to say that this is one of the most enjoyable parts I’ve played so far, it really is. But I also played Wendy in Peter Pan at the National Theatre years ago, and that really was one of the most amazing experiences because I was flying every night. I’ve played a diverse array of characters so I feel quite fortunate, I don’t know whether I’m more of a character actor really.

LC: You’ve worked across theatre and film. What would you say is your favourite performance medium?

CB: I like to do all of it, is the honest answer! You go along one road for a while, and it’s lovely to do some filming and TV for a bit, but then you can be absolutely itching to get back on the stage and get that live feeling, which is different every night, and that freedom you get in rehearsals where you can explore your character for however many weeks. It’s so instant when you’re filming and so I miss the live feeling there. It’s good to keep it spicy and learn from each medium. So I’d say all of it, variety is the spice of life!

LC: How do you prepare yourself for going on stage, do you have a ritual?

CB: My ritual is just warming up. I’m absolutely religious about going on stage, doing a vocal warm up, going through sections of the play. It’s important in this play for me to do an American voice warm up, and enter the space, lying on the stage and doing the warm up there. If I’ve missed it for some reason I always feel very odd about that, it focuses me and gets me in the zone.

Once In A Lifetime plays at The Young Vic from 25 November to 14 January 2017. Tickets are between £10 and £35. Find out more and book tickets here.