Film: BFI London Film Festival Guide


An interview with Tanya Moodie

Image © Tristram Kenton

We caught up with the British actor about her latest play Terror.

Actor Tanya Moodie has had a varied and interesting career, which has seen her equally at home with Shakespeare as it has twentieth century classics. She also is an active member and supporter of the Women’s Equality Party. Smart, open and honest, Moodie is completely comfortable with herself and whatever life may throw at her. London Calling met to chat about her role in the Lyric Hammersmith’s intriguing new production Terror.

London Calling: Thank you very much for speaking with us Tanya. Please can you tell us a bit about the play, and your role?

Tanya Moodie: The play is set in a German courtroom during the ‘trial of the century’, and I am playing the judge. A plane carrying 164 people has been hijacked by a terrorist – whose cause is unknown – and is heading to a packed football stadium in Munich when a German military pilot decides, independently, to shoot the plane down.
The court case is to decide whether or not his act constitutes 164 counts of murder, because he acted against a ruling in the German constitution that reads that all life is equal. The prosecution and defence have very compelling arguments for both sides, and the audience are the judges. Every night the audience have to give their verdict, and as the judge I have to announce that verdict and give the reasoning behind it. I don’t want to give away too much, but the arguments for both sides are incredibly cogent and compelling. I’ve got no idea how the audience are going to vote. I’ve met some who voted guilty, and others who voted acquittal – and actually one who abstained!

Image Credit: Tristram Kenton
LC: How much research have you done for this role?

TM: It’s a different type of research because it’s the first time in my career that I feel like I’m not playing a ‘character’ in the traditional sense. I’m representing the law, so the onus is on accuracy and understanding the rules and regulations around the law. The playwright [Ferdinand von Schirach] is a barrister, and we had a British barrister come in to a rehearsal too. It was super useful – we learnt that barristers and judges wear gowns and wigs to erase the ‘person’ who is arguing the law and leave the law itself to be represented. So any character things I normally consider – ‘what’s in my pocket? Where did I go to school?’ – I had to let go of, reluctantly, to avoid being distracted by an inner life.
LC: Are there any parts out there you’d love to play?

TM: I always feel like I should think about this more, but I like to keep it open. I’m extremely happy to greet whatever comes across my path with open arms – that way I tend to find things I would never have thought about.
Many years ago I worked with Tom Hardy, and he said to me: “what’s for you, won’t go by you”. I took that on board on a deep level, and it brings me peace as a peripatetic creative artist when I don’t get things I’m attached to. It makes me think: “actually that just wasn’t for me”.

Image Credit: Tristram Kenton
LC: The Stage, on your performance as Gertrude in Hamlet, urged someone to “cast her as Macbeth, make her a Henry V”. What do you think about gender-neutral casting?

TM: I’d be lying if I said I had any specific ambition to play certain male roles. There are so many that are incredibly compelling and interesting, but there’s nothing that I’ve sat down and hungered after.
Interestingly I teach an Introduction to Shakespeare course at RADA, and I recently allowed my students to choose any monologue to present at the end of the course. There was a woman who chose Antony [from Antony and Cleopatra] and it was one of the best performances of any Shakespeare monologue I’ve ever seen – and this was from someone who wasn’t even an actor. She completely empathised with Antony’s plight at the time, and his emotional life, and connected on a feminine level. I was so gobsmacked. I was moved and drawn completely into the play – irrespective of who she was, and where she was and the gender of the character. It gave me a very subjective and visceral understanding that gender/race/whatever can be transcended if there is a deep enough connection.
LC: Do you feel like there’s slightly more momentum, and optimism, in Britain at the moment for gender equality?

TM: I think what’s optimistic is that the dialogue is out there. Even though it brings the voice of detractors into focus, I think that’s the nature of dialogue. It’s not about “I’m right, you’re wrong” or “let’s just all agree”. Through the Women’s Equality Party I’m learning new things all the time about the nature of patriarchal structure and the nature of inequality.
I have zero problems with calling myself a feminist. I’m really settled with the notion that equality affects everybody and everything. The concept of feminism is actually to do with dismantling the inequality that is intrinsic in patriarchal structures – that can sound aggressive, but I think it means shifting perspective and continuing a dialogue. I have no worries about raising my daughter as a feminist. I know some people see feminism as one-sided or mono-cultural or aggressive, but I will just keep engaging in dialogue and I would encourage my daughter to keep her mind open and do the same.

Image Credit: Tristram Kenton

LC: What else is on your cultural radar at the moment?

TM: I just went to see The Barbershop Chronicles at the National Theatre. It was absolutely rammed, and by the end everyone jumped to their feet applauding – it’s really happening! I recently got into Elbow’s Little Fictions album, and I just finished reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. It’s about to be made into a movie so read the book first – quick!
I’m also an enormous fan of portraiture – I spend a lot of time mooching around the National Portrait Gallery and I collect portraiture. Mainly of black people, because I love finding beautiful images of them. I find it really haunting, but also celebratory and wonderful.
Tanya Moodie stars in Terror, at the Lyric Hammersmith, until July 15. Tickets from £15.