Words by Naomi Jeffreys
The Rabbit Film Section has an exclusive interview with an actor who is frequently on the best London stages who is now forging her silver screen career. Check out the full interview here.
“This is a bravura performance that elevates Morahan to the front rank of British actors.” Michael Billington’s review of Hattie Morahan in her most recent stage performance as Nora Helmer, in the critically acclaimed A Doll’s House at the Young Vic Theatre this summer. Hattie Morahan is one of those actors that every budding actor would aspire to be: never out of work. She is an actor at the top of her game.
We meet in the National Theatre café where I bought her a coffee and we found a quiet corner to sit and chat. Fresh off the stage from a three week run at the Young Vic, Morahan is dressed simply in a cream jumper, jeans with her blonde hair tied up. She is down to earth, intelligent and clearly loves the work she is doing.
Morahan sounds pleased with such a glowing review from Billington; “He did like it!” she exclaims. Morahan says that one of her friends texted her afterwards saying, “He sounds like your very proud father”.
Morahan – as Nora Helmer- the doll in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is flighty, flirty and childish with her husband Torvald. Hattie Morahan produces a tour de force in stage acting – the childlike doll contrasted with a stronger, more complex side. It was a class performance in a stylish and classy production, with a rotating stage, cinematic music and a pace which never lets up.
She sheepishly confesses to not getting physically fit to play Nora before rehearsals; “I think I had all these good intentions… I was thinking, I’m going to get very fit, very healthy, because of the Tarantella and actually that never happened, I was a bit too busy”. Morahan’s Nora Helmer was rarely off stage and her performance cemented her as one of Britain’s top young actors.
The daughter of Anna Carteret and Christopher Morahan, she studied English Literature at Cambridge. My parents are both in the industry and thought “if I wanted to act, I should get some training. My first job was an eighteen month contract with the RSC which was the perfect alternative because I knew I wanted to do stage work, it was a real education and it was wonderful,” Since finding recognition in the BBC adaptation of Austen’s, Sense and Sensibility in 2008, she hasn’t stopped working – starring in television shows, theatre and radio.
Morahan often stars in boundary-pushing theatre productions including Katie Mitchell’s …some trace of her, Rupert Goold’s Time and the Conways at the National Theatre. There’s a sense in which each of these theatrical endeavours has been linked, in one way or another, to film and I asked if this had been a conscientious decision; “Do you know, it hasn’t actually, that’s really interesting you say that …they’ve all used them in different ways”.
I wonder what draws her to London theatres; “It just feels like there’s something very live and young at the moment. “There are a lot of people exploring the boundaries of what’s possible and there’s a lot of exciting new writing and people seem to be interested in taking risks. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be in theatre”.
A Summer in February is the highly anticipated film due for release around the New Year or early 2013. The film is produced by and stars Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey, Emily Browning, Dominic Cooper and of course, Morahan herself.
I ask if she could give the University of Essex students an exclusive taster of what to expect; “It’s based on real events, real characters and is a love triangle, it’s quite sad, passionate, romantic and is about a particular group of artists, down in Lamorna in Cornwall. Emily Browning plays a young girl and art student in Cornwall who becomes romantically involved with two men and it all goes terribly wrong”
Morahan goes on to talk about her character, “Dame Laura Knight” she smiles, evidently proud of her part. “She is an extraordinary, well-known British painter who is married to another painter and it’s this rather wonderful Bohemian wild, seaside life, full of art and parties and friendship”
Her preparation for portraying a real life artist was detailed: she researched as much as she could: “I think it’s useful to know what’s out there, you look at her paintings, she wrote a number of autobiographies and is a force of nature – very inspiring, I mean you just work out what the essence of the person is and what motivates them”. Morahan finishes, taking a pause for a sip of coffee.
Two of the stars, Dominic Cooper and Dan Stevens, are actors she has previously worked with in Sense and Sensiblity. I wonder whether this makes the filming process easier; “I think it’s lovely to come on jobs and know people already and it’s a wonderful shorthand to immediately feel at home with someone” she reflects.
A Summer in February is set pre first world war and I wonder why audiences are so drawn to period dramas; “I think there’s something escapist about it because it’s in a different era and different when it comes to romantic things, there were far more strictures on people’s lives and obstacles and different pressures on people which make for good drama,”
Morahan has worked hard to achieve her goals. I ask her if she has any advice for any budding actors at the University. “I really believe there’s no one path, drama school offers a showcase and offers training in technique, but a lot of people do learn on the job. See as much work as you can, seek to improve yourself, work out the kind of work you’re drawn to, but mainly just keep at it, keep trying to work out what is good and try to keep achieving excellence”
Hattie Morahan was great company during our interview – interesting, funny, and eager to talk about her upcoming projects. What is she doing next? Well, she is set to star in the Almeida Theatre’s new play, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, “which is a play about a community of poets in Herefordshire. I play Helen Thomas who is the wife of the poet Edward Thomas and it’s mainly about Edward Thomas and his friendship with Robert Frost. It’s all set before the war and it’s lovely, very beautiful play”
You can see Hattie Morahan at the Almeida Theatre from 8th November 2012 till the 12th January 2013.
A Summer in February set to be released on Friday 14th June 2013