The Wylde Interview: Rosalie Craig
ROSALIE CRAIG IS THE AWARD- WINNING STAR OF LONDON’S HOTTEST THEATRE TICKET RIGHT NOW, AS SHE RADICALLY REIMAGINES THE LEAD ROLE IN SONDHEIM’S HIT MUSICAL COMPANY. WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE QUEEN OF THE WEST END™? DAVID NEWTON HEARS ABOUT GOOD ADVICE, READING REVIEWS… AND SEX ON THE MOON!
Portraits by Etienne Gilfillan
All the world’s a stage and London’s stages surely form the crucible of the UK’s finest acting. This is where glittering thespian careers are created, many of which burst forth in a moment that states “I am here!”
The rest is often history and I sense actor Rosalie Craig’s moment is upon us right now. No overnight success, she has been treading the boards of the West End, and South Bank, for several years, attracting plaudits and awards on her journey. In 2014 The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner wrote: “Craig is living proof that stars are not born but made – through a combination of talent, hard work, sheer grit and an ability to connect with audiences. She’s got all in abundance.” And the praise has been abundant for her current turn in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s smart urban musical Company, in which Craig changes the sex of the original’s male lead Bobby, to the bang-up-to-date Bobbie, whose body clock has begun to scream at its female host. London’s audiences have been lapping up this clever, Sondheim-approved revision, making it the hottest ticket in town since its opening in September last year, and, similarly blown away, we decided to meet its flame-haired star.
Wylde: Rosalie, you’re being called the Queen of the West End now, aren’t you?
Rosalie Craig: I don’t know… I don’t know things like that! And call me Rosie!
Don’t you read your reviews?
God, no. No way!
You realise Company is a huge hit?
This is a really funny question, even as a cast we were talking about it. Obviously, a lot of actors do read their reviews, but we were told: “Do not, do not, do not!” by our director Marianne Elliott. She said: “Please, please, please do not read your reviews!” Because it either breaks a really good production, if you read that it’s a hit, because you’ll pick out something in there that you’re doing well and you won’t be able to recreate it. Or you’ll be told it’s a massive flop… Last night on Twitter – I rarely look at the stuff after a show – someone said: “Oh, I didn’t think it was her best work”, and I just thought: “Agh, agh, agh!” and threw the phone across the room!
I can’t believe someone was critical! The show’s been a big success!
The thing is, we only knew it was successful after we came to the theatre the next day and it was like whoosh [crowds and cameras] all outside. But the next morning I said to my husband: “Do not tell me anything! Do not tell me. I don’t want to know. Because if it’s shit, I’ve got to go out and do it for six months… or you close early.”
So are you tempted to read any more, or can you still hold off?
I think I’m going to hold off, because I still feel that I’m going out every day to try and convince the audience that they’re going to like it, and I have to start every single performance as if they’re absolutely going to hate it, and then for three hours I have to try and get them on side.
And it really is your role, isn’t it?
I’ve been involved in this production from the absolute conception of it, from the minute Marianne starting talking about doing it. We sat down and talked about making this part together. If there is any sort of mild criticism about the character, I couldn’t say that’s nothing to do with me, because it’s literally part of me – without being a bit of a wanker about it… it really is. But also the Bobbie that’s out there is just coming from what I find funny, what I find moving, rather than what’s in a script, because we’ve made it. It’s been moulded around my personality.
I thought you were American, when I saw it; your accent is perfect. I thought it was a Broadway production that had come over, with Patti LuPone in it.
Did you really? Thank you!
How did you get your perfect American accent? Because so many English actors – on stage or screen – slip, and you think: “Oh… not great!”
We had a dialect coach. We started working on it, and eventually she said: “I think you’ve got it.” If you thought I was American, that just means that we’re doing our job properly.
Has Stephen Sondheim seen it live?
Yes, he has. He’s been. He was here at previews and we sent a film over.
Did he come as an anonymous member of the audience?
No, he was here for the dress run, so he was there when none of the audience was there.
Did you catch his eye, when you were performing?
God no, I can’t see a thing! Literally can’t see a thing. You just see a black mass, which is really good, because if you can see the audience it makes it a bit more terrifying.
So you can’t even see the people on the front row?
Only if I’m coming right down there to the front. It’s really helpful, otherwise you’re just like: “Gasp!” But then sometimes, like in the matinée yesterday, you can see the entire front row, and some of them are asleep, and you’re thinking: “Absolutely brilliant!” [laughs] They’re just having a little snooze.
Do you feel like dropping something loudly, just to wake them up?
Sometimes, we do shout!
I’ve been in the audience and people’s phones go off. Hasn’t Patti stopped people and said: “Get off your phone!” in the middle of a performance?
Oh, yeah! That’s why she does the announcement at the beginning, before it starts, going: [speaks slowly] “Do not be on your phones!” And she says: “I’m serious!” because she will stop.
Is she a diva?
Oh, that’s a shame!
I know! D’you know what, she’ll only sort of ruffle her feathers if things aren’t done well. And she’s not like that with actors, she’s like that with management. But with the company, she just wouldn’t. If anybody hurt anybody in this cast, she’d go after them! She’s just like: “These are my people.”
What was your first meeting with her like? Did you feel that she was checking you out?
She emailed me before we’d even started. She’s called The Doll in her email address, because she calls everyone “Doll!” “Hi, Doll!” We did a big press conference, and I was in The Ferryman here at the time, and the day before we did the conference, she emails me and says: “Doll, I’m gonna come and see you in your show.” And I was like: “Oh hell, Patti LuPone’s gonna come and see me!” The next morning she walked into the press conference, and she just stood at the back. Oh my God, it was like something out of a movie because there was press everywhere. And she went: “Hey, Doll!” And I went: “Hi, Patti!” I’d never met her before – and she went: “You fucking rocked it!” And I was, like, if that’s my first meeting with Patti LuPone, I’ll take it! She is genuinely one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.
She’s a legend.
On and off stage, a legend. The other night, a Sunday night, I was on the phone to her till two o’clock in the morning. Just chatting. I’m like: “What am I doing, chatting to Patti LuPone?!”
You either hear one thing or the other with show business: people either love or hate each other…
Yeah, that happens a lot, doesn’t it. I’ve not had that hatey thing yet.
You’re too young!
Maybe you need to get to Bette Davis’s age and then do All About Eve…
[Cackling heartily] I can’t wait to see that!
You do a good cackle, actually.
I know; it’s quite a strong one, isn’t it?
Have you ever done a voiceover for animation?
No. I’d love to do that. I’ve got a voiceover agent, and I’m constantly saying: “Please can I be in an animation!”
I assume because of this success, you’re getting booked now for all sorts of things… you must be in demand?
[Laughing] Do you want to know the reality of being an actor? Here’s the truth: -ish. That’s it: -ish.
“GO AND DO REALLY BRILLIANTLY IN THE GENRE THAT YOU’RE KNOWN FOR, AND THEN THAT WORLD WILL SUDDENLY JUST OPEN UP”
But in the “-ish”, there is the next thing you’re going to do?
Well, I hope so. I don’t know what it is yet. I’m waiting to hear. The thing is, because I’ve been doing so much stage work all my life, the telly and film world is… When I finished here last time, at this theatre, I went off and did a feature film [Sulphur and White], but that just came in at the last minute. So constantly I’m being told by the TV world: “Please, can you stay free?” They come backstage and say: “Please can you just not take any theatre?!” So I’m having to be really brave and just go: “I’m not taking any theatre”, so I can stay free. Honestly, the one thing that will keep me awake at night is the fact that I’ve had such a fire in my belly to get to this point in the theatre and to do something like this – and it took me, what, 20 years to get this far…
Do you like the process of movie-making? Does it suit you?
Yeah, it really does, actually. And also, because I’m so used to knowing that I’m going to be at a theatre all day, every day, I could never quite get over the schedule of filming. It’s so civilised, if you’re not shooting every single day. We did quite a few gruelling night shoots on that, and I was in a lot of the night scenes, which was a bit of an education. The hours are really long, and early starts, and all that kind of stuff, but I really loved it.
So you’ll definitely do more of that?
Well, one would hope! If, if, if! If anyone asks me!
I think you are on the cusp of greater recognition right now.
Oh my God, I hope you’re right! From my experience, it takes one project… and then, you’re off. My managers gave me some brilliant advice, ’cos I’m always stamping my feet and going: “I want to be on telly, I want to be on film!” They said: “Go and do really brilliantly in the genre that you’re known for, and then that world will suddenly just open up.”
Do you actually get to go to the theatre yourself?
Very rarely, cos I’m always doing it! So when I start to do more film work, I can go to the theatre! That’s why you see so many film stars at the theatre, because they can go. You never see stage actors out... never! Or they just go home, ’cos they’re absolutely exhausted afterwards. When I was really young and I first started in the West End I used to love going out. I went out every night with the cast.
Do you get fans coming to the stage door every night?
Yes, we’ve got barriers and security guards and everything!
How many turn up?
There’s hundreds there! Lots of young girls, and women in their thirties, saying: “That’s my life!”
I’m surprised; I thought it would be all middle-aged gay men!
Well, there are… a lot of them are waiting for Patti! Some of them don’t even speak to me!
Do you have any recurring/strange dreams?
It’s always the same two now. The stage one, and, since I’ve had a child… I can’t find her. It’s horrendous.
Weren’t you heavily pregnant when you were getting Company started?
Yes! And I was on stage at the National doing a production of The Threepenny Opera. Rory Kinnear and I were playing opposite each other, and we had to come down on this huge moon that would fly down from the sky every night. And I was nine months pregnant and he was having to do me up the arse!
I think we’ve all been there!
After a big Chinese!
I think I read that you like to specialise in experimental musicals, is that right?
I think I gravitate towards new, exciting projects in general. I haven’t got any interest in doing things that have been on for a while; I would never want to take over something that someone else has done. I want to create something from the ground up, you know? I don’t want to recreate somebody else’s work.
And with that, Rosalie Craig has to get ready for the night’s performance of Company; putting into brilliant practice her aim to create brand-new theatre, “from the ground up”. I feel it’s this urge for originality that will propel her very soon into the forefront of Britain’s acting royalty. On stage or screen, The Queen of the West End™ requests the pleasure of your company!
Hair: Zoheb Jetha / Make-up: Paul Rodgers, using MAC / Photographer’s assistant: Paolo Navarino