On Stage with Actors Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack | My Brilliant Friend


OK. Grand. I’m Niamh Cusack, I’m an actor,
and I play Lenu in My Brilliant Friend. I’m Catherine McCormack, I’m an actor also,
and I play Lila in My Brilliant Friend. I thought it would be
a real adventure to do it. They’re four books
squashed into two plays, so it’s an epic journey
that our two characters go on. – That was part of the thrill, wasn’t it?
– It was. Knowing that you were going
to be playing women from the age of six, all the way through
to your 60s. They’re hugely well-loved books. There’s an intimidation with that but, you know, you rely on the fact
that your director has cast you, has offered you the part,
so they’ve seen something in you. Something I think is really useful,
if you’re a student of acting and if you’re trying to work out
how to get into a character, I always think to myself, ‘Where does my character say “yes”
and I, as a person, say “no”?’ You start to try and make comparisons between who you are
and what you can bring to it – your way in to playing that part. There’s a liberation,
one, in obviously jumping off of yourself and playing someone who is unlike you. I have quite a lot of fear and anxiety. It works differently for me, that fear,
in life – it probably cows me. But with Lila, it does the opposite. Her rage against the world, like it’s all about trying to keep
that fear from overwhelming her. So, that kind of crossing over,
although I react very differently, it was very helpful to go,
‘Oh, well, I know that feeling.’ The two-week break is quite a break. When we come back, we get together
and we do a line run, all of us, and actually, that’s really important. Otherwise,
I would go on terrified, I think. It’s kind of for security, because we’ve done so much work on this
and it’s in our bodies, and your bodies are actually
pretty reliable. You have to have faith as an actor – you’ve practised it, you’ve understood it, you’ve embodied it and that it’ll stay
there in your body for quite some time. Every performance is a different one. You work within guidelines of all the
rehearsal and what you know the story is and your script is and you never go
too far from that, obviously – you can’t and you don’t want to. But once you’ve rehearsed it, you come in
every night with your stresses of the day or you’ve had a great day,
so you bring a different energy to things. So, you’re not always sticking directly,
trying to hit a certain thing – although that works for some actors. – You play off of the other person’s energy.
– That’s the big thing. As a young actor, or as any actor actually,
there’s a great relief in that. It’s not all about you. The exciting thing is
you trying to connect with another person. When I’m feeling tired and under, I try,
and I don’t always succeed, I try to come in a wee bit earlier and just be on stage for a wee bit longer
doing a warm-up, but also just, I sometimes find
coming into the auditorium and walking round the seats,
having a look at it, and just feeling this is my place. I think recognising
when you’re a bit tired is a good thing because then you can just do
a little bit more preparation. Actors are all, obviously, very different about how they approach the preparation
to going on, and we do do a warm-up. Often, I have a thing where I like to be distracted off-stage
till the very last minute before I go on. So, laughing, making a joke, trying
to forget I’m about to walk on stage. Sometimes when I think too much about it,
I then begin to go, ‘Oh, my God!’ The nerves build up.
It just seems to work for me. I have to take a couple of seconds just to, not think what I’m going to do,
but just be still. I think the best performances come
when you’re really relaxed, because then you really can listen. Previews, press nights, they’re all about kind of playing
and trying to discover what it is. We’re always going to be nervous
at those press nights. Now, I feel like there’s a level
of relaxation of playing those parts. So, I’m happiest a few weeks down the line when we’ve been playing it
and then I go… (SIGHS) It’s quite a big ask, this play,
in terms of the length of time it covers. The sooner you start work on it, the more possibility there is
of it just coming in through your pores, and know that it’s a process
that never stops. It’s not like winning a race.
It keeps on going. That’s right up to the last day,
so you’re right, another… It’s always going to…
And that’s the beauty of it. It’s really important to have down time, where you’re not concentrating
all the time. Things percolate when you’re not
thinking about it directly. There is a depth and a profundity to having particularly a great speech
or a great play, living with it. Just let it live there in you. Every character you ever play
stays with you for the rest of your life, and I think that’s a beautiful thing
to hold.

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