Interview: Hayley Atwell
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Hayley Atwell has spent much of her career in period costume - from the medieval Pillars of the Earth, to the 18th Century in The Duchess, and on to the early 20th Century for Brideshead Revisited and Captain America. But her latest role offers her the chance to play a character rooted in our future rather than our past, in the return of Channel 4's award-winning drama Black Mirror. Here, she discusses her life and career, and her enthusiasm for her new project. Theatre played a major part in your upbringing. What particularly stood out for you? Off the top of my head, there was Cloudstreet at The National, about 12 years ago. There was Eve Best's Hedda Gabler, and Maggie Smith's Hedda Gabler, actually. The Theatre Museum have this archive of material that they've recorded over the last 50 years, and you can go and put on headphones and watch these amazing theatrical performances from over the years that they've recorded. It's amazing, and it's free. You can sit there in this little booth, on your own or a group of up to five of you, and watch it. So if you think about all the plays that people didn't get to see in the last 10 or 15 years - things like Jerusalem - you can just go and watch it. Ben Wishaw's Hamlet really stood out, and there was an amazing one called Ruined at The Almeida, with Jenny Jules, which was the one I was most affected by in the last few years. In a relatively short space of time, you've starred with some huge names. Have you ever been star-struck? Yeah, I have. It's more that I've ended up getting star struck as I've gone along with them - getting to know their characters a little more, I've become star-struck. People like Emma Thompson, or meeting Meryl Streep, as I did once. I also met Tom Cruise, I've done a couple of auditions with him. I remember when I first auditioned for Woody Allen, I was very nervous, but I just remember thinking "If I'm going to get through this audition, then I've got to feel in some way that I can be, if not an equal to him, then at least someone he feels he can work with." So I don't go for the kind of sycophantic behaviour that goes around in this industry. So I really battled hard not to feel too in awe of him, and his fame and his history. And it was a really good exercise in not being intimidated in an unhealthy way, and one I've been able to use since. Being star-struck in a happy way is a lovely thing and completely natural, but when it's debilitating to your work, that's when it needs to be reigned in a bit. So with Woody, I talked to him as a human being, and tried to find out a little more about him as a man and a director. And I use that every time I come across someone who I might otherwise be too intimidated by. But I get genuinely star-struck by people like Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep, who are consistently polite and kind and generous with their time. Behind this extraordinary reputation and fame is a ruthless work ethic and an incredible respect for their craft and the people they work with, and a hell of a lot of gratitude for the environment that they are now in. I really hope that, with age, whatever happens in my career, I maintain a sense of perspective that still makes me be a kind person to the people around me, and to the people who have supported my work. How was auditioning for Tom Cruise?
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