RACHEL PICKUP is an acclaimed theatre, television and film actress. She took time out of her hectic schedule to talk to Prestridge² about Wonder Woman, Tim Roth and her stage career.
Q: Wonder Woman is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. What were your experiences on this hugely successful project?
A: IT was wonderful! What can I say that will surprise you? That is an entirely predictable answer I guess but it just was!
It is thrilling to be part of a huge blockbuster like that – something entirely new for me – and it is great fun to be a sort of villain, which Fauste Grables kind of is.
And I have to say, again probably predictably, but to be a tiny cog and that wondrous wheel of inspiring women feels very special – and actually very important! Especially at this point in time!
Not only is Patty Jenkins a deeply talented director but the way she treated all of us – with the utmost respect. I saw no difference in the way she treated me or the lovely gent driving Fauste’s carriage in the movie, from the way she treated Gal Gadot – a truly democratic and respectful and beautiful way to run a set. The atmosphere was generous and supportive and that is part of why she made something so special. An atmosphere like that is likely to produce special results.
She is an inspiration to me. She was wonderful in my audition too. She treated me like a collaborator before I had even got the job. The same goes for the casting director too – Lucinda Syson – also a wonderful woman. It is surprisingly rare to enjoy auditions and I did!
I admire Patty very much – and all the other women who were the creative centre of the movie. Obviously Gal herself who was fun to work with and full of joy, and the brilliant Lindy Hemming, the costume designer who gave me that fabulous gown.
I think they had to make seven or eight copies of the same dress, but she was a riot and is obviously insanely talented. And the fabulous hair and make-up department Christine Blundell – I could go on and on! A glorious team.
Q: You are the daughter of renowned stage and film actor Ronald Pickup. Can you talk about your background in acting? Was acting always your dream? Who did you look up to growing up?
A: I ALWAYS looked up to my dad and my mother growing up – and still do of course! They are my biggest heroes! My brother too and all my wonderful friends – they give me strength and inspiration Most of my friends and family are in the industry.
I guess I did always want to act. It is something that is in your bones. My mother was an actor and now she is a playwright.
It is funny that people always comment on children of actors going into the same business and people assume a nepotism or that you were brought up on film sets and backstage. We were not at all! Dad kept his work entirely separate but of course I found my way into the industry – my parents gave me my DNA, my bones.
I guess it is like a lot of family trades – many kids go in to the family business it seems to me. I was first of all, (before RADA), in the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain under the artistic directorship of the magnificent Ed Wilson. He gave me my first sense that I could do this myself. That I was my own actor.
Of course it is a difficult business in terms of the endless rejection and the judgement and being denied the opportunity for certain jobs because of the way you look or sound. I am hyper aware of the fact that I have been insanely lucky – more than I ever feel I have a right to have been.
I mean it when I say I am always surprised when I get the next job as you hear so many actors say. I am convinced every job is the last one!
Apart from family, my heroes are – I am afraid – rather obvious and I have so many – living and dead!
All those you would expect – classic goddesses of the screen such as Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, through to Meryl Streep of course.
Jessica Lange, Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro. Where do I stop? And then on stage – and film – Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench.
Younger actors, actors of my generation, I deeply admire include Janet Mcteer and Helen Mcrory. Also younger people such as Claire Foy and Felicity Jones – these beautiful talented young women!
And I recently saw Denise Gough in People Places and Things – so wonderful. So many of the people I have worked with it is impossible to mention. There is so much talent out there it is overwhelming really. Maybe that is why I mention the oldies first – where does one begin otherwise?!
Growing up, my mother, who is American, brought us up on many of the American classics – all the old MGM musicals, black and whites, Audrey Hepburns, film noirs, westerns, Mel Brooks and Marilyn Monroe movies. Singin In The Rain , the pinnacle amongst musicals, all the Fred and Ginger movies, The Wizard of Oz of course – these formed me! And Hitchcock too – I feel like I saw Psycho before I was in double figures.
We loved and endlessly watched all the Laurel and Hardys and Lucille Ball – The I love Lucy show. So many different influences.
When I was prepping for Miss Julie I became obsessed with Liv Ullman and Bergman – and I went through my French phase when it was all Catherine Deneuve. Some of my biggest influences have been singers too Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, Jaques Brel. Stop me!
Q: You have gone on to build an incredible stage career. Do you look back on any productions with particular fondness? Do you feel you will always be involved in theatre?
A: I DO think I will always be in theatre – it is as I say in my bones. I do thrive on it I suppose. I take immense and enormous strength from an audience – those nights when you are doing eight shows a week and you go in to the theatre thinking – “ughh… again?”
Then somehow the part, if it is a good one, and if it is a good play – and I have been incredibly lucky with the parts I have played – then the part takes you over.
You lose yourself. I am happy to lose myself – and you let something else happen – especially when you are in a long run and the part is so in you that you do not need to think about the technical side of the show anymore (or at least not as much).
You can let the thoughts, the actions take over – that is a privilege, a catharsis, even if the world of the play you are in is a dark one. It is thrilling still to escape and most thrilling to have the chance to maybe move an audience. That is the goal – move them to just feel anything!
I have had so many wonderful experiences – I could list most of the jobs I have had as having been special. They have all been special for one reason or another – and what is so amazing is that most of the reasons have been different on each one. How lucky I feel!
I have to say that four stand out. The first is my first major theatre role which was a lead role starring opposite Alan Bates – need I say more?
It was a hugely challenging role, written by the wonderful Mike Poulton, and a world premiere [Fortune’s Fools]. I became good friends with Alan in that job and he taught me so much – so much! The whole job was so potent in so many ways.
The second is a production of Hamlet for Catalan director-auteur Calixto Bieito. I learned as much from him in that one show as I did in ten others put together. It – he – was wild and irreverent and dangerous. I did things I did not know were a part of me. He was a thrilling director and unlocked a whole new side of Shakespeare for me too.
The third is The Three Sisters for Bill Bryden. I was a replacement with I think five days to go before opening. I had been devastated when I was not offered the part and I thought my heart was broken forever. Then I was called on a Saturday: “Come to Birmingham on Wednesday. Can you learn Irina and be ready to go next week?”
“Yes indeed”, I thought, “I can”… and I did and I am proud of that. I still am proud of that and I rarely feel proud.
And finally, the first show I got offered in New York. It was Dancing At Lughnasa, Friel’s exquisite play, the 20th anniversary of it produced by the beautiful Irish Rep Theatre here in Manhattan – directed by my now dear friend and another hugely inspiring woman Charlotte Moore.
The whole team, stage crew and the ladies who played my sisters have remained my family here across the Ocean. As has the Rep theatre itself – I feel so insanely lucky to have met them all and worked with them.
I am actually back at the rep now – doing Brian Friel’s last full length play [The Home Place]. It premiered in London in 2005 when it was written but never got a premiere in NYC and the rep got the rights to it. Charlotte cast me as Maggie – the Chatelain of an Anglo Irish Big House – just at the time the country was on the verge of major change and upheaval.
I love the play deeply. It is spare and strange and simple and deeply complex – a master at work – not needing to over try.
Just letting it flow out of him, Friel flatters his audience that they will understand, letting it all just trickle out without effort. And they do – he creates the most wonderful atmosphere. I think it is a special piece and I love doing it every night.
Q: Michel Franco’s latest film, April’s Daughter, screened at the BFI London Film Festival last month. How was your experience working with Michel on Chronic? Do you admire his patient approach to filmmaking?
A: I HAVE not seen April’s Daughter yet and I so look forward to it. I have heard wonderful things – and of course I am not surprised.
Actually working on Chronic was also one of the most special jobs I have had. It was incredibly challenging and exposing – emotionally as well, not just physically. Michel is taxing and knows just exactly what he wants.
My audition process for that job was about two months long and culminated in a three day screen test in LA. Of course I had to lose a ton of weight which was physically difficult but it was worth it.
Not a comfortable piece but I do admire that. There is a place for cosy and comfortable and feel good and I adore those movies. But looking at the grimier side of life, the ugly bits that we avoid or are scared of or are embarrass about, Michel forces us to do that. I do admire it and I do not see many other directors doing what he is doing – it is vital in my opinion.
Q: You also worked with Tim Roth on Chronic. How did you find working with Tim? Are there any performers you would love to work with in the future or admire greatly?
A: TIM was a prince amongst men He was as generous and sensitive as could be. You meet a big star like him and you cannot help but be scared beforehand. They have done so much they are so talented and you don’t feel you will measure up – how can you ?
So you worry and you fear they will see all your inadequacies – or at least I felt that!
But Tim made me feel like an equal – like I said about Patty – and of course the same would be said about Alan [Bates]. These big stars and huge talents who bring you up to their level – or who at least make you feel like they think you are an equal or even the bees knees – that is just so wonderful.
Tim was also a right laugh – I mean hilarious. I laughed more on set with him than I have ever laughed on set – and playing someone chronically ill. Quite a feat! They do say though, the green rooms of actors in a tragedy are full of hilarity and those of actors doing a comedy are gloom and doom.
Tim is a gem and so is his son who I got to know as he worked on the movie too – both of them gentlemen and gentle men.
Q: You have done some television work and now film. What can we expect from you in the future? What kind of work are you interested in?
A: I AM interested in all work. I am loving this Friel play at the moment – it has in fact just been extended to Christmas and then I am going to the UK to see my family and finish work on my brother’s film.
Oh yes, that is my fifth greatest experience – being directed by my insanely talented brother. He has written, designed, built and is directing the film himself.
It is the greatest labour of love and not just from him – from the whole cast and crew. Working for nothing and bringing all that talent and skill, simply because of their love of all their own crafts and also because he has inspired it.
The film is called Schadenfreude – it has the craziest and most fabulous line up of actors and it addresses the media and the damage they can do. It is as timely as it could be and it is the dream child baby of my brother – I am beyond proud. After that who knows what, maybe nothing.
I am just starting to get involved with a children’s arts charity here in NY and I really want to make that a bigger part of my life. But I love working and any job is a good one. Good writing is the key and there is so much out there.
I want finally to be in one of my mother’s plays – or to direct one – and I am getting increasingly interested in directing. Sure I would say this wouldn’t I, but she is a marvellous writer, very much her own voice, and my God that world is even tougher than acting – the writing world.
I want to see her next play come to production. She has already had a few full scale productions here in the US and she has a couple of new plays waiting to be plucked – all of them very special and timely.
So yes – busy times and hopeful times and I welcome all of it. The adventure is all.