Saturday, October 08, 2011

Thandie Newton: 'It's not a play where you want to corpse'

The actor on Baftas, backstage pranks and her West End debut in Death and the Maiden
Thandie Newton can't hide her excitement. The actress has starred with Tom Cruise and Will Smith and won a Bafta, but now she is about to make her stage debut in a West End run of Death and the Maiden. "I just can't wait. Ten years ago I would have been terrified, now emotionally I am ready to do this," she says.

It is a few days before rehearsals start and we are the only people in an enormous cafe at a west London studio where Newton, dressed casually in skinny grey jeans and a sweatshirt, has just been photographed for the play's poster. Isn't she jumping in at the deep end by playing the lead role as the tortured political prisoner in Ariel Dorfman's acclaimed play?

"It's such a great part and the opportunity to play a role from start to finish," she says quietly. "Acting on a film is like having to interrupt peeing or an orgasm. Literally having to 'uggh' [she takes a sharp intake of breath] start and stop."

Newton, 38, has starred in films for 20 years since her debut in Flirting, alongside her friend Nicole Kidman, but her stock rose significantly, especially in Britain, after she won a Bafta for Crash in 2005. "I don't think people ever really knew where I was from before, so they assumed I wasn't British." Her latest film, Retreat, a tense drama co-starring Cillian Murphy, about an unhappy couple stranded on a remote island, opens this month.

Working in the theatre means a short commute from her north-west London home where she lives with her husband, the writer and director Ol Parker, and their two daughters. With Parker busy directing his second film, Now Is Good, Newton has been on domestic duty. "I was feeling smug at the start of the summer as he was working really long hours and I was taking the kids off to Ibiza. Now I'm tired, it's such a marathon." A few minutes later Newton's mobile bleeps: it is her nanny phoning to say she has set off the smoke alarm by mistake.

As well as the opportunity to immerse herself in Death and the Maiden, Newton is looking forward to playing some pranks. During the press junket for Run Fatboy Run she filled Simon Pegg's water bottles with vodka, so what is she planning now? "I wouldn't want to do anything to them during the play, this is not a play where you want to corpse, just saying the word corpse in the context of this play seems incredibly inappropriate. But I think a dressing room door locked now and again is OK."

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