With an Olivier award under her belt and a BAFTA nomination to her name, Lesley Manville is used to performing both on stage and screen. Now, the celebrated actress is incorporating both artistic mediums as her performance of Ibsen’s Ghosts is transferred onto the big screen for one night only, bringing the theatre experience into other auditoriums.
From her heart wrenching performance as the alcoholic and lost Mary in Another Year, to her much-anticipated depiction of a pixie in Hollywood fantasy hit Maleficent, Lesley Manville is clearly an actress unafraid of variety.
“If you’re going to play pixies, you need good actors!” She laughs. “Maleficent opens and then it’ll be followed by Mrs Alving (in Ghost) which is probably one of the most tragic parts in the whole cannon of classical plays.”
With such a diverse career it’s hardly surprisingly that Manville struggles to pick a favourite part…
“Ghosts is a highlight but so are many of the plays I’ve done. I did a play a couple of years ago with Mike Leigh which is the first I’ve worked with him in the theatre and we did a fantastic play, Grief, at the National Theatre. I’ve worked with the director Marianne Elliott, I’ve really worked with some amazing directors and that’s what you take with you.”
“One of the things I love about my career is the variety. I don’t get typecast, I do spread my net in terms of types of characters that I play and class of characters, I do classics, moderns, stage, telly, films. It’s a varied career.
“I suppose some of that is down to the fact that the work I did with Mike in the early days probably defined me as somebody who was quite a chameleon and that has led to such a great variety of parts that have come along.”
Manville had enjoyed a twenty year working relationship with director Mike Leigh. Known for his mastery coaxing unusual character depth through extensive improvisation takes, Leigh himself has reaped success from his works with Manville at the forefront. Evidently this is a mutually beneficial relationship…
“With Mike it’s not like a conventional piece of work where you arrive and there is a script and to a degree it’s very complete. When you work with Mike you really do start with nothing. You create the character through collaboration with him. It’s very powerful, very fulfilling as you’re part of the whole process rather than just one aspect. It’s very collaborative and you’re being asked to be very, very creative which is enjoyable.”
With her latest stage production Ghosts being transmitted to the screen, the actress reflects upon her favourite medium.
“Working on stage has different demands on you as a performer to you working on film” she says diplomatically. “Film you have less control over because it is then edited so therefore director’s preferences can come into play whereas on stage you’re much more in control. They are very different disciplines and I like them both, hugely.
“I think being on stage is a tougher task for an actor which is why a lot of actors who have a screen history like to go on stage if they haven’t been, to prove themselves. It’s a great testing ground and if you’re not up to it, it can be very apparent.”
As a schoolgirl, it was actually Lesley’s singing, rather than acting, that first gained attention. Signalled out for a career in the opera, does the actress ever wonder what she career could have been?
“I do ponder; if I took what I was instinctively good at when I was young it was classical singing. In a way acting is something that kind of grew on me. But I think the life of an opera singer is quite tricky unless you get to a very high level. I get the feeling it was can be quite unsatisfactory if you are basically stuck in the chorus for decades. Whenever I go to the opera, I do wonder… but I think I’ve probably made the right decision!”
Ghosts is in cinemas for one night only, Thursday 26 June. For more information, ticketing and participating cinemas visit www.westendtheatreseries.com