Friday, 13 April 2012

First impressions: Alison Steadman

Written by Young Ladies About Town

ALISON STEADMAN OBE is one of our most accomplished actresses. Most memorable roles include Beverly in Mike Leigh’s original stage production of Abigail’s Party, Mrs Bennet in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Gavin’s mother in the hit TV series Gavin & Stacey. She has two sons with ex-husband Mike Leigh and lives with partner Michael Elwyn in London.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a play by Michael Frayn called Here. It’s not a huge part but I had to do it because I love Michael’s writing.

When were you at your happiest?
I really loved the time of bringing up my two children. When they were growing up we used to have such fun, and you always think that will last forever. Now I have to practically lasso them to bring them home for a meal.

What is your greatest fear?
Loneliness. I’m always dogged by this feeling that I’ll be a lonely old woman.

What has been your greatest influence?
One of the best things that happened to me was working with Mike Leigh. He gave me a wonderful chance.

What is your earliest memory?
Being in my grandmother’s house when I was about two years old, just after my grandfather had died. He had been ill and I used to crawl up the stairs to see him. Suddenly I couldn’t any more and I didn’t understand why.

What do you most dislike about yourself?
I can get ridiculously nervous or anxious about things I shouldn’t.

What is your most treasured possession?
A glass necklace that belonged to my grandmother. It’s not worth anything but it’s really pretty.

What do you deplore most in others?
Being narrow-minded.

Do you have a fantasy address?
I love the countryside and I love the sea, so it would have to be high up on a cliff somewhere. Not too far from a village, though.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I’m too fat. I don’t eat too much – I’m not an indulgent person – but I do like to have a few glasses of wine in the evening.

What is your all-time favourite book?
My favourite author is Anita Brookner. I have loved her books since my 20s and I could read them all over and over again. In fact, in my dotage that’s probably what I’ll do.

What is your favourite film?
The Return. It’s an ncredibly moving foreign-language film.

What is your favourite record or piece of music?
One song I adore – which is actually in Abigail’s Party – is ‘Blue Mist’ by Sam (The Man) Taylor. I first listened to it while at drama school.

Your favourite meal?
Roast chicken with roasted vegetables and apple sauce. My mum always served apple sauce with chicken and it’s brilliant.

Who would you most like to come to dinner?
A group of impressionist painters – it would be great to get them chatting. I’d like to ask Monet if you can learn art; I’ve always loved his paintings.

Which historical character do you most admire?
Oh dear, I’m not very good on history. It would have to be someone like Marie Curie.

What is the nastiest thing anyone has ever said to you?
When we first did Abigail’s Party someone came up to me and said that I was just criticising the lower middle class. It just wasn’t true – I would never do that. It was very hurtful and it made me go home and cry. I’ve got over it now though.

Do you believe in aliens?

What is your secret vice?
A large vodka at 7 o’clock. When I’m not working, I hasten to add.

Do you write thank-you notes?
Probably less than I did. It’s more texting now. I have a huge collection of cards, though – it’s a bit of an obsession. I always buy at least a dozen at once. It means I’ve got a card for every occasion, but when the time comes to use one I can’t bear to part with it. It’s madness.

Which phrase do you most overuse?
‘I can’t believe that.’ My partner always sends me up about it.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
I guess a slightly bigger flat, but I don’t want to move because I love where I live.

What would you like your epitaph to say?
‘Hope to see you again.’

Alison Steadman is appearing in Michael Frayn’s Here at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, from 19 April to 12 May: 0844-482 1556,

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