Greta Scacchi on role in The Deep Blue Sea

Rachel Buller Typecast as a sex-bomb in her early career, Greta Scacchi is refreshingly honest about the perils of being a woman of-a-certain-age’ in Hollywood. Rachel Buller spoke to her as she prepared for the biggest role’ she has ever played - in Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea, ar Norwich Theatre Royal this month.

Rachel Buller

“Tell them it's all about sex”, jokes Greta Scacchi, as we talk about her latest project - the intense Terence Rattigan play The Deep Blue Sea.

Not only is the 47-year-old actress refreshingly articulate and feisty, she has a surprisingly crisp English accent yet has still managed to keep that element of mischief in her voice, a hint of a career which has seen her cast regularly in the role of sex-siren.

The night before we spoke she had just completed the first full run-through of the play and was clearly still exhilarated by the success of the rehearsal.

“We decided to go out to the pub together as a whole company for the first time after the run-through. It was really nice to relax as it has been a very intense role to prepare for. It is incredibly draining. We did all three acts for the first time and I just needed a drink after that and so I think did a lot of the others.”

Describing the play as a “masterpiece”, she says: “I started to suspect this was going to be the biggest role I have ever played when I began learning the lines.

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“Terence Rattigan is a master of describing what is happening in the play without it ever actually being said. The dialogue is incredibly sophisticated.

“The way that the characters talk to one another is so beautifully constructed that working on the play is like an archaeological dig where you gently brush over the surface again and again until all this detail starts to be realised,” she explains.

“After 40 years of being buried in obscurity because of the changes of fashion in writing for the theatre, he's only really been recognised in the past 10 years.”

Her film career has seen her play against some of Hollywood's leading men, including Harrison Ford and Tim Robbins and her early years as an actress saw her very much typecast as the sex-bomb of the piece.

But she is only too aware of the attitude towards woman on the casting couch when they reach a certain age.

“I would say at 32 it happened to me and it coincided with me becoming a mother. Up until then I could hardly avoid playing the adulterous woman and temptress and the minute I turned 32, I was the jilted one, I was the 'victim' wife or the older ex-wife or mother.

“It is still the case now. It is no wonder we are still so fascinated by Jane Austen because we are still as a society very stuck on the idea, maybe it is part of the human condition, that women are still interesting up until the point they marry and become impregnated. The happy ever after idea is never explored.”

When women hit 50, she says things often change again for women as suddenly there are all these interesting roles to play - evidence of which could be seen by the number of older actresses starting to get recognised in the awards season.

“When you are 40 you are neither here nor there. All these facelifts aren't worth it. It's a fact there are plenty of young, firmer, beautiful actresses out there taking your place. I think you need to get old and hit that 50 mark as quickly as possible,” she laughs.

“It is a crime because there is a fascinating and mysterious journey between your thirties and fifties that really isn't explored or written about. It can be the most fulfilling, romantic or confusing and even tragic time of many women's lives.”

Although clearly still a lover of film - she has just filmed a role in the upcoming new adaptation of Brideshead Revisited by Norfolk director Julian Jarrold - the stage is obviously her passion.

She believes too often in film, while actors had made great strides in perfecting their techniques, they are still often left frustrated by poor writing and the constraints of the big screen.

“The main problem with film is that most are not written very well and they have got into the habit of not focusing on the words, but rather on everything else. Whereas in the theatre, that is what is such a joy, the writing is absolutely number one. The writers are revered and respected.”

Having worked in the industry for more than 25 years, she has the utmost sympathy with the writers currently striking in Hollywood.

“They have been very hard done by for a very long time. You know actors and directors change their lines just like that, another team of writers often comes on board to work on your original script, you could even end up with virtually no credit. Writers put their heart and soul into the scripts and it can be so easily messed around with. In theatre we savour the writer's work, the commas and full stops are even sacred.”

Perversely, Rattigan's work, she says, would be perfect for film.

“The Deep Blue Sea would be thrilling on film, and is written in a way which is so favoured by creators of these indie movies which are now grabbing all the critical acclaim.

“Starting the play with a dramatic ending then playing it back is perfect for film - the 'big thing' has already happened and for the next three acts, what led to that point is gradually unravelled - you almost see it in flashbacks, and ultimately it is an emotional thriller.”

With a CV that includes top film, television and stage roles, various awards and a Golden Globe nomination there is one thing that cannot help but grab your eye in her list of credits.

The woman who allegedly turned down Sharon Stone's famous role in Basic Instinct was once cast as Margaret Thatcher in a spoof British television series called Jeffrey Archer: The Truth.

“I did it for Hat Trick Productions and I was absolutely thrilled to be involved - a bit perturbed that I was offered the part of Thatcher initially though,” she laughs.

“In some ways, when I was cast it was back to the pigeonholing that has been associated with me for my whole career because they wanted me to play her as a kind of sexy woman.

“I had great fun with the programme though because it reminded me of a very definite time in my youth. I was part of that generation, when we were young and felt angry and passionate and empowered and sure about our ideas, and loved to loathe Thatcher's government. It took me back to that time and all that went with it.”

For now, Greta's home is England, but her upbringing has, she admits, left her with itchy feet.

Her mother was an English dancer and her father an Italian painter and she lived in London and Australia - where as a teenager she worked as a cowgirl and an Italian interpreter.

She returned to the UK aged 18, where she took acting lessons at the Old Vic Theatre. Gradually she was offered stage roles and modelling work before finally being discovered by Hollywood in 1988.

Since then she has starred in countless television series, film and plays in many different countries, and also in several different languages.

“I love Italy and Australia where I work regularly, but England is the place I relate to and the place where I chose to educate my kids,” she says.

She has two children and doesn't thinking acting is a particularly family friendly career, but, adds: “Often it's just three months at a time and then I'm around for them again -it's not 9-5 like for most people.”

Would she encourage them into acting?

“I won't answer that as my 15-year-old daughter is looking at her future now and whatever I say she might use it against me,” she laughs.

She has never been to Norwich before and after asking some advice on where to visit - she wants to see the coast - and asking where she might rent a big enough house in the city for all eight actors, she is back off for yet more rehearsals.

t The Deep Blue Sea is at Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday, February 18, to Saturday, February, 23. For more information about tickets, see www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or telephone the box office on 01603 630000.