MARINA SIRTIS THEATRE INTERVIEW
by gomarinasirtis.com May 2016 at Timmins, Canada
MARINA SIRTIS INTERVIEW THEATRE
by gomarinasirtis.com May 2016 at Timmins, Canada
Transcription of Audio Interview: (Note: originally this was going to be a transcribed interview with some audio clips, but we have added the full audio interview above.)
gomarinasirtis.com: Marina, when asked in the past, for advice you would give to a young actor/actress, you replied to try to get an education at a drama school and to learn theatre. Can you tell us more about this?
MARINA: I believe that you can’t be taught to act because I feel that people can either act or they can’t. It’s either in their DNA or it isn’t. What you will learn at drama school though, is technique, especially in the theatre where you need your voice to reach the back of the theatre. You need to learn how to project your voice. You need to learn how to breathe. You need to learn how to be on stage. I think that’s the best training any actor can get. I know a lot of actors don’t want to do theatre because the money’s not good, but in my opinion, it is the absolute best training. It’s very different to film and t.v., but I don’t think you can skip that step. I think it’s a step that everyone should take who intends to be an actor. The other really good thing about going to a drama school is you will learn how to go about becoming an actor, how to get an agent, how to get photos. (Phone rings.) Excuse me one second, my husband’s calling! (Continues after call.) As I was saying, you learn how to become an actor because most people, unless their family is in show business, have no clue how to go about becoming an actor – what the steps are. Just as far as business goes, you know getting a job, so I feel drama school is very good for that, too. I know I had no idea how I was going to become an actress, but at drama school you learn.
gomarinasirtis.com: In terms of your own three years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, you have said that there were some difficult times for you, such as having to learn to speak more like the Queen’s English, and being cast in less visible roles. What were some of the positive experiences you may have taken away with you from there?
MARINA: One of the things I got out of drama school was I really didn’t know if I was any good or not when I went. I mean the fact that I beat out 300 other girls to get a spot at the Guildhall, that didn’t mean anything to me. But, there were some teachers who really encouraged me at Guildhall. Not many, I have to say, just a couple. They gave me the confidence that I was a decent actress, and that I was on the right track. So, it gave me confidence in my ability and I think that’s a really important thing to have.
gomarinasirtis.com: At Guildhall you were in at least two plays by Russian writers, Tolstoy’s ‘The Case of Fedya Protasov’ and Andreyev’s ‘He Who Gets Slapped’. There were some of the same students in both plays. Did you find a camaraderie among students and do you think this influenced you in terms of being a team player later on in ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’?
MARINA: There really was not a lot of camaraderie at Guildhall, I have to be honest. It was very competitive. You know I was passed over a lot. The teachers had their favourites and I wasn’t one of them, so I used to get passed over a lot. It wasn’t conducive to a very kind of happy atmosphere. I’ve only ever kept in touch with two people from my three years at drama school which just goes to show that it was not a happy time. I’ll put it that way.
gomarinasirtis.com: You did have your revenge in the elevator.
MARINA: Yes, I did have my revenge in the elevator. I did, and you know that story Lora. (gomarinasirtis.com note: if you don't already know the elevator story, you can find it in the online Kougar magazine interview 2010)
gomarinasirtis.com: When you left Guildhall, did you know what you wanted to focus on in acting, for example, theatre, t.v., or film and were there any genres that you preferred, such as drama, tragedy, comedy?
MARINA: Well, I really did imagine that my life was going to be in the theatre. That was my ambition to be a great classical actress. That didn’t work out (laughs). I ended up on a space show. You know, as Patrick Stewart said, actually, Star Trek is kind of like Shakespeare because it wasn’t natural. We didn’t do things – when you watch a drama on t.v., people are making coffee or cooking or talking on the phone. We literally just had to stand there and deliver our lines as one does in the theatre, so it was very similar actually doing Star Trek as doing theatre. But I did, I thought I was going to be the next Judy Dench. I really did, and still that is my dream. To be honest (pauses), I would rather do the roles that I still really want to play in the theatre than anything else.
gomarinasirtis.com: Can you tell us more about your early experiences at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing after you left Guildhall? Had you much experience in comedy at that point, given that some of the plays were farces by Joe Orton and Terence Rattigan?
MARINA: Well, I love doing comedy but in Hollywood, you tend to get pigeon-holed. I’m regarded as a dramatic actress in Hollywood, so I don’t get to do a lot of comedy, although I just did ‘For the Love of George’. I was way over the top. You’re going to laugh when you see it. At drama school, I did comedy and I love doing comedy. I mean there is nothing like hearing the audience laugh. It’s the biggest rush in the world, it really is, making an audience laugh. I wish I would get to do more comedy. I love it. You see, I love everything. I mean, in England you don’t get pigeon-holed. In England, you do everything. You look at someone like Judy Dench. She does voice-overs for commercials, she does sit-coms on television, she’s in movies. That’s a rounded career. You know, that’s what I would like to have.
gomarinasirtis.com: Was this your first time living away from home and how did you find it?
MARINA: Yes, it was my first time living away from home and I loved it (laughs)! I went a bit wild. (Laughing) I know, 28 pounds a week. Yes, that was my first pay packet and we got paid in cash in a little brown envelope. Yes, I would literally get my little brown envelope on Thursday lunchtime and go straight to the bank and deposit five pounds into a savings account.
gomarinasirtis.com: Let’s move ahead to the Belgrade Theatre in 1984 and 85. ‘Falkland Sound/Voces de Malvinas’: This was a drama about a young lieutenant, also a poet, who was killed during the Falklands war. Do you have any particular memories of the play directed by Ivor Benjamin and its content, i.e., the war?
Marina: Yes, I remember that play. It was the first time I worked at Coventry and then worked there a few times after that. I was very, I suppose, pro the Falklands War. I mean, I’m not a war mongerer. I’m a bit of a pacifist, but I just felt that these were British subjects. Even though they were far away from Great Britain, these were British people, and we had to protect them from being invaded by the Argentinians. Just because Argentina claimed it as Argentinian, the people on the island were not Argentinian, they were British, so I was behind our soldiers.
gomarinasirtis.com: Who were you in that play?
MARINA: It was actually four people sitting in a row. You didn’t have a character. You just kind of spoke when it was your turn.
gomarinasirtis.com: ‘Stags & Hens’ directed again by Ivor Benjamin. This has been a popular play over the years. Do you have any comments about this production?
MARINA: Yes, that was a lovely experience. I was Linda. I was the bride in ‘Stags & Hens’. It was a lovely comedy by Willy Russell, who is one of our great great comic writers in England. He’s a Liverpudlian. He wrote it for Liverpudlian accent and we actually changed it to be a Coventry accent because we were doing it in Coventry. That was hard actually, but it was so much fun. It was five boys and five girls. We all got along great and that was a very very very fond memory.
gomarinasirtis.com: It was all in a restroom
MARINA: Yes, all in the restroom, the play, exactly.
gomarinasirtis.com: ‘Murder at the Vicarage’: this Agatha Christie story was one of the plays you did in 1985 directed by Ivor Benjamin, followed by ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ directed by Rob Bettinson. Are there any memories you’d like to share about these productions? We see that Jan Goodman was also in both plays.
MARINA: Jan Goodman is actually my very very very best friend in the world. We met at Northampton when we were doing ‘Godspell’ together. That’s when we became friends and we’ve maintained our friendship over the years. Actually, Ivor Benjamin was a friend of hers and that’s how I hooked up with Ivor.
gomarinasirtis.com: What was the goat all about?
MARINA: The goat. In the book, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, Esmeralda has a goat. So,Rob Bettinson, in his wisdom, decided that we should have a goat. Well, it wasn’t a trained goat. It was just a goat from the local petting zoo. So, it got to the point because all goats want to do is eat everything and poop everywhere. The whole play became about stopping the goat from eating my costume and avoiding the poop on the stage, until one day, the goat started doing a tap dance during one of my love scenes. I literally walked off stage and the whole audience heard me say, “Either the goat goes, or I go.” So that was the goat story (laughing).
gomarinasirtis.com: In the Royal Shakespeare Company musical production of ‘Privates on Parade’ at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1978, you were the understudy for the lead female character of Sylvia Morgan. Did you get a chance to play the role onstage?
MARINA: I never ever got to play the role onstage because she found out, someone told her, how good the understudies were. She went onstage with housemaid’s knee and bronchitis. To that extent, she wouldn’t let me take that part even for one night. So after that particular experience, I decided I would never understudy again. That was the one and only time I’ve ever understudied.
gomarinasirtis.com: Are there any thoughts you’d like to share with actors who are now in roles of understudies?
MARINA: Don’t get stuck in being an understudy. I did it because I needed to pay my bills. There is that issue always when you’re an actor, that you have to pay the rent and pay your bills and so you do jobs that wouldn’t necessarily be your first choice, let’s say. But, I found that a lot of understudies go from theatre to theatre being understudies. I think if you have an ambition to be more than that, at some point you have to say no.
gomarinasirtis.com: You were in ‘Godspell’ as Mary and ‘The Rocky Horror Show as Magenta, both music oriented productions. Later you were in the ‘Snow White’ pantos in California in 2011 and 2015. How do you like being in musicals and singing onstage?
MARINA: I’m not really confident about my voice, I have to be honest. I know I sing in tune, at least I can sing in tune. I personally love doing musicals. It’s the most fun you ever have in the theatre. There’s just a lovely atmosphere, everyone’s happy, everyone’s having a good time when they’re doing a musical. I would like to do more. I would love be in ‘Les Mis’ and I would love to be in ‘Mamma Mia’. You know, maybe one day. My husband, who is, as you know, a musician, he always says I have a good voice, but I don’t believe him.
gomarinasirtis.com: You played Rirette in Michael Almaz’s adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s story “Intimacy”. Intimacy was the longest running London Fringe play with over 3,000 performances. The play focussed on the relationship between Lulu and Rirette, lesbian partners in the time period just before World War 2. Do you have any particular memories of the play and of the Artaud Theatre Company which was considered to be alternative and innovative at the time?
MARINA: It was and actually, it was one of those theatres that was in a room above a pub. It was a tiny little theatre. As you said, the Café Theatre was the home of ‘Intimacy’ and many actresses played those roles over the years. It was the first time that I had done that kind of noir French thing, you know. I really enjoyed it. It was very moody, it was very dark, it was very intense. Again as an actor, I love playing those roles. Anything that you need to bring out deep feelings, I think is really challenging to get it right. I really enjoyed my time at the Café Theatre and it was very interesting to me that every two actresses that went in, it was different because of the actresses. It was never the same performance, depending on the cast. It was a wonderful experience. Also, you’re in the West End of London, people will come and see you. You get a lot of exposure. It was very helpful in my career.
gomarinasirtis.com: Before ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’, you were doing theatre, television and film in Britain. When you made the decision to leave the UK for the States in ‘86, were you aiming to focus more on t.v. and film, rather than theatre?
MARINA: I knew that coming to L.A. I was pretty much putting a stop to my theatrical career for awhile, especially when I arrived and I saw the situation in L.A. with the theatre. They don’t respect it. People in L.A. tend to think that you’re doing a play because you can’t get a movie or a t.v. series. They don’t realize that the satisfaction you get from doing live theatre is irreplaceable. You can’t compare it with anything else. I love the theatre too much to have it disrespected like that, so when I went to L.A., I knew that I was going to further my t.v. and film career.
gomarinasirtis.com: In your return to theatre on the U.S. stage in both ‘Loot’ by Joe Orton and ‘Hotel Suite’ by Neil Simon in the 1990’s, did you find you had to learn things over again or was it an easy transition back to the theatre?
MARINA: It was a pretty easy transition back. It’s like riding a bike, I think. You know, once you know how to ride a bike. I loved doing ‘Loot’. ‘Loot’ was one of my favourite plays I ever did. ‘Hotel Suite’, we were the premiere of ‘Hotel Suite’ in Philadelphia at the Walnut Theatre. Actually, Neil Simon came to see us. That was quite thrilling. I was terrible that night, by the way (laughs). They shouldn’t have told me that he was in the audience. Once I knew he was in the audience, I stank up the room. I really did.
gomarinasirtis.com: Ian McKellen once said in an interview in Canada that he found he acted differently onstage in North America than he did locally for theatre in Britain, for example, he spoke slower here and he wasn’t sure how the audience of strangers would react. Did you find your experience acting onstage in America to be different from in Britain?
MARINA: Not really. I don’t know why Ian said that. I’ve met him so I think the next time I see him, I’ll ask him myself why he said that. The only thing that I found that is really different between American theatre and English theatre, in England you pretty much have to bleed real blood onstage to get a standing ovation. In America, you just have to show up and you get a standing ovation at the end of the play. We’re much more discerning in England, I think than they are. I think in America, they’re just happy that we came, you know.
gomarinasirtis.com: From all your years in theatre, are there any productions that have a little bit more of an extra place in your heart and memory than others?
MARINA: I think I would have to say two plays. ‘Hamlet’ because that was my first ever audition. I was still at drama school when I auditioned for Hamlet and it’s actually my favourite Shakespeare. I studied it for four years in high school so I knew it inside out and back to front. I’ve always wanted to play Ophelia because she’s never usually like me. She’s usually blonde and kind of wispy, and kind of airy fairy. The fact that they cast a very strong brunette, you know, to play the part, so that has a very special place in my heart. And then the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’…with the goat. After the goat had left, it was wonderful. It’s a classic. To play Esmeralda, it was just a joy.
gomarinasirtis.com: If you could be in three plays in the next few years, what would you choose?
MARINA: Number One would be ‘Medea’. I would love to play Medea, the original Greek tragedy. Actually, I’m trying to persuade Armin Shimerman to let me do it at his theatre. And, I want to play Cleopatra in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, the Shakespeare. And, you know what, I would like to do ‘Hamlet’ again and play Gertrude instead of Ophelia.
gomarinasirtis.com: One last question, and it is a ‘Star Trek’ one, since you are so much loved for your role as Deanna Troi: If you met Deanna Troi as a real person today, what advice would you give her about living and life - and vice versa, what advice do you think Deanna Troi might give to you, Marina Sirtis?
MARINA: Well, let’s start with what Deanna Troi would say to Marina Sirtis. She would probably say, “Marina, think before you speak. Count to ten before you open your big yap!” Right? What would Marina say to Deanna: “What were you thinking when you were dating Worf?! (laughs). Yeah, what was that all about, young lady?! (laughs)
MARINA (closing after thanks by gomarinasirtis.com who were both still laughing about the goat): Oh yeah! They got rid of the goat. You can do the play without the goat, you can’t do the play without Esmeralda! Okay, thank you again. God Bless.”
Thanks to Marina Sirtis for taking the time to do this interview. Thanks also to Ivor Benjamin, Ray Clenshaw (Belgrade Theatre), and Robert Witts (Coventry History Centre) for help with the Belgrade Theatre information. Cheers!