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netribution > features > interview with janet mcteer > page two
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Did you discuss the deterioration and effects of starvation you'd experience in those conditions?
I think there was a lot more talk because there was a lot more time. I remember we had a long talk about what happens by week three of living on carrots alone. How do you feel? Do you get headaches? Do you start to go mad? So there was very much a sense of here we are this section of this piece now, the muscles have been eaten away so when you fall and stumble you don't have the muscles to actually pull yourself up - even though you can walk in a straight line. And of course hope goes and when happens you can't eat anymore because when you're so hungry you don't notice it anymore. So we talked about those stages very much but I think what also helped was that we shot it in sequence so you're all doing it together. Normally if you're doing something from act four you'll think, 'I'm probably a little bit tired in that scene' and you have to match that. So then you think earlier on, 'Oh shit, I'm meant to be that tired. If I'd known I was supposed to do this scene like that I'd have been much more tired, but I can't because I've shot it so I'll have to be a little less tired'.

You get a real feel for how the players must have felt throughout.
Well we used no make up and we had no hairdresser. All those subliminal things, like that clever part where Paul shaves his head. When he shaves his head you suddenly think, 'Fcuk me, all these beards have grown', because of course they had. Everyone stopped shaving on day two with the exception of the character of Charles, who continued shaving all the way through. Everyone stopped shaving and nobody did anything to their hair because then the whole thing would fall apart. So all those things we show because it's in real-time.

Going back to the original concept of the piece, how much of a draw was the opportunity to combine cutting edge technology with the classical? Because of course, you come from a theatre background.
I think what I like very much is the idea that people think of Shakespeare as very separate. More so elsewhere than in England, because obviously we were brought up with the idea that Shakespeare is British and he is a part of our history. Even if you don't know his plays, he's inherent in your upbringing. We've had to read at least one at school and I think the idea of it being normal, that it was written by a man in a language that means something to anybody that speaks it, they allow themselves to feel it. It's like great art; it's a really wonderful thing to deliver - It's like seeing Sister Wendy talking about a picture. So many people think of great art as something that clever people experience. If someone can take away the fear that you're too stupid to understand it, that anyone can understand it and it can mean something, I think that's one of the beauties of film. We've become a nation where high art is considered less important than it used to be. It's just not the same anymore. I think that's one of the themes of the piece. I don't really care if you listen to Shakespeare, read Shakespeare, watch Shakespeare or whatever it's a great piece of art, what I like is that ordinary people can find meaning in this great tragedy.

I was going to say this play actually brings out all the divisions and the hatred and so on.
Well it certainly lets all the dark run free. But maybe that's all things these characters have to face anyway. And it stops them running around in denial I suppose.

Talking more generally, because of your classical background, did people in America see you as a certain kind of actress? Kevin O'Connor said that until he saw you on The Charlie Rose Show, he thought you were maybe a pretentious English actor.
Well they all get terrified, don't they, the Americans, if you're from the theatre. They all think you're going to quote Shakespeare at them all the time and drink tea. They can't imagine that you're just an actor and it's just your job, you know what I mean?

What was the affect of appearing on the Charlie Rose Show?
I don't think it made a difference to people who came to see the play, but I think it made a difference to Gavin. That's why he cast me in Tumbleweeds. He thought, 'Okay...' and then he came to see the play and he sent me the script. If he hadn't seen the Charlie Rose Show he wouldn't have sent me the script.

We have to talk about the accent. It was so perfect that Southerners were apparently claiming you as one of their own.
Yeah, I think I was more nervous about that then anything else.

How easy do you find accents?
I really enjoy them, I always have. It's like putting on new shoes. Losing yourself in another character, I love it.

You've said that the first time you went to the theatre was the first time you really felt comfortable. Why was that?
I don't know. I think it's like when you meet somebody and you fall in love with them you go, 'Ah! I belong here. This is where I belong'. It's a bit like that. I just fell in love with the theatre, it made me feel comfortable.

Did you feel like an outsider elsewhere?
All the time.

I don't know whether 'outsider' is quite right because it makes it sound rather grand, I think most young people feel like that. My mother thinks she found me under a gooseberry bush. I love my mother, don't get me wrong, but I always was just a bit not quite part of things. I could see that everyone else fitted into the world in which we all lived and I just didn't feel that. I didn't feel comfortable.

Was your height anything to do with it?
No because my best friend was the same height as me. It bothered me briefly when I was 13 or 14 because I grew very quickly but other than that I've always loved being tall. It never bothered me at all.

You have to have a certain confidence to carry it off because you're more visible.
I think what happens is that people read things into it that just aren't there. I don't think of myself as tall and I only notice it occasionally, I'm just me. I only really notice it when I can't find trousers. Then I'll be incredibly embarrassed and feel incredibly tall. It's not something I think about. But people put all kinds of things onto it. It's rather like when you're very beautiful. People think, 'How marvellous it must be to be beautiful', whereas the people who are beautiful, they just get up in the morning and think, 'Well I look knackered' the same as anyone else. But it does affect you because of what people put onto it. They automatically assume that you're authoritarian and that you're more confident than most. They automatically assume that you have more power. All these things are given to you without having to struggle, which is really quite nice [laughs]. You can stand and say nothing and people think you're thinking something quite important, when actually your just thinking, 'I'd really like a pee' or something. Kristian's the same, he's very tall, and he'll stand there thinking about something and you can see people are nervous for no reason at all. Just because he's so big.

Does it make a difference in the roles you get offered, though? People here have been making a big deal out of the height difference between Saffron Burrows and Peter Mullan in Miss Julie.
I don't know. I think actually as I've got older my personality or the kind of things I like doing are also helped by the fact that I'm tall. If I was the perfect ingénue, for example, I don't think I would have had much luck. But because I have always enjoyed those out there kind of characters, or the classical women such as Rosalind and those classical kind of heroines, they suit the fact that I am so tall. They ask for it. They beg for it. And all of those characters that have something around them, the Hedda Gabblers and the Noras, all of those things are helped by that. So I think that's maybe one of the reasons why it's never ... I'm sure I've lost hundreds of jobs. I used to say I've never lost a single job, but of course that was probably naïve because I never really thought about it. But I'm sure I've lost hundreds of jobs where they've cast some bloke and then said, 'We can't have Janet, she's far too tall'. Maybe I am, but I've never lost a part I was interested in.

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