Harriet Walter

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The Independent Culture
I've seen five previous Heddas but I'm very bad at remembering detail. I can't possibly be them. Whether I'm better or worse is up to the audience. The problem for me is to forget all that and try and tell a story that the audience probably doesn't know.

I've avoided roles like Hedda. Once you get beyond the ingenue stage, so many of the big roles for women are horribly self-destructive. I suspected them of being about a male take on women where men saw women as threatening and dangerous. I did play the Duchess of Malfi, though. She's lovely and adult but she too is self-destructive, to a degree. I worried about what it would be like living with so horrible a character. Now I know why people talk so glowingly about playing horrible characters: it's their complexity.

Audiences come with so many expectations about her that it can make it very hard to work through. You know: ice-maiden, that sort of thing. It's not a case of saying "No, actually you're wrong, she's very nice", but understanding why she behaves as she does. It can appear so wilful. Showing the reasons and the depth of her character is much more interesting.

She's the General's daughter but so much British drama is about class and status so I welcome the approach of our director Lindy Davies. It's less of an issue for her: she's more concerned with their aspirations, petty bourgeois values versus artistic values.

We have been encouraged to find personal connections. My grandmother had a beautiful voice and wanted to sing, but as an only child of an army chap, she spent a lot of time breaking men's hearts instead. Obviously, I haven't based the entire characterisation on her but it is a link. Were I not an actress but a woman living a hundred years ago... there but for the life I lead go I.

Winning the audience's sympathy is the director's job. In an ideal world, I would present her warts and all, but one is trying to make them understand, not to like, forgive or condone. When I started, I felt that Hedda was right across the road from me. Now I'm walking along beside her. As an actor you just hope that the audience will join you there too.