HOW WE MET

KATHRYN HUNTER AND MARCELLO MAGNI

The actress Kathryn Hunter, 39, was born in New York to Greek parents; she came to Britain aged two. She has worked extensively for Theatre de Complicite and in 1991 won an Olivier Award for her performance in The Visit. She is currently playing King Lear at the Haymarket, Leicester. She lives with Marcello Magni in north London.

The actor, writer, teacher and director Marcello Magni, 37, was born in Bergamo, Italy. He came to Britain 13 years ago. He trained at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, and has also studied Peking opera and mask- making. A co-founder of Theatre de Complicite, he is currently playing the Fool in King Lear

KATHRYN HUNTER: I first met Marcello nine years ago, in a tapas bar in Clapham. We were introduced by Annabel Arden of Theatre de Complicite. She and Simon McBurney and Marcello were casting their next production, which was eventually called Anything for a Quiet Life. My first impression of Marcello was of a friendly- looking man with very dark, gleaming eyes and a gleaming pate.

I got the part and our first proper meeting was in an improvisation in a grotty, cold, rehearsal room. The scene was a bar, and Marcello's character was eyeing me up and trying to make contact, but being very clumsy. First the glass went flying out of my hand, and then he bumped into me, and my hat fell off, and my handbag fell on the floor, and all the contents spilt out.

So I met Marcello, and at the same time encountered a revolutionary concept of improvisation. This was not the word-based work we'd done at Rada, but rather pushing a situation to its limits. Although we spoke hardly at all, it was utterly memorable. It was the beginning of my second education in dramatic technique; an induction into theatre as terror.

What bonded us was a mishap in mid-performance when we were on tour. Marcello was due to come on, and he realised he'd forgotten one of the thousands of props he always uses. He whispered, "My umbrella, my umbrella," and while playing my role as his crotchety old mother, I had cunningly to slide the umbrella into the wings where he could reach it. This was a turning point for me because I thought, "Aha, I understand this new tactic where you do little tricks together."

As the tour went on, watching him perform, and his warmth and his comic brilliance endeared him to me more and more. He is totally unheeding of anything, be it tiredness or time. He gives all of himself to the situation.

In Quiet Life, he played a very anxious person who ended up climbing all over the cupboards and the furniture; and it was that kind of totalness which engaged me. He never held back, and said, "That's enough now; I've given enough of my creativity." Once he commits himself, that's it. I discovered later that his loyalty to me would be on that same level.

I was the one who declared myself. It was in the bar of the Half Moon Theatre in London when we were on tour. I said something like, "I think I'm in love with you," and Marcello said, with that very honest face of his, that he was honoured, but that he couldn't respond in kind because he wasn't in love with me. I was absolutely devastated; but we went on touring with the play - in which I was Marcello's 86-year-old mother. It was in southern Italy about three months later that our relationship began to change. It was hot and there was the sea; and Marcello got interested.

There's a huge difference in our attitudes to our home. I'm not a housey person at all: I like treating a house as a hotel. Marcello loves being at home and derives great pleasure from doing hundreds of repair jobs. When it came to buying a fridge, we had all these leaflets and I went, "Oh, that one's about the right price and about the right size," while Marcello did a whole lot of research. He tends to do the cooking too, while I just throw a salad together.

When I was younger I was very preoccupied by men's looks. It just happened that I met some very handsome men. Not that Marcello isn't good-looking - he is - but it's his spirit and his honesty that attract me, his integrity and his loyalty and his enthusiasm not only for the theatre but for every moment.

MARCELLO MAGNI: I had never seen Kathryn's work before I met her. My first contact with her was in a tapas bar on the way to Stockwell. She'd been invited to meet Theatre de Complicite about a part in Anything for a Quiet Life. There was this tiny little person with wonderful eyes. I remember getting a strong sense of her humanity and her sparkle - and I thought she would be great for the part.

In rehearsal I discovered a playful, very innocent person. But my falling in love with her didn't happen till later, after Kathryn had told me several times that she was in love with me. I think she said, "I love you," and I said, "Well... I'm not in love yet." She said it several times. But there had been another person about a year before, and I was still on the edge of a relationship; that's why I wasn't prepared for her at first.

It's funny; people think that being Italian and comic I must be very fluctuant, that my moods change fast and that I'm light. But being a person of the mountains, it takes time for my loyalty to grow. I need to be sure I'm grounded. Kathryn is more impulsive than me.

It was when we were on tour in southern Italy that I melted to Kathryn. The company went to the beach one day, and Kathryn and I swam out to sea together and rested at a buoy. We began to comment on our personal lives and our feelings. Then in the evening, after the performance, we went up to the roof of the Arabic castle where we were staying. There were fireworks in the distance and we said, "Yes," to each other.

Fortunately, we've been able to work together an unbelievable amount. It has got to the point that sometimes there's a problem, because I think, "Did they invite me because of her or vice versa?" But we complement each other so well: she has a depth in her range of emotions; and I would say I'm lighter. When we co-directed Everyman, she was very strong in the interpretation of the text, while my formation leads me more towards the images, the physicality of the presentation. I admire her ease in handling the language; I feel that my Italianness is a handicap: there's always a gap between my thinking and my understanding. I sometimes forget how English Kathryn is, because I almost feel that she's Mediterranean.

Kathryn's a good sounding-board; and we both like to offer each other constructive criticism, but at home I do need to switch off. Kathryn's an unstoppable worker. We don't stick together all the time when we're working. At lunch-time we both like to go our separate ways. Kathryn's a cigarette person, while I'm more of a large-meal person. She will have a read, whereas I have to keep moving, so I like to play games of speed in the rehearsal-room with other members of the company.

We do have arguments about stupid things, sometimes. I'm very organised, a perfectionist; and Kathryn's a bit less so. My thinking gets cloudy when things around me are not just so.

When we work apart, we try to visit each other and give each other support, which is wonderful. I went out to Australia and Toronto when Kathryn was on tour there. When we're separated, as we were when she worked with Peter Brook in Paris for five months last year, she just keeps saying, "Where are you? Where are you? I miss you. I miss you. I miss you."

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