Just call her Bond

Jasper Rees meets Samantha Bond, the star in the final new play under Richard Eyre's regime
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The Independent Culture
Kyra Hollis, the waitress-turned-teacher in David Hare's Skylight, is one of those parts that an actor inhabits so completely that you struggle to imagine anyone else playing it. She took Lia Williams from the Cottesloe to the West End to Broadway, from an Olivier nomination to last week's Tony Awards. But as Stella Gonet (from House of Eliott) prepares to bring the role back to the West End following a national tour, Hare reveals that she might easily have been succeeding another actress. "In my view there were two outstanding actresses of their generation to play that part," says Hare. "The balance fell out in Lia Williams's favour but it might perfectly well have fallen the other way with Samantha Bond."

Bond has now landed the sort of role in David Hares 11th play for the National that she was denied in his 10th. A bizarre concatenation of circumstances would seem to indicate that, while Hare never writes with actors in mind, she'll never find a part better moulded to her.

Hare has been experimenting with tragedy in recent years - see also The Secret Rapture and The Absence of War - and needs actors who are up to it. "I like her because of the sense of her being a genuine classical actress. I thought she was astonishing in Le Cid [also at the National]: she can play destiny and all those things that tragedy is about, rather than soap opera, the ups and downs of life. That's a very, very rare gift in British actresses."

In Amy's View, Bond plays the well-meaning daughter of Esme Allen (Judi Dench), an actress coming to terms in 1979 with the slow death of the straight play in the West End. The play spans 18 years of a relationship between two women who struggle to communicate across generations. Bond is "not permitted to say a lot" - Hare doesn't like his audiences to know what his plays are "about" before they see them - but has been granted leave to reveal that it concerns "love and communication within relationships, and how if you're on the outside of a relationship you can see very clearly what is right and what is wrong. When you're in the midst of a relationship it's very hard to see what might be the right course, and you make decisions that can then lead to problems in the future."

The part is a snug fit for Bond partly because she is the daughter of actors (and the wife of one, too). But it's also the case that, just as Bond has twice been cast as Nicholas Farrell's sister - in Mansfield Park and Nina Bawden's Family Money - for several years casting directors have sought to make her Dench's daughter.

Amy's View clearly capitalises on the chance occurrence of physical similarity. There is a certain difference in shape: while "Judi's shortness is so much part of her power as an actress", says Hare, Bond is of middling height, and even looks tall enough to have played the younger version of the Amazonian (and equally flame-headed) Maggie Smith in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women. But there is a certain feline sharpness around the azure eyes that echoes Dench's piercing gaze. Gifted young actors are often said to be the next so-and-so. There are sundry next Vanessas, various next Maggies. But there's only one next Judi.

"It has been said before," says Bond of the similarity. "I was once approached about being her daughter, but I was pregnant." She subsequently played her daughter in a radio adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, a casting choice that explored the likeness from another angle. "That had nothing to do with what we look like; that was to do with what we sound like. Every now and again I can hear something that sounds similar. There are certain noises that the pair of us make in a similar way. We've got a very, very good familial laugh going."

"I think Judi's always had a sense of Samantha as her natural daughter of out of wedlock, so to speak," says Hare. "It just seems completely natural that they belong together on the stage. The intimacy between them has only helped them both as actors. I think they love acting together." And not just acting. The Renaissance Theatre Company's production of Much Ado About Nothing found Dench making her directorial debut, with Bond starring as Beatrice. Bond found the prospect "intensely daunting" in a way that playing Rosalind for the RSC when 26 weeks pregnant somehow wasn't (she came back as Celia after giving birth). "Not only was Judi 'damed' while we were doing it," she says, "I also was attempting to play one of the roles for which she was exceedingly famous. I'd always been sorry that I had missed her Much Ado but when I then came to play it for her I think it would have been almost unbearable."

Last, and certainly least, Bond has twice played Miss Moneypenny to Dench's Q, in Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, currently in production. She may have done a lot of television as well as theatre: in the last few months she has been in the BBC's Breakout, Channel 4's Family Money (in which, much less plausibly, she was Claire Bloom's daughter) and Granada's Emma. But Moneypenny is her only significant film role, and you note the sourness in her voice when she confronts the idea that working for all the eminent directors ("apart from Trevor Nunn"), has had far less widespread impact than "a woman who only ever says 10 lines in any film she's ever been in".

It so happened that Goldeneye's gala premiere fell when Bond was playing in Three Tall Women and her husband Alexander Hanson was in Sunset Boulevard. "We had to walk to our respective theatres through Leicester Square, and they had all the barricades and police cars, and people were arriving, and paparazzi. And I just started to shake. I thought, I've never seen anything so frightening." She recovered her composure enough to attend the bash afterwards. "You think this is a bit kitschy and American but in fact you are then part of it. You are introduced as new members of the Bond family, which is always quite funny for me because of course I am part of a Bond family, just a different one."

Amy sounds like a member of another branch of the Bond family. "She is a great believer in love," says Bond, "in that love will sort things out. Not quite as simplistically as 'love conquers all', but if people are kind and gentle and loving the world will be a better place." Her mantra might be "only connect". Or "only bond"n JR

'Amy's View' opens 20 June at the National Theatre, London SE1 (0171- 928 2252)