Show People / . . . small ball of fire: Claire Skinner

FOR Claire Skinner, the week between the end of The Importance of Being Earnest and the beginning of rehearsals for Harold Pinter's new play, Moonlight, has been her only setback this year. She went to the Canary Islands and discovered that 'it's full of lava and people lying about like handbags'. A week later, at the Almeida Theatre, the only signs of this were sunburn, freckles and blonder hair that made her look quite unlike Natalie in Life is Sweet.

That was the Mike Leigh film in which she and Jane Horrocks played far-from-identical twins. Horrocks had a scrunched-up face, a snarl and a 'Bollocks' T-shirt; Skinner had a watchful face, wore men's shirts and talked common sense. She was quiet, boyish and self-sufficient. It's only when you see Skinner sipping coffee after rehearsals in the Almeida bar - a delicate, nervy figure, feet tapping on the floor, fingers twisting round the cup - that the extent of that characterisation becomes clear.

She has a natural juvenile quality that takes her from Cecily, the 18- year-old in the Wilde, to Bridget, the 16-year-old in the Pinter. How old, in fact, is she? '28,' she says, then bites her lip, pauses and doesn't let the lip go. What's the matter? 'I think I ought to start playing grown-ups.'

She did her own growing up in Hemel Hempstead. Her dad, who died two years ago, was a shopkeeper and sub-postmaster in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. Her mother worked as a secretary. (She has one sister, a solicitor, and one brother, a painter and decorator.) The local football team was Emerald Vale, and that was where she started. 'I was doing impressions at the club dances when I was about eight.'

She trained at Lamda (leaving the same year, 1987, as no one in particular), then took the once-traditional route of solid years in rep: Oldham, Clywd, Basingstoke, Liverpool and two seasons in Scarborough with Alan Ayckbourn. That felt like home. 'If you've got a free moment, you're in something.'

Her first film, The Rachel Papers, was 'terrible'. She played Gloria, the brassy redhead: 'Ludicrous, can you imagine it?' It's her chewing- gum that gets stuck on the hero's condom. Her second film was Life is Sweet. Mike Leigh's characters develop through improvisation, and in secrecy. 'You know what you've got to do and when. But you don't know what the others are doing.' It worked. Thorough and clear, her performance made Life sweeter still.

Skinner plays a nurse in her second Mike Leigh film, the award-winning Naked (coming out in November). She appears at the end, and again has no idea about 'this great volume of stuff - this hell - the other characters have gone through before . . . I was coming in from left field. I was doing the Benny Hill Show in the middle of King Lear.'

Next came the sitcom Chef, a vehicle for Lenny Henry in which Skinner, as sous-chef and straight person, refrained from grabbing the wheel but certainly had dual controls.

For The Importance of Being Earnest, she did one of those 'really old- fashioned' auditions. She went on stage, the lights were on, she couldn't see the director (Nicholas Hytner), and he asked her to read. At the next audition Hytner did the really old- fashioned thing and climbed up on stage and offered her the job. 'That's the best part.'

She played Cecily as determined, bespectacled and bonkers. The sort of girl who believes the fantasies she writes in her diary. 'She is quite nutty. She works in straight lines and gets what she wants.'

Pinter's new play 'resonates very strongly'. There is a father-daughter relationship and the father is dying. 'I've never felt like this about a play before.' But she didn't know if she could do it. Maggie Smith had an option to extend her role as Lady Bracknell for a further six weeks, which meant a clash of dates. Fortunately Importance was losing its importance for Smith too. So Skinner traded in the 1890s for the 1990s, and shed two more years. She may go younger still. The part she most wants to play, Juliet, is half her age.

'When people want age they want something muscular, not someone who is light. I'm light. My weight is light. My voice is light. I think that's held me back slightly.' So why speak like that? 'I have a horror of turning into a ginny actress, you know, the cigarette and the deep voice.'

'Moonlight': Almeida, 071-359 4404, previews from Thurs, opens 7 Sept.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern