Show People: Scoring a different goal: Cherie Lunghi

THE FIRST thing Cherie Lunghi did after agreeing to take over from Felicity Kendal in Arcadia was ring the author, Tom Stoppard. A must if you haven't seen it, and worth seeing again if you have, Arcadia is none the less quite complicated. 'I said, 'Look, Tom, I didn't go to university. Send me some reading material, for Christ's sake.' ' Stoppard provided her with 'huge footnotes', from landscape gardening to Chaos Theory, only adding that he hadn't been to university either.

She plays Hannah, an attractive author, content to do without the attentions of men. 'It's maddening for the men around her, because they all want her. But that's the thing, the more unattainable someone is, the more they are wanted.' She should know. From The Manageress, in which she played the manager of a football team, to the boss in the coffee ads, she has developed a line in pert, twinkly, career women, who know how to keep their distance.

She swings round the corner of the National Theatre, sandwich in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. As she poses on the set of Arcadia, she discusses last Sunday's BBC programme on Fellini, shifting with poise and ease into each new position the photographer suggests. She's slim, with long, brown hair, high cheek bones, a slender curving nose, and arching eyebrows. At 40, she's brisk and bright. Halfway through, she remembers that the dress she wears in the play would go far better against the background. 'It's lighter,' she explains, with some precision. 'It's diaphanous. Cornflower blue.' She goes and changes.

Later, in the semi-darkness of the Visiting Directors' office, she talks energetically about the virtues of Stoppard, De Niro and Branagh. It's chilly in here and the overhead light doesn't work. But Ms Lunghi is undimmed. An anglepoise lamp picks up her face, rather dramatically, as she canters through her life. Damn. The last thing an interviewer wants to be is charmed.

Her father was Italian, which accounts for her name. (Cherie she pronounces sherry, not cherry.) 'I've got his lankiness.' If you can be lanky at 5 ft 5 1/2 , then she has. Her father was in the foreign legion in Algiers for five years. He married when he came to London. 'The rest,' she says, 'is me.'

She grew up in rented accommodation in post-war Kensington. 'I was the generation of children that played on bomb sites.' Her parents separated early, and her mother, aunts and grandmother lived on the ground floor and basement of a house in Abingdon Villas and rented out the rest to a bomber pilot, nurse, Scots lady and reclusive artist. 'It was an extended family.'

She soon joined another. She won a scholarship to Richmond Grammar School, but went instead to Arts Educational at Hyde Park. This was an attractive building, with Adam fireplaces, painted ceilings and a marble staircase. Her contemporaries had nice features too: they included Jane Seymour, Jenny Agutter and Nigel Havers.

She did seven years at Arts Ed (doing Alice in Wonderland on the radio when she was 13), then three years at Central. She got work; 'but I was playing people's daughters. I had to make the change.' She did 10 months' rep in Newcastle, then three in Nottingham. Then she was back in London, waitressing, before her first job at the Royal Court. This was on the switchboard. Her second job there was selling programmes, allowing her to watch Peggy Ashcroft every night. 'I was struggling to be confident.'

Trevor Nunn auditioned her for the RSC ('he had long, long hair, a beard and a fur coat. Everyone wore second-hand fur coats then'). She played a good range of parts: Perdita in The Winter's Tale, Hero in Much Ado, Celia in As You Like It. Then Terry Hands offered her Viola in Twelfth Night. 'That was a lead. That was major. That was one goal scored.' Her Viola was delightful - sylvan, impish and witty - and, at 25, she was on her way. Films were her ambition. So 'that was it with the RSC'.

Her film roles have been eclectic, historical, centred on the princess figure: Queen Guinevere in Excalibur (1981), one of the wives in King David (1985), and Carlotta, who spurns De Niro, in The Mission (1986). This month she starts filming the part of the baron's mother in Branagh's Frankenstein.

She got the Kenco ad on the back of The Manageress. She thinks she had 'a lot in common' with the football character, but when she bollocks the team you sense uncomfortably that guile and composure suit her better than authority and aggression.

She looks stronger in the ads than in the series. Ads, like film, use plenty of takes. Compare her key scene with De Niro in The Mission with a TV scene of hers, and you see a quite different level of truth. 'The pressure in television is unbelievable. Accountants with computers work out how many pages in a script and how many minutes per page, whether it's an action sequence, or an emotional sequence, or someone going up and knocking on the door.'

The coffee money allows her to pick and choose. She has a seven-year-old daughter, Natalie, from her nine-year relationship with Roland Joffe, director of The Mission. She's a single parent now. 'That's the beauty of repertoire. I get evenings when I can get home and do her homework with her.' Does she help with yours? 'No, she sees me lying in the bath talking to the ceiling and she laughs her head off and mimics me.'

'Arcadia': Lyttelton, SE1 (071-928 2252), tomorrow to Thurs and 22-24 Nov; Lyceum, Sheffield (0742 769922), 29 Nov to 4 Dec.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

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.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin