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)

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future