How We Met: Danielle Tarento & Frances Ruffelle

‘We’d sit in the make-up caravan, our hair unwashed, holding bacon sandwiches’

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The Independent Online

Frances Ruffelle, 47

The daughter of stage-school founder Sylvia Young and the mother of pop star Eliza Doolittle, stage actress Ruffelle first appeared on stage as the lead in 'Starlight Express' in 1984 and was the original Eponine in the London production of 'Les Misérables'. She lives in London with her partner.

We met about 10 years ago in the make-up room of [TV drama] Dream Team. Danielle was playing a single mother who'd fallen in love with a young footballer. I remember hiding my broken nails under the table as I was supposed to be this glamorous character, but I'd never had nails done properly before. It wasn't Danielle's thing either, so I felt relieved that there was at least one person in the room who wasn't used to glamming it up. She was a good actress but decided it wasn't for her. I wonder if it was Dream Team that put her off?

We were reintroduced four years ago when the director of my one-woman show and I were in [members' club] The Groucho and we bumped into her and asked her to produce it. We took it to the Edinburgh Festival where we stayed in a flat together – and even took it to Poland.

She's now like a sister to me – I love her! Though we differ in that she's super-organised and bossy, but understands my need for quiet: I come into the world each day slowly and I don't talk to anyone till 4pm. And as a producer, she was so supportive: she watched every single performance – which was astonishing, as I'd find it awful!

While living together we discovered we both loved yoga, so now we do it together. And then we talk about personal things and help one another get through our problems.

Friendship hasn't got in the way of work: I can be sensitive over criticism but with her I take everything on board – though I won't always agree.

When I wrote my first blog for [the current-affairs website] the Huffington Post [about the original Les Misérables production] I got [theatre producer] Cameron Mackintosh's name wrong! Danielle was the one person who [when proofreading it] pointed it out to me. She said, "He's the one person who you owe your entire career to and you spell his name wrong! If you ever spell mine wrong, we're done!"

Danielle Tarento, 39

After acting for eight years, Tarento switched to producing and co-founded the award-winning studio theatre Menier Chocolate Factory in 2004. She won the title of Best Producer at this year's Off West End Awards. She lives in London.

I saw Frances at the beginning of her career, playing Eponine at the Palace Theatre in London in 1985. She was just 19; it was an extraordinary performance and a turning point in my life, as it's the reason I became interested in theatre. I even sang [Eponine's solo song] "On My Own" at an audition I once had – I like to say I did it better!

We met on Dream Team in 2002. A lot of the other girls had been there a long time and were typical footy-wife types; we bonded as we weren't. We'd sit in the make-up caravan, our hair unwashed, holding our bacon sandwiches while these other girls walked in, already looking immaculate.

We had a moment several years later when we bumped into one another at The Groucho. A mutual friend, who was going to be directing her one-woman show was with her and they said they needed a producer. As I'd just left a full-time job, I jumped at it. In the beginning I wondered if it might ruin [our friendship]. But the end result was fantastic and we had a laugh, particularly when we lived together in Edinburgh. She was the star so I made sure she turned up on time, looked good and didn't stay out all night. But when I came back in the evenings, there'd be dinner on the table and the laundry was done; looking after each other was split equally.

Her voice is unique. Anyone who has seen her knows she brings something special to her roles. When she played Roxie [in Chicago] everyone raved about her vocal quality – she has training but there's a rawness, a danger in her voice.

She calls me bossy, but I just call a spade a spade. Someone like Frances needs someone like me. She made this comment recently over coffee. She said, "You think really fast and I think really slow." That's why I'm the producer and she's the actress. We all find our roles in life, though for me acting is a stupid job for a grown-up, so moving to producing had been a long time coming.

I've not seen her yet in the film of Les Misérables – she's playing Whore 1. Tom Hooper, the director, has been so good to give people from the original production a chance to be in the movie. But Frances isn't one for living in the past – she understands that [fame] comes and goes – and she wants it to be her daughter [the singer] Eliza [Doolittle]'s time now.

'Les Misérables' (12A) is in cinemas on 11 January;