How We Met: Janet Suzman & Kim Cattrall

 

Janet Suzman, 73

An acclaimed stage actor and now director, Suzman began her career with the RSC in 1963, and became known for her portrayal of Shakespeare's heroines, not least Cleopatra. She lives in London.

I know plenty of grotty, ordinary people in theatre life, but until I met Kim, I'd never become friends with a starry person. We met in a rehearsal room for a production of Peter Hall's Whose Life is it Anyway?, in 2005. At that point I'd never seen Sex and the City, so I had no idea who Kim was. My instant impression was of this casually dressed blonde creature from over the water, dressed in torn jeans, who seemed incredibly young and had this enormous warmth .

You don't always come away from a production wanting to see a person again, and even less do you become lifelong friends. But I loved how she was very much her own woman, a free spirit.

The life of a British [stage] actor is incredibly unglamorous most of the time; Kim glams it up. I'm not keen on the brash celebrity circuit, but she has drawn me into it a couple of times. She invited me to the premiere of the Sex and the City film, which was very unlike me. There were millions of 12-year-olds screaming and having a wonderful time. But what I like about her is she knows how to play the [glamour] game, but she can then drop it like a hot plate.

I had a wonderful time going out for dinner with her in Marrakesh while she was filming Sex and the City 2, but it was terrible. She was scathing about it to me, but she knows perfectly well that those [films], while ghastly, are her bread and butter, and everything else she does is jam; she and I only do jam together.

She was extraordinarily courageous when she approached me to take on the greatest part ever written for a women in English literature, Cleopatra , a part too often overshadowed by the glorious effulgences of Elizabeth Taylor's cleavage. So [as director of a 2010 Liverpool Playhouse production of Antony and Cleopatra], I said to her, "Forget about that [sex bomb] approach, focus on what's really interesting about Cleopatra." I knew she could do comedy, but I wondered whether she'd embrace the tragedy. She trusted my judgement and was terrific; now she's going to get that rare chance of having another go.

Kim Cattrall, 55

Born in Liverpool, Cattrall moved to Canada as a child, and then went to New York to study drama. She appeared in a string of 1980s films, but it was her role as Samantha Jones in 'Sex and the City' that made her a household name. She has since appeared in a number of theatre productions. She lives in New York.

I first saw Janet on stage when I was 11. I'd travelled to Stratford from Liverpool with my great-aunt for an RSC production of As You Like It, with Janet playing Rosalind , and it was my first dramatic experience. She was so strong and commanding with her voice and it had a huskiness to it. She had me on the edge of my seat and I remember thinking, "That's what I want to do."

We met in 2005 when I was doing my first West End play, Whose Life is it Anyway?. Immediately I wanted to say, "I'm so excited to be working with you." But I didn't want her to think I was a crazed fan, so I didn't tell her for a year .

Over the course of the play we became close, and while staying at her house I came upon a picture of her on the cover of a book where she was playing Cleopatra, in 1972. I said, "Do you think I can do that? Why don't you direct me?"

I couldn't think of a better guide [through the production] than Janet. I'd heard so much about her [portrayal] of that role; my main fear was whether she would allow me to have my own Cleopatra, but she let go of the reins and allowed me my own [interpretation].

In career terms, we started in very different directions. I got into the commercial world of television and film early while she was always known for theatre. As a young actress I didn't get to play Rosalind and Juliet and it's only now that I'm getting to play the roles I've always aspired to.

Do I see her as a mentor? Definitely. In fact, I wish I'd had more mentors along the way. It's something that's sadly been left behind in my profession, so I'm so happy to have found in Janet a relationship with a woman I trust and respect, who's not just an incredible actress and director but my friend.

Kim Cattrall will be starring in 'Antony and Cleopatra', directed by Janet Suzman, at the Chichester Festival Theatre from 7- 29 September (cft.org.uk). 'Tea with Janet Suzman, Kim Cattrall and Jude Kelly', about the role of Cleopatra, is at the Southbank Centre, London SE1 (southbankcentre.co.uk), today at 2pm

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