How We Met: Simon McBurney & Kathryn Hunter

'She greets my dishes with enormous delight – then leaves them untouched'
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The Independent Online

Kathryn Hunter, 53

An Olivier award-winning actress, Hunter is best known for her work with physical-theatre company Complicite, which was co-founded by Simon McBurney and her now husband, Marcello Magni. Her film credits include Mike Leigh's 'All or Nothing'. She lives in London

Simon is quite ugly. He won't thank me for saying it, but it's what I thought when I first saw him. I was in the theatre bar after a performance at the Traverse Theatre [in Edinburgh] about 25 years ago. I'd heard wonderful things about him and his company Complicite [then called Théâtre de Complicité], but initially, all I remember thinking was what an extraordinary face he had.

Then he asked me to work with him and once we started rehearsing, he became more attractive and seductive with each day; I fell in love with his ethos, and it changed my life. He felt anybody can play anything: you're not typecast with Simon. So I've played his old mother in The Visit and his son in The Winter's Tale. The essence of it is physical; telling stories by changing the disposition and tension within the body and the face. We spent hours improvising and playing games together and we'd often collapse on to the floor with laughter, and that energy would feed into our work.

Simon has an incredible determination to see things through – inside and outside of the theatre. When we went to Hong Kong for a production, we were both invited to go waterskiing in the harbour on our day off. It was a windy day and they said it probably wasn't a good idea, as the water was too choppy, but Simon absolutely wanted to do it. So I have this image of Simon being dragged through the water and disappearing under these huge swells of water. We thought he'd let go of the bar, but then he'd bob up again, still holding on, there by this iron will.

He's a mass of contradictions. He's always losing his keys and wallet and he's very disorganised; in conversation he leaves things open for a long time before coming back to a point. Yet at work, he provides an amazing structure within which we have freedom to work.

Even with two kids and a schedule that goes up to 2016, he makes time for me. Recently I had a crisis leaving the RSC and he was very supportive; his advice made a difference.

Simon McBurney, 53

An actor, writer and director of acclaimed theatre company Complicite, McBurney has also had roles in films including 'The Last King of Scotland', 'The Golden Compass' and 'The Duchess'. He lives in London with his wife and two children

I saw Kathryn before I met her. I was watching her in a production in Edinburgh in the late 1980s, and there was a quality in her that set something off in me. She played several parts, including a soldier, which she was enjoying so much she started laughing with absolute delight. Her performance just had this delirious pleasure about it, and it was the same as that of a child playing.

That playfulness was also present when I met her at the bar afterwards. She was extraordinarily open in how she looked at the world, and she seemed as if she was ready to try anything. That's great for a director, so I asked her to join our company. Very quickly we realised there was something in the way we both imagined the world that was compatible, and we wanted to bring that vision to life.

All the cast members thought Kathryn was gorgeous, yet she was also strangely unaware of her own talent. I remember her doing an improvisation with Marcello in which they had to change their costumes four times while standing on a table. Her's was such a mess, and she had no idea what she was doing, yet it grew more and more hilarious and wonderful. Twenty-four years later, at Marcello and Kathryn's wedding recently, she told us it was that moment when they fell in love.

Socially, the great thing about her is how spontaneous she is. A moment doesn't have to be arranged; she might ring me at any time and come round.

This extraordinary presence she has seems to be fed purely by cigarettes and coffee. When we go for a meal, she eats nothing. I love cooking and I like to place extraordinary, delicious dishes in front of Kathryn, which she greets with enormous delight – then leaves untouched.

Most of my influences come from outside the UK and Kathryn [who is of Greek descent] is one of them. Despite being trained in England, she absolutely is not English, and I love that about her. Her real name is Aikaterini Hadjipateras, but in the 1980s her agent said it wasn't English enough, so she changed it.

When you need Kathryn, no subject is off limits. When my mother passed away, she was the first person I spoke to. She's the ground beneath my feet.

'Tell Them That I Am Young and Beautiful', starring Hunter, is at the Arcola, London E8 ( arcolatheatre.com), from Tuesday to 8 October. The film 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' (15), featuring McBurney, is released on 16 September

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