How We Met: Henry Goodman & Imelda Staunton

'We've known each other such a long time, in some ways we're like an old married couple'

Sunday 08 February 2009 01:00

Henry Goodman, 58, is an actor who has starred on the stage in the West End and on Broadway. His notable roles have included Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. He hit the headlines in 2002 when he was sacked from a starring role in The Producers on Broadway days before opening night. He lives in Wimbledon with his wife and two children

Way back in 1982, when I joined the RSC, Imelda was in Fair Maid of the West in Stratford. It was a wonderful, rollicking play. She played the lead, a feisty woman. We passed each other by in the green room for a while. Cliché though it is, she lit up the room with her energy and positivity.

In 1987 we did a musical version of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? at Stratford. When you're doing a season there you are very much locked in. You really get to know people when you rehearse with them all day and perform all night. People like Imelda are a rarity. She has such concern for her fellow actors, there's something infectious about it. Once, when we were all up against it, trying desperately to learn new moves day after day – and we were all actors who happened to sing and dance, rather than the other way round – she walked in with a huge Christmas tin of sweets and handed them out to every one of the 45 people in the room. To be in that high-pressure environment with someone who has such a combination of warmth and awareness makes such a difference.

When we did Guys and Dolls together in 1996, she had done it before as a chorus girl and I was new to it so she was a great help. I was Nathan to her Adelaide, and we had lots of scenes together as two lovers who can't quite reach each other. It felt like we were each other's island of serenity in the middle of all the madness and hordes of people in costumes dancing and singing around us. She's a rock; she's always there when things get tough.

Since doing the Harry Potter film she has a new set of fans and every now and then she will comes across one of them, delirious with excitement at meeting her. She always handles them brilliantly.

She is incredibly naughty in a delicious way, too. That's one of the reasons I felt a kindred spirit. She knows exactly how to take the mickey out of me. Not in an intrusive way, just enough to make me laugh at myself. And I need that – she knows exactly how to handle me.

Imelda Staunton, 53, is an actor who rose to fame in the National Theatre's 1982 production of Guys and Dolls. She has since starred on stage, screen and TV. In 2004 she was nominated for an Oscar for the film Vera Drake. She lives in London with her husband and daughter

I first met Henry when we did They Shoot Horses, Don't They? in the late-1980s at the RSC. I distinctly remember thinking, "Who the bloody hell is he?" He was playing this very cool, charismatic MC who was host and singer for the evening. He was very English and very uptight but at the same time smarmy and delicious. He was absolutely marvellous.

We didn't work together again until 10 years later when Richard Eyre revived Guys and Dolls. He was great to work alongside – so generous and encouraging with an innate sense of timing and wit. I think we both get an enormous amount of joy from trying to do the job well. We both wanted so much to get it right.

We have a lot of similarities. We both went to Rada – he was a few years above me, but we shared some of the same teachers. We're both working-class as well; he is Jewish East End and I'm an Archway girl, the daughter of working-class parents.

When I heard he had got sacked from The Producers I thought, "Jesus, what a terrible thing to happen." I phoned him to say, "I hope you're OK and I'm thinking of you," and he phoned me right back saying he was fine. Then the next day the producers of Chicago rang him and asked, "Do you wanna come in our show?" There was me thinking he'd never work again. He's a got a tough skin. If that had happened to me I'd have been on the floor in a heap.

We worked together again last year in a film directed by Ang Lee. Henry and I play husband and wife, Jewish-American immigrants in an unhappy marriage – him downtrodden and me being pretty revolting. We were out in Massachusetts and had our own little houses next door to each other. We made very good travelling companions. In our time off we went sight-seeing in Boston and to New York to see some shows. We've known each other such a long time we just get on with it. In some ways just like an old married couple.

Henry is a jack of all trades. He used to have his own company in South Africa and has directed cabarets. He's hungry and thirsty for the job, for the thrill of it and all the hard work involved. He's a real doer. His mind is so alive, he is always thinking of some project or other; he is so very passionate about theatre. I know Sue, his wife, is the same – she is a dancer and choreographer. They are workers. They're not just sitting around saying, "Shall we have a coffee?" or "Shall we laze around in bed all day?" They're always doing things. They make me feel like a slug. n

Henry Goodman is in 'Duet for One' at the Almeida Theatre, London N1 (020 7359 4404, to 14 March. Imelda Staunton hosts the theatre's Cabaret Gala tonight

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