EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with BILLIE PIPER
Billie’s most acclaimed play, The Effect, dealt with depression and the workings of the mind. It was the most critically acclaimed play of the year and has since seen her grab an Olivier Award nomination, for Best Actress. It’s almost impossible to imagine the reinvention of Doctor Who without Billie Piper, but she also has many other accomplishments to her name since the start of her career – at the tender age of 15 – including several awards, a platinum album and a whole host of hailed projects.
I aim to find out more about the things Billie hasn’t done and what she thinks of her illustrious career as we sit down for lunch at the National Theatre’s restaurant. Billie produces a handful of ketchup and mayonnaise sachets to go with my chips and I can tell the interview is off to a good start. She tucks in to an omelette…
So, you’ve done singing, you’ve done TV, you’ve done film, you’ve done theatre. What else would you be interested in doing? Writing, or Directing TV/Theatre, presenting?
I would be interested in writing something, and me and my friend are loosely developing something now that I think would begin as a short film and then, should it find it’s place, maybe we could develop it further. These are all pipe dreams, but writing is definitely something I’m interested in. Presenting; no, it puts the fear of god into me. I think it’s a really tough job actually, especially live TV. You’ve got to be so quick, and on your toes. With theatre you rehearse it for weeks, there’s no space really for you to fall down, and if you do it’s likely to do with a technical glitch, or loss of confidence, or… you’ve forgotten your lines! But really it’s all set up for you to do well or at least work hard with the material given. But writing for sure, potentially even directing or co-directing. I’m not sure I’m there yet with the directing but Laurence is directing more and more actually.
With all of your experience in drama, would you be interested in teaching acting?
I’d be interested in mentoring. Again, I don’t know I’m well enough equipped or confident enough to impart acting techniques, but I would love to talk to actors or aspiring actors about the career beyond drama school and drama class because no one really talks to you in depth about the struggles, the sacrifices, the madness, the pressure that comes with carving out a career and then maintaining it. It’s all very much foundation work.
Were you worried about taking on the role of Belle de Jour? It’s obviously a very controversial role; did you think it could harm your image/career?
I wasn’t worried about taking on the role of Belle de Jour. (She laughs her infectious laugh.) I’m glad I wasn’t actually because if I’d thought about it too much then I probably wouldn’t have touched it because it’s marmite for people. People either love it and really enjoy it for what it is, which is fun, naughty, suggestive and heightened. And then other people just downright hate and just think it’s the worst thing to ever grace our screens. I don’t think that role particularly harmed my career. Had I continued to do roles of a sexual nature, I think that could have potentially been quite damaging, and not massively palatable if that was the kind of thing I loved to do! I think the thing is, if you do loads of TV you suddenly find it harder to do films, and if you appear relentlessly on people’s screens then people find it very hard to see you as a character because they’ve seen you as a personality before the character. You’re always trying to break down the last thing you did which is what I find massively frustrating about this job. You’re always trying to shed the skin of your last job or last performance in order for people to see you branch out and take different risks and challenges which is really annoying and something everybody comes up against. If you do too much comedy people find it hard to imagine you in a serious role. If you just do serious all the time people just think you’re dry and incapable of the other stuff. That’s a problem I experience, but probably most actors experience the same thing.
How easy/hard do you find it to get in and out of characters? During curtain calls of both Reasons to be Pretty and The Effect you still seemed very emotional…
I thought I found it easier than I actually do. When we started doing this play eight times a week, I would go home and start quoting the play, or a version of my character. Or Laurence would go, ‘Can we just stop a minute and talk about what just came out of your mouth?!’ or try and act opposite me as I’m talking normally but with the character’s sentiments. I always feel very emotional during the curtain call mostly because all of my emotional stuff, as they are in most second acts, are forced towards the end of the play, and I can’t just shake it. (She laughs). I’m always standing there trying not to cry! I think it’s also just the relief of getting it done that I find overwhelming, I look at Jonjo bow and I think, ‘Now that is professional’. I find curtain calls quite embarrassing, I don’t know why, they’re just awkward!
Do you think theatre is where you’ve found your place in acting? Do you prefer it to TV and film?
I prefer theatre for finding roles, finding the heart and truth for