Accentuated by her hair in two tight plaits, as a school girl, Alice Krige's elfin face concentrated intently on our interview.
Born and brought up in South Africa she originally intended to train as a clinical psychologist whilst at university she had a free credit and did a year of Drama culminating in a BA in Drama and psychology. Increasingly absorbed she went onto do an Honours degree in Drama and then decided she wanted to act.
"Having had a very academic training, which I was very grateful for, I felt I needed the space to explore the non academic side of work and so I then went to The Central School of Speech and Drama in London and then started working."
"Which you have done a lot of."
"Well I have been extremely fortunate."
Alice Krige, I was beginning to discover, is not only genuinely modest but once she sets her mind to do something, she just gets on with it.
"Was it a cultural shock coming to London?"
"I think everything was a big shock. It was the first time I'd been far away from my family. I'd been bought up in the country and had just come from a tiny, tiny university town. I felt, like a rat in a warren, oppressed just by the sheer weight of human beings. I remember standing at a bus stop, in the rush hour, and I tried to imagine where all these people lived. I had to stop thinking about it, it was too overwhelming. I also found the sense of humour very different and attending Central gave me an enormously different perspective on South Africa. I wasn't consciously aware, at the time, this is a big cultural shock, more in retrospect."
"Have you ever played the part of a South African?"
"No, I've never been asked to play a person from my own culture but it would be interesting to see what stuff came up from the subconscious, to see what I had access to that I'm not aware of."
Currently playing at The Almieda Theatre, Krige plays the part of Belvideria, in a rare production of Thomas Otway's "Venice Preserved" which was written in 1682 and is directed by Ian Diamond. Set in a decaying 17th Century Venice, although the set is immaculate both in its design and construction, it's the story of four young people's love, friendship, hopes and dreams that are ripped apart, in the worst 36 hours of their lives, by the conflict of the demands of a stagnant and unjust senate and a cynical revolution, resulting in madness and death. Belvideria goes through the lot.
When I asked her didn't she find it exhausting going through all these intense emotions every night, she seemed quite amazed, carefully explaining how if you "live in the moment" you've cracked it and then with her usual modesty suggested that she wasn't there yet - "The trouble is at the moment there is so much of Belvideria that I haven't resolved I wake up at 4, 6 and 8am in the middle of a scene, my brain won't let go of it, and that is tiring."
"Are there parts of Belvideria that you see in yourself?"
"Yes I suppose there are. The parts I greatly admire in her are the words she uses most - love, pity, compassion and forgiveness. Like her I don't believe you right a wrong with a wrong. I don't believe killing is justified. The difference between Belvideria and I is that in her world there is no place for those beliefs, peace only comes with death, where as in the world we inhabit that is possible. Mind you I know that's the human mind working, I mean we have to believe that so it's possible to go on living. Oh dear, I'm being a bit heavy."
Hardly surprising, Venice Preserved does dig up a lot of heavy issues. Otway is very much an 'in-your-face' writer and as Krige points out "there is no hidden agenda in the text." Don't let this put you off, the play does have humour and one of the gems is a 'Miss Whiplash entertains a Senator' which despite being written in 17th century would easily feature in The News of the World - some issues stay the same.
However Alice Krige is not heavy, when she talks about how armies of field mice move into her home while she's away working, how she and her husband, Paul, spend weeks evacuating them - trying not to kill them, Krige is animated and most amusing. (It appears by using sonic devices, in an attempt to get rid of them, they have created a breed of mice who are now either deaf or have all gone and bought ear-plugs!) She calmly mentions the Santa Anna winds, that drives up the murder and suicide rate and fuels the fires that raged across the states a couple of years ago, as something you have to accept for living on the edge of a canyon outside LA. Although she admits the relief of receiving a phone call, while filming in Russia, from her husband to say that he and the dogs had made it to a motel although he wasn't sure if the house would be there the next day. "Thankfully it was but there was nothing you could do about it at that time. Although it was a shock there was no point mourning the loss of the furniture."
"You've worked in film, TV and theatre, do you look for particular parts or certain areas?"
"If you can work across all the mediums it's just fascinating.
Apart from a couple of pieces I've only done things that I feel I can put my heart and soul into. I'm always caught if the character has really significant choices to make through the course of the story and sometimes certain characters resonate inside you. Then there's the thing of going through a journey that you yourself would never be in a position to go through (not all of them pleasant). Although it's make-believe you generate the emotions that people in that position feel. It's a great blessing to be allowed to do that."
Blessed or otherwise, Krige has definitely worked. From Chariots of Fire to winner of the Most Promising Newcomer - for Arms and the Man, a stretch at the RSC, tons of TV - both in UK and the States, more films, more theatre and recently three films - one of which, Institute Benjamenta, premiers at the ICA from November 17th.
Created by the Quay brothers, a pair of identical twins, their previous work has been cutting edge animation, this is their first film that includes human beings and was shot in Hampton House.
"Did this present a problem?"
"No, they have an extraordinary imagination and were incredible to work with. By transforming the house, totally, they created a world - with everything, every detail."
"How do you think it will be received?"
"I have no idea what it will do to people but the experience of it lit me up and I hope that transfers to whoever is watching it. Its enormously mysterious and extremely beautiful. To me it was like an extended dream. They found us a hotel opposite Hampton Court and at 6 O'clock in the morning I would trail across the green and enter this universe, spend the day dreaming, go back and sleep."
"Yes, I had no trouble sleeping on this one!"
Institute Benjamenta has already won several prizes at various film festivals around the world, is here until December 7th and ends up in New York in February where I'm sure it will win more.
As I'm sure will Alice Krige, who follows the parts she wishes to play where ever they take her, admitting she's a gypsy and functioning "better in open spaces" . She's no schoolgirl, but a dedicated, evocative actress who doesn't see risks but adventures - may she have many more, so that we can witness the results.
Venice Preserved at The Almieda Theatre, Islington, London N1 until December 2nd
Box office: 0171 359 4404
Institute Benjamenta at ICA, The Mall, London SW1 from 17th November - December 7th (not November 27th & 28th). Also the chance of a preview on 10th November as part of The London Film Festival.
Box office: 0171 930 3647
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