Louise Brealey is best known for her portrayal of timid pathologist Molly Hooper in BBC’s Sherlock. She has also appeared in several other popular shows, including Casualty, Ripper Street and Father Brown. She is currently performing in the Royal Court Theatre production of Nick Payne’s critically acclaimed two-hander play, Constellations, which is set to run at the Nuffield this week. Performing opposite Joe Armstrong (Robin Hood, Happy Valley), Brealey plays the role of Marianne – a quantum physicist whose multiple destinies are seen, both romantically and dramatically entwined with that of sweet-natured beekeeper, Roland (Armstong). We caught up with the actress to talk about the play, journalism and – of course – Sherlock!
So, Louise how’s the play going – you’re currently performing in Bristol [at the time of interview], right?
Yeah, we’re at the Old Vic, which is where I did Arcadia 12 years ago, so it’s lovely to be there. It’s actually unrecognisable because they’ve refurbished the place, but it’s very nice. It’s lovely – a beautiful little jewel of a theatre! And Constellations looks very nice on that stage.
What was it that attracted you to the play?
Well the thing about Constellations, is that it’s a very simple play on one level in that it’s a love story. It’s boy meets girl and then it’s where you follow their relationship – one’s a beekeeper, one’s a quantum physicist (as you do!) and you follow their relationship to almost the last time they see each other, through various sort of slaloms that come with the parallel instances involved in the story. And my character has been played before by two of my favourite actresses, so that definitely appealed to me.
Speaking of which, the role of Marianne has indeed been played before by both Sally Hawkins (in the West End) and Ruth Wilson (on Broadway) – how does your portrayal differ to theirs? Were you in any way influenced by them?
Well, I didn’t get to see either of their performances for myself, so I wouldn’t know how my interpretation differs to theirs exactly, but I know that our director, Michael Longhurst, was very keen for both me and Joe to make the characters our own.
You are most associated as being a part of larger casts on stage and on screen, how does performing one on one with your co-star Joe Armstrong compare to that?
It’s a very intimate experience, which was nice because obviously this play is a love story and it’s about two people and the different ways in which they come together, so it’s nice to have the focus on that and for us to be able to rehearse and perform in such an enclosed sort of way.
The Nuffield is quite a small venue – do you prefer to perform on smaller stages?
Yeah, it’s actually really lovely playing in it an intimate space, because it’s such an intimate play – you know, we rehearse in quite a small room. So it’s actually a bit of shock in somewhere like Woking – which is massive – to try and just play it out. But we’re in Bristol at the moment and that’s a beautiful little Georgian theatre and it plays a blinder in that. The set is as such that it works in lots of different sort of spaces. It’s quite a spectacle actually, if you look at the photos, with all the strange balloony things. We don’t get to see it, which is a shame, but everyone tells me it looks great.
Yeah, we’re really excited to see it when it comes here on Tuesday…
I can’t wait for you to see it. The other great thing is, [the play’s]only an hour and ten minutes long, so we can finish and get to the bar by twenty-to-nine. It’s all highly civilised. Everyone’s a winner.
Do you ever get stagefright, at all?
Yes I do. I get terrible stagefright, especially towards the beginning of a run, when you haven’t really worked out how it plays with an audience. You know, it’s very exciting but I also found it immensely scary.
Though someone was telling me that the amount of adrenaline you experience on a first night is the equivalent of being in a little car crash – not a head on collision, you understand, but a crash and so you’ve got a bit of adrenaline going on and it’s just about how you manage that. Sometimes I’m better at managing it that than others. But yeah, this one’s a bit scary because we’ve only had three weeks of rehearsal, before we were ready to rumble. But now we’re marvellous, the people of Southampton can be assured. Everything will be fine!
As well as being an actress, you’re also a writer, I was wondering if you had any advice for aspiring journalists, like myself?
Aha! Yes, well I mean the world is a very different place to when I became a journalist. You know, the internet was barely here and it certainly wasn’t functioning in the way it does now. But I’ve got young friends who are journalists and setting up your own space to showcase your writing is obviously really important. I know plenty of people who’ve got jobs on big papers, just from being good at what they do and making some sort of showcase on a blog or a website. I mean, the fact of the matter is, if you’re a good writer, you’ll probably end up having a good career. Because a lot of people think they can write, but not many people can write quite as well as they hope or believe they can.
Although, I think we’re much more of a sort of write-y culture now – you know, we communicate much more with Facebook and Twitter and all that shit – we’re having to finesse our written wit certainly. It’s a wild hypothesis, but I think people might be getting a bit funnier. But there are other skills required to journalise. I mean for me, I was shit when I started and then I just worked really hard and tried to copied people who were brilliant and then learn from them. And just keep doing it and doing it and hang in there and have other things that you can do that make you money so you’re not waiting on tables to keep you going.
I’ve got to talk a little bit about Sherlock – I know you’re probably bound to secrecy, but the show is returning for a Victorian special at the end of the year. Can you tell us anything about the episode and how Molly features in this one-off historical setting?
I can’t! I’m not allowed to tell you anything! I’m not allowed to tell you anything about it, except that I think it’s all going to be very exciting… That’s a very shitty non-answer – sorry – but I’ll probably lose my job if I told you. I’m very excited to see what people think of [Molly] in it though. I had a lot of fun. But that’s it. You know I can’t tell you anymore!
What was it like getting into the Victorian costumes, with the corsets and everything?
It’s lovely dressing up, that’s why I’m an actor – I love dressing up. You know, it’s fun – getting in the wigs and all that shit. What’s not to like? As a culture, aren’t we all just dressing up putting everyone in costume all the time? I wonder what that’s all about… but no, it’s just fun – pretending.
Louise Brealey will return to her role as Molly Hooper in the Sherlock special, this Winter.
Constellations will be running at The Nuffield Theatre from 2nd-6th June, before moving on to The Lowry in Salford Quays. You can book tickets for the Nuffield shows here.