Lia Williams: ‘She’s funny, she’s complex, she’s fragile and strong. She’s all of woman, really’
Lia Williams tackled her role in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by researching Tennessee Williams – ‘because he is Blanche’
Who else would be there? “Oh. Harold Pinter. And Frank McGuinness. Tom Murphy. Brian Friel. Beckett.” Hmm. You’d have to have lots of wine at this table. “And plenty of song, I imagine.” Williams laughs. Her laugh is the opposite of wistful and girly. It’s a dirty, Cockney laugh.
It erupts again when she recalls her last acting job in the theatre – a West End run of Pinter’s Old Times in which she alternated with Kristin Scott Thomas in the roles of Kate and Anna. “We did four performances of each character, and then switched,” she says. “On matinee days we played one character at the matinee and then another in the evening. And on Thursday we would toss a coin at six o’clock – and then rush for the wig.”
It wasn’t, she insists, a gimmick. “The play invited it. It’s a memory play, and memory is what you make it – so the idea that these two women could morph with each other was quite an artistic choice.”
That was another production that was carefully researched. Williams and Scott Thomas and Rufus Sewell, who played the leading man, had to go and live in a house in Norfolk together for a week. “And cook meals and go for walks and live in character and improvise. And we didn’t even know each other. Very bizarre.”
Williams took it in her stride. She has also taken to directing, beginning with an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story, turning it into a short film starring Brendan Gleeson – and has earned a fistful of rave reviews for her production of McGuinness’s The Match Box, starring Leanne Best, in Liverpool and London.
An Irish-Afghan love story
Next spring she hopes to be filming her husband’s new screenplay for the BBC. “It’s a love story between an Irish girl and an Afghan refugee. A fable, really.”
Williams has worked with all the big names in contemporary theatre. Asked to single out her most important influence, she doesn’t hesitate. That would be Harold Pinter. “He taught me to be uncompromising with the truth,” she says. “That acting actually isn’t a mask – that you do it to reveal the truth. He taught me that when live theatre is done really well, it’s so affecting that it can actually change people’s lives. I think that’s what true storytelling is.”
A Streetcar Named Desire is at the Gate Theatre until September 21