Actor Vanessa Kirby tells Fergus Morgan about the culture she has been enjoying in lockdown, from listening to Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail podcast to rewatching John Cassavetes’ films with her housemates.
Last year marked a decade since Vanessa Kirby graduated from University of Exeter and turned down a place at LAMDA in favour of a three-play stint at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre. In that time, she has successfully juggled both stage and screen, from A Streetcar Named Desire at London’s Young Vic and playing Princess Margaret in Netflix series The Crown, to Uncle Vanya at the Almeida Theatre and the latest Mission Impossible film.
“At the beginning, I found it strange and difficult,” she says of her life under lockdown. “But I have gradually come to accept it as the days go on. The imagination actually grows the most in silence and stillness, and I don’t think I truly knew that until now. I live with my sister and two friends, so we’ve had a community feel, which is lucky. We’ve found that sticking to a routine is key.”
We’ve mainly been watching loads of films together – lots of old classics that we have been meaning to watch but haven’t, and now have the time to. We’ve rewatched all of John Cassavetes’ films. I love Gena Rowlands so much. She’s always been a hero of mine. She is totally wild, free and bold in Gloria and Opening Night.
I’ve also been rewatching other brilliant female performances like Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar, and Marion Cotillard in anything really, but particularly in La Vie En Rose and Rust and Bone. I also love the German film Victoria – Laia Costa is wonderful in it.
We also loved Light of My Life, which is Casey Affleck’s film about a pandemic that only affects women. It’s far and away the best film we’ve seen on that strange subject. We were all shouting at the television.
I would recommend the documentary The Work, which is about a group of prisoners who go through a therapy process. It’s just astonishing. Everyone should see it. It’s such a great demonstration of healing through having the courage to confront your own pain.
I really recommend Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail – particularly the episode with Mo Gawdat. It is so helpful if you’re feeling vulnerable and uncertain during this time.
Wendy Mandy on Russell Brand’s Under the Skin podcast is also brilliant – such a profound insight into how we might be able to create a better world in our relationships with each other and with nature. His one with Gabor Maté, whose books I love, about how we are a nation of addicts is also great.
The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck is the book I recommend to everyone. It’s the best book to start with if you feel like beginning any kind of self-exploration.
I read a lot of those kind of books, which I have found so helpful for acting as well. Essential, really. I realised that the more I look at myself and get to know myself, the more I can understand other people.
What projects have you been involved in during lockdown?
I am the patron of The Mono Box, which is a creative training hub and support network for emerging theatre talent run by Joan Iyiola and Polly Bennett. Polly and Joan have curated this amazing project called The Monologue Library, which includes hundreds of theatrical speeches read by actors, including me. I wish I’d had it when I first started, as I so needed guidance on what speech to use and how to even go about finding one.
A Streetcar Named Desire also went out as part of the National Theatre at Home series. It was quite excruciating to watch, actually – a bit like watching my teenage self try to chat up a boy. Gillian Anderson texted me as it was going out saying: “Are you watching, sis?” – we call each other sis because of Streetcar – and I was like: “I can’t.”
The broadcast was of the London run, but we took it to New York as well, a year and a half later. By that time, the play had become so much deeper and our relationship was infinitely better. It was quite hard to watch the London run because that didn’t reflect where we ended up with it in New York.
I’ve also been an ambassador for War Child for many years. Things are so desperate at the moment in the countries they work in – it puts things in perspective. The kids they work with are already so badly affected by war, and with the virus, it is even worse.
We need to find as many ways as possible to reach as many children as we can. We need to work out how to fundraise without people being able to get together. That has been a big focus for me.