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‘I think I’m on the right track’: An interview with Rebecca Callard

8 November 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Rebecca Callard started acting as a child, and has appeared on radio, television and the stage. She talks to London Calling about her first play, A Bit of Light, for which she was nominated for the prestigious Bruntwood Prize.

London Calling: Thank you for talking to London Calling today! Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Bruntwood Prize. How are you feeling?
 
Rebecca Callard: I’m thrilled but I’m also in a bit of a state of denial. I entered it, fully expecting just to get some script notes; I absolutely did not think my name would be on the list! I actually was waiting for a sofa to be delivered, and a white van pulled up outside my flat, and then my phone rang, I assumed it was the man in the van saying, ‘we’ve got your sofa’ but it was actually them ringing to let me know I’d been shortlisted. I couldn’t speak! My sofa did come eventually and my children call it the Bruntwood sofa.
 
LC: What did you do to celebrate?
 
RC: I probably had about 15 cups of tea! I couldn’t stand still for a long time, I was walking in circles. I couldn’t tell anyone for a while because of the anonymity [the prize is decided complete anonymously] which was hard because I wanted to tell everybody. It’s definitely the most exciting thing that’s happened to me since having my kids. It’s my first play so I never thought anything like this would ever happen.
 
LC: What is your play about?
 
RC: It’s about a woman who is about to turn 40, who is moving in with her dad after her relationship has broken down. She isn’t able to see her children as her ex-husband has a residence order. She’s trying to get herself into a place where she is able to be trusted around the kids who she’s been separated from. She meets a 13-year-old boy in a park: they are similar in that they are both loners, so they come together to form a friendship.
 
LC: What were you interested about when you were writing the play? What were you thinking about or inspired by?
 
RC: I started writing it because I’ve been going to this playground with my kids for years and then all of a sudden I stopped going because my kids got to a certain age. I was walking past it, and I’ve seen it so often and it used to be a big part of my life with my kids but now I’m not there anymore. I had this idea of a meeting in a playground of two people that don’t belong.
 
LC: Have you always been interested in writing?
 
RC: I’ve written a few things over the years. I started writing a novel in my early 20s but I didn’t finish it.  I lost confidence in the story and in the characters I think. I’ve written something with a friend about aging child actors, which of course is what I am, but then Extras came out and it was a bit too similar so we stopped that. With my play, I believed in the characters, and it was something I had to push on with because I felt like I owed it to the characters to push on with their stories. 
 
LC: Did you have a particular way you approached your writing? A regime?
 
RC: I did and I didn’t. I wrote this play on a lot of trains going to work, and I had a friend who has been ill, so whenever I went to see her I would write it then. And also I’m an insomniac!
 
LC: How did you get the idea to apply for the Bruntwood prize?
 
RC: I was in a Bruntwood Play a few years ago (Andrew Sheridan’s Winterlong in 2011) and an actor wrote that play. It was possibly one of the best jobs I’ve done and I thought if he could do it then maybe I could have a go too!
 
LC: Did you find being an actor helped you visualise dialogue?
 
RC: Yeah, the visual aspect of it is something I feel pretty confident in because when I’m working I really think in visual terms. In my head I had very clear images of how I wanted it to look. My first scene is in a playground and I could really visualise that. I didn’t know if it was a help or a hindrance emotionally, sometimes I had to keep an eye on my characters being too emotionally involved, because I’m approaching it as an actor, and sometimes less is more.
 
LC: What do you think is one of your best experiences as an actor so far?
 
RC: I think, in terms of plays, the Bruntwood play is my favourite play because it was nice to play someone who was essentially a ‘baddie’. As far as television is concerned, probably The Detectorists: I was working with Mackenzie Crook on a drama and Detectorists had just started airing on BBC4. I was in a car with him and I said to him that I saw it and that I loved it, really fangirling. He’s a very humble man and about a year later he sent me a text saying he wrote me a little part in the show. So I did the Christmas special and then I came back for series 3: I’ve ended up starring in one of my favourite television programmes!
 
LC: Is there a role you’d really love to play?
 
RC: Women’s parts seem to get more interesting as they get older. When I was approaching my late 20s and early 30s I didn’t see that. I’d love to be in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but knowing that some of the greatest actresses of all time have played that role makes me worry maybe I wouldn’t do it justice!
 
LC: Have you got more plans to write more plays?
 
RC: Some people in the last few weeks have asked me if I’d be interested in writing this as a screenplay but I’m just taking it one step at a time. I did really enjoy the experience of writing this and it’s something I’d like to continue with. The thing I’m writing at the moment is also a play, so I want to finish that, whatever happens with the Bruntwood. I feel a bit more confident in knowing that I can do it and that I’m on the right track.
 
LC: Would you ever star in one of your plays?
 
RC: Absolutely, categorically not! One of the characters is my age, my height, but I wrote it to give other short actors a go! I remember one director saying to me after I said I’d like to play Lady Macbeth he said ‘you are too short to play Lady Macbeth’ and I thought that was an interesting take on height. I’ve written my main woman for the short girls out there!
 
Rebecca Callard stars in The Detectorists and the Call the Midwife Christmas Special. The Bruntwood Prize will be announced on November 13.
 
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