1883 Magazine

Since making her name as ‘Cho Chang’ in the Harry Potter film series and receiving a BAFTA Breakthrough Award in 2014 actress Katie Leung’s career has been going from strength to strength.

After the BAFTA in 2014 Katie has been seen on stage at the Hampstead Theatre along side Tamsin Greig in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures directed by Olivier Award winner, Michal Boyd. Earlier this year she took the lead role of Dou Yi in the RSC’s production of Snow In Midsummer in Stratford, a contemporary re-imagining of Guan Hanqing’s Chinese classic drama. 

We headed to the Swan Theatre in Stratford to hear about the role of Dou Yi, her views on seeing the recent surge of women on stage, delving into her Chinese ancestry and her upcoming STX feature The Foreigner with Pierce Brosnan, Jackie Chan, Charlie Murphy, Rory Fleck Byrne out this year. 

Congratulations in your recent lead role playing Dou Yi in the RSC’s production of Snow in Midsummer! How did you find the journey of blending the archaic with the glaringly modern?

Thanks! I guess this would be more of a question for the playwright Frances Ya Chu Cowhig who I think very successfully adapted Snow In Midsummer from a thirteenth century Chinese Opera into this incredibly modern ‘whodunnit’ thriller with plenty of blood and gore. For the role of Dou Yi, I was keen to explore the movements made by the actresses from this genre and period but after discovering that they applied rather fragile and delicate gestures which I felt jarred with Dou Yi’s urgency and strength as well as the aggressive modernity of Frances’ adaptation, I attempted to blend this stereotype of femininity with some of the more gruesome scenes (one of which involved my ghost ripping out the heart of a human) and the end result was fucking awesome.

Justin Audibert has an impressive flare of bleeding the fruits of youthfulness into traditional pieces, such as his recent Macbeth with NT Learning or his Hamlet at the Watermill Theatre. How did you find his directorial approach to tackling this ancient tale?

I got to read the original translation when the play was first workshopped in August 2016 and was able to see the progress of France’s adaptation of it as it evolved from her earlier draft to what it has become now. She was present during the rehearsal process and so was able to feed off Justin’s need for a fresh and sustained energy throughout the story to keep the audience interested and guessing which meant there was constant rewriting and restructuring of the narrative. These changes happened because of Justin’s enthusiasm and ambitious vision and it was such a collaborative experience between us all that a safe space was created to allow for mistakes, discoveries and ultimately improvements to be made. In the end, the adaptation felt so modern and vastly different that it’s quite difficult to see it as an ancient tale. The only exception was that we would maintain a lot of the poetic language from the original translation which Justin encouraged us to embrace and gradually we did, just as one would with the language of Shakespeare.

Lead female roles seem to be far and few between on our modern stage unless connected to time-worn stories, recently ones such as Saint Joan played by Gemma Arterton. What are your thoughts on the disparity between male and female roles in writing?

It has been utterly inspiring to see a recent surge of women on stage and giving incredible performances as complex female characters such as Denise Gough, Noma Dumezweni, Billie Piper, Kate Fleetwood to name but a few as well as women successfully playing traditionally male roles like Tamsin Greig as Malvolia in Twelfth Night and Glenda Jackson as Lear who have all made me and many women very happy and hopeful about the future. I think people are finally discovering that given the chance, women can and should be human beings first and foremost without the need for a man to prove her existence and we need to ensure this continues to be the way.

Where would you lean in attempting to pinpoint a solution to this ever increasing issue?

The more opportunity for female writers, the more female roles there will be, and multidimensional ones at that. The powers that be need to recognise their responsibility in giving as much of a platform to women of different cultural and social backgrounds in order to have their stories heard and to ultimately expand ones idea of what the definition of a woman is, which means you’ll also be tackling the misogyny, sexism and racism that is so prevalent in 2017. You’re basically killing two birds! Instead of telling stories about vaginas having mouths or sharks flying in tornadoes or doing another Mission Impossible movie, why not fund narratives that might challenge and provoke societal change because that is the beauty of what we do and can do and Lord knows we are in desperate need of finding that humanity again.

Talk to me about your very different role in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures.What was it like working with Tamsin Greig?

I played Sooze Marcantonio, a slightly materialistic but nonetheless caring and devoted mother and wife who brought humour and reality to this difficult-to-please family and their seemingly helpless political plights. She was feisty, down to earth, direct, smart and sexy and as you say a very different role to what I’m used to and I adored every moment of being her. I learned a great deal from working with Tamsin. Her comedic timing is perfection and she can make you feel extreme emotions from one side of the spectrum to the other within an instant which is a sign of bloody good acting. She is also just a gorgeous human being.

Whilst you are undeniable Scottish born and bred, how do you feel about recently delving into your Chinese ancestry in both your recent play and film pieces?

Delving into my Chinese ancestry is something I always find fascinating because I realise there is so much I don’t know and projects like Wild Swans, One Child and Snow in Midsummer has given me a wonderful insight into the history and politics of China. However, it can also be quite frustrating at times when there are certain expectations and assumptions about how much I do already know and should know when as you’ve mentioned I was born and bred in Scotland.

Is this a casting type you are wanting to explore and embrace further or are you more an advocate of casting without race or gender backdrops?

I am absolutely up for exploring and embracing more Chinese roles so long as they challenge my craft but it would also just be really lovely to be cast as a Scottish lass. Greedy, I know.

You are doing so well at the moment, from receiving a BAFTA Breakthrough Award in 2014 to the STX feature The Foreigner with Pierce Brosnan, Jackie Chan, Charlie Murphy, Rory Fleck Byrne out later this year. Yet you took time out to study art at UAL and then drama school. What brought you firmly back into the acting sphere and do you maintain that art interest?

It was during my final year of my Photography degree that I figured I wanted to act again after being offered a role in my first stage production at the Young Vic. The experience with my fellow castmates and what they taught me reignited a passion and I decided to go straight back to drama school after graduating from Art college. I haven’t looked back since. And yes I take my 35mm camera whenever I go travelling so I’m still very much in love with taking pictures. Just not as much as the acting.

Acting carries people all around the world- what are some of the best places you have been to with your work?

Porto, London and Osaka.

In between your busy rehearsal schedules, do you ever have time to crack open a bit of Netflix- and if so which show (s) are you currently watching?

Ive been watching some great stand up lately by Bo Burnham and Mike Birbiglia.

You have an abundance of theatre and film to your name for such a young performer- do you have a preference of form?

They can’t be compared but both bring great joy, experience and people into my life. Having done two stage productions back to back, it would be nice to return to some screen work but I always miss whichever one I’m not doing at the time.

Talk to me about a role you have coming up.

I’m currently filming a short called The Feast which is based on a story by writer L.P. Lee. It takes place in a dystopian and impoverished town where my character Hayley resides. At the beginning of the film she is invited to a mansion belonging to a wealthy Count and it’s her acceptance of this invite and consequently their meeting which brings about an exploration of power, guilt, abuse, shame and hunger in all its forms.

I appreciate it must be hard to balance work life with play- as things begin to take off more rapidly do you have any guidelines or rules you set yourself to keep you connected with friends and family?

My family live in Glasgow and the majority of my friends live in London which is perfect because I spend my time traveling between both cities but am never in either location for too long so naturally you want to make the most of your time left there with the people you love.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors in their 20s who struggle on that ever wobbly picket fence separating dream from reality?

I think it’s vital to realise that for many actors who have set their sights on being in it for the long haul, our dream does not need to be separated from reality so long as we understand that the struggle is a huge part of this profession and as cliched as it sounds, we must appreciate these moments in order to savour the work when it visits.. Learning to observe and not judge yourself is a major step towards accepting where you are in your career.

Finally, thank you so much for answering those questions. As a parting line to our readers can you tell us about a recent experience in rehearsals, either on set or stage, where something has just gone hilariously wrong!?

In the prologue of Snow in Midsummer, the character of Dou Yi sells flying birds made of palm weavings to passing customers and as the actor my customers were the audience so every night I attempted to sell them but not really because they were props. Also, they were just really shit weavings so no one wanted them anyway. As luck would have it, on press night I directed my monologue to a random member of the audience who happened to have some cash on her and who happily bought the weavings for a fiver which I accepted because money. Panic from our stage manager ensued because she was afraid we wouldn’t have enough shit palm weavings for the rest of the run so I was forced to hand over my fiver so we could get them back from the woman during the interval. Absolutely gutted.

Interview Katie Rice

Photography Asia Werbel

Hair and make up Louisa Menin


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