Claire Price is well known on our screens for playing Miriam in Home Fires and she starred as Penelope Wilton’s daughter in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. She has also trod the boards, extensively. I caught up with Claire to find out all about her experiences on Home Fires and what it was like to join a star studded cast for Marigold Hotel.
I loved Home Fires, what have your favourite memories of the show, been and what drew you to the character and the show?
I’m so glad you loved Home Fires because I loved making it. It really was one of the most fulfilling and happy jobs I’ve done, with a brilliant crew and creative team, and a cast that has become genuinely close over the last two years. I have lots of fantastic memories of us working together, or sometimes just sitting around on set, held up by rain, waiting to film, chatting and laughing about stuff. I auditioned for a different part originally – and I didn’t take to Miriam when I read the script! It was an odd coincidence that I found myself at the National Archive a few days after that first meeting, helping my partner research his next book, The Secret History of the Blitz, looking at domestic crime in London during that period. There was a particular case that caught my attention, the story of Jack Brack, a low level criminal with a congenital heart defect who was judged unfit to serve in any capacity. His friends came up with a scheme to make money out of his condition, so for a fee, Brack would take medicals on behalf of men who wanted to avoid military service. Eventually the Police became suspicious of the number of men who seemed to have the same rare heart defect and the scam was discovered. In the trial notes, I found the story of a mother who lost her oldest son in the First World War, and offered Brack her life savings to keep her youngest son out of the Second. I had no idea that happened during the war, and no idea that tens of thousands of mothers left their sons off the 1939 Register, as Miriam does. I looked at Miriam very differently after that, she became more real to me, more brave and tragic in her attempt to hold things together. Then I got a call from my agent – the producer, Sue de Beauvoir, and director, Bruce Goodison, wanted me to come in again and this time, read for Miriam. Like so many other things about this lovely job, it was all strangely fortuitous and from that moment, everything fell into place.
Have you a favourite episode or scene from Home Fires?
I particularly loved doing a scene in the first series. Home Fires is a very realistic drama, but in this scene, when Miriam sees the soldiers running past and thinks she sees David, Will Attenborough as David was amongst them, in a soldier’s uniform, so the audience were in Miriam’s head for a split second, sharing her anxious perspective. I loved that! Then she comes back into the butcher’s shop and has to explain to Bryn what just happened, and she knows it’s mad but it’s real to her. That sequence was full of feeling and I was encouraged to take Miriam’s distress quite far.
I loved all my scenes with Dan Ryan, particularly the scene where Miriam and Bryn read the telegram telling them David is missing. That’s the kind of stuff you want to play as an actor, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, trying to find a way of bearing the unbearable.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of my favourite films. What was it like filming with so many big names and what was your personal highlight?
They were lovely! Very funny and generous, and we laughed a lot. I learned early in my career that movie stars are just actors underneath everything, anxious to do the job right. And if I appeared intimidated by them, that would make things awkward. So I make a point of being normal. It must be a lot of pressure to be very famous, to know that people have such enormous expectations of you.
Dame Judi Dench was invited by the Royal family in Jaipur to visit a newly refurbished floating palace, and she asked if she could bring the other women in the cast as her guests. So we were collected from our hotel, driven to an idyllic lake in the heart of Jaipur, loaded onto boats and taken over the water to this magnificent palace. That was a stunning experience. I also had an incredible day visiting ancient Hindu temples with Seema Asmi (who plays Anokhi in the films) and… Richard Gere! He was completely charming, self-deprecating and kind.
I really loved working with Dame Penelope Wilton (I played her daughter in the film). She is one of my favourite actresses – her performance as Hester in The Deep Blue Sea had such an effect on me. After doing a scene one day, we had some time off and went round a local market together, buying herbs and spices. When I got back to London, I made some incredible curries with those spices!
Who inspires you as an actress? Have you any heroes?
Penelope Wilton! She can be simultaneously so funny and so painfully real. I would stay after finishing my own scenes in Marigold, in order to watch her film hers, because she is so creative, so truthful, and always tries new things, layering and developing as she goes. I was also very inspired by a magnificent actress, Susan Fleetwood, who died quite young. I saw her play Arkadina in The Seagull, and can remember every moment.
Do you have a preference between performing on stage and on screen?
I think like most actors really, I prefer theatre. Theatre belongs to the actor and television to the director. No one can edit your performance on stage, once you’re out there, it’s all down to you. But I have prioritized doing TV and film recently, because it’s hard to live on a theatre salary and the ideal situation is to have a good mix of both. Theatre is emotionally & physically tough, with a mountain that has to be climbed every day, and twice on matinee days. You have to be match fit for plays, with strong breathing and diction, always alive in the moment, always ready and never anticipating anything even if it’s the 95th performance. TV is different, with long days, lots of waiting then short intense bursts of pressure and some very early starts – when filming Home Fires, we were sometimes picked up from our hotel at 5 am, because curling everyone’s hair took HOURS! That means waking at 4 or 4.30, after poor sleep in a hotel bed. So the days are long, but in a show like HF with so many characters, the pressure is distributed and no one ends up doing too many days in a row.
There are some great writers for television, Simon Block’s scripts were a pleasure to act. But theatre has such a huge and venerable history, such an extraordinary canon of writers. I think though, there will be more work for middle aged women on TV. Shakespeare is a done deal and there are not many hefty and brilliant parts for 45 year old women in there – which explains the increasing number of all female productions. It’s television that can respond to what its audience wants. And more and more, that is as yet untold stories and women’s stories. It’s why Call The Midwife is so popular, and why Home Fires caught people’s imagination so strongly. And why it’s such an enormous shame it’s been axed.
Are there any roles you’d love to play or shows you would like to be a part of?
In theatre, I would love to do more Ibsen and Chekhov. Ibsen is my favourite playwright of all, I’ve been in two of his plays, Brand with Ralph Fiennes at the RSC and The Lady from the Sea at Birmingham Rep. They are profound plays and work on many levels. But I’m also more and more interested in doing contemporary plays, like Stephen Waters’ Little Platoons that I did at the Bush Theatre a few years ago about the free school movement. Or David Hare’s The Power of Yes about the banking crisis. Hearing audiences GASP as they suddenly understood how and why the bankers made the mistakes they did, was truly exciting. It felt like being part of the news.
I’ve also started doing some new comedy on Radio 4, with Robert Newman last year, and The World of Simon Rich which is on at the moment on Thursday nights. I love working with comedians, they have a very different approach to actors and it’s a challenge to keep up with them. I actually performed at one of Rob’s live gigs to try out material he was working on for the show. He improvised and I had my lines written down. I had to listen really hard to know when to come in. It was an adventure!
What’s next for you?
Nothing at the moment…An actor’s life!
Favourite things (just for fun, let me have your first reaction to these questions, please):
High Noon with Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper.
I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but I was for years and always loved Mildred’s in Soho. Incredible food.
Weirdly, kick boxing. I have a fantastic DVD and do it in the house. I’m not sure it’s so much fun for the neighbours in the flat below, but I love it. I also do embroidery, but I’ve been working on the same one since filming Rebus. That’s nearly ten years ago. I really need to go a little faster than that.
Guys & Dolls or Fiddler on the Roof.
An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin.
A terrific interview from a terrific actress, I hope we see Claire treading the boards or indeed, on our screens again soon.
Featured Photo Credit: Curtis Brown.