After working with Mike Leigh on his 2004 film, Vera Drake, and then again in 2008 on Happy-Go-Lucky, Sinéad Matthews joins him again, this time on the stage, playing the part of Dawn in a revival of his 1979 play, Ecstasy, which opened at Hampstead Theatre in March and has since transferred to the West End for an extended run.
VR: This is the third time you’ve been directed by Mike Leigh. How did the working relationship between the two of you come about?
SM: Well, Mike came along to most of my third year shows when I was a student at RADA and he was really supportive; he would leave me little notes after the show, just to say well done. Then, one time, he brought along the casting director, Nina Gold, when he was casting Vera Drake, and he just offered me the film. I hadn’t even left the third year by then, so to have that as a first job was amazing. And then we just kept in touch…
VR: What was it that led you to RADA? Had you always known you wanted to act?
SM: Actually, growing up in Coventry, I didn’t go to the theatre that much because I just wasn’t in that kind of scene and my family didn’t really go to the theatre. I was a bit obsessed with films, so it was films that sort of got me started. And dancing too: I initially wanted to be a dancer. But I think I thought that I was better at it than I actually was! And the reality of it became quite clear when I hit 15 and my body started to grow in, you know… not in a way that would suit being a ballet dancer! I had a stammer, too, so acting wasn’t the fist thing on my mind because I actually had problems talking in public. I kind of knew that I wanted to do it, but I wasn’t very vocal about it so it was sort of a secret. It wasn’t until I went off to Stratford-upon-Avon College to do my A Levels that I started to try out drama and acting properly, but I was quite shy and didn’t really come out of my shell in terms of the acting side of things until quite late. That was actually when I first read Ecstasy I was about 16 when I found it and it was the first play that I felt like I could relate to. I just thought it was brilliant – I carried it around like it was a bible.
VR: How have you found working with Leigh again on Ecstasy?
SM: We had a really long rehearsal period for this play, and to work with him all day, every day has just been brilliant. In the films, I played quite small parts, so I was in and out and it was quite scattered. But I really feel like our professional relationship has grown a lot since doing this and I think it’s because he knew how much I loved the play and because I knew that I understood the world of the play.