TheTelegraph.co.uk published a really good and interesting interview with Maxine you can read below.
It’s the perfect Sunday reading 🙂 Enjoy:
Peake photographed for Stella magazine (JON GORRIGAN)
From the comedy of Dinnerladies to the lead role in Hamlet, the Bolton-born Maxine Peake is impossible to pigeon-hole. And as Bernadette McNulty finds, that is just how she likes it
“I’m old fashioned. I don’t like modern life.” Maxine Peake Photo: Jon Gorrigan
Maxine Peake has just finished playing Hamlet, one of the toughest parts any actor can take on, and she is one of the very few British actresses to have done so (Frances de la Tour did it in 1979), yet all she says anyone wants to talk to her about is her hair. “Every review mentioned me having short hair. It’s 2015 – women can have short hair, you know!” she says, chuckling in that still-doughty Lancastrian accent.
It isn’t the first time Peake has experimented with her looks. The 40-year-old actress has passed through many incarnations during her 16-year career, most often on primetime television. From the lanky mouse mop of her snarky character Twinkle in Victoria Wood’s comedy Dinnerladies to the bleached blond beehive of Myra Hindley in Speak No Evil and the stiff barrister’s wig of Martha Costello in Silk, Peake hasn’t been particularly precious about her looks. The first time she appeared in Hamlet, cast as Ophelia in the 2002 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse with Christopher Eccleston, she ended up shaving her head at a local barber’s during the run, in an attempt to get rid of the bad black dye job that she had been hiding underneath a wig. “I felt more feminine having no hair. It was really liberating.”
I meet Peake downstairs in the bar at the Royal Court theatre in London, where she is in Zinnie Harris’s dystopian new play How to Hold Your Breath, turning in another tour-de-force lead as a sassy “customer relations” executive losing her naivety as the European economy unravels. Bravery and a willingness to take on the unexpected has become the hallmark of Peake’s career. Hamlet is the calling card for many male actors proving their acting chops, and of late there has been a profusion of interpretations from the likes of Jude Law, Michael Sheen and David Tennant, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the role this year.
Even so, when it was announced that Peake would be taking on the challenge last autumn at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, the run near instantly sold out, with queues around the block to see the local actress in Shakespeare’s most famous play, making it the fastest-selling show at the theatre for a decade.
Critics raved about Peake’s “emotional ferocity”, and now those who missed out on tickets will be able to see a filmed version of the play (shot over three performances by the director Margaret Williams) when it is released in cinemas this month. This intense production is as compellingly taut as a Scandinavian thriller. Peake tempers Hamlet’s rage and despair with vulnerability, sly humour and nerve-racking internal turmoil. “I just thought Hamlet has really been through it. His dad has died and then weeks later his mum has remarried.”
Peake with the cast of Dinner Ladies (REX)
Peake suggested taking on the role to the play’s director, Sarah Frankcom, shortly after the two had finished working together at the Royal Exchange on a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie in 2012. “I mentioned it in jest at first. I felt why, as a woman, can’t I do it? I had always been attracted to it because there aren’t many female warrior roles. Hamlet is fearless.”
Peake admits that despite her initial bravado she had anxiety about taking on the role. “I did worry, ‘What have I let myself into?’” Researching the role included watching YouTube interviews with the actor Rory Kinnear, who played Hamlet at the National Theatre in 2010. “He was really interesting. He said he learnt the soliloquies before starting rehearsals but that he didn’t really learn the whole play until he actually started interacting with the other actors. It was the same with me. It’s between you and the other characters and you don’t know how you are going to respond until you get on the stage with them.”
Frankcom sets her Hamlet in the gloomy round of the Royal Exchange, swapping over not only Hamlet’s sex but also those of other characters such as Polonius and Rosencrantz. Peake envisaged her Hamlet as a man trapped in a woman’s body in order to question our ideals of gender. “What is male and what is female? I don’t always feel female.” She cites training at Rada in the 1990s, when she remembers feeling “like a bit of a tomboy. They always said to me that I needed to be more feminine. I think it’s so wrong. Being boisterous doesn’t mean you are not feminine. When I was growing up, because I was a bit overweight and boyish, I thought I wasn’t attractive to the opposite sex, but I have since met lads from my school who said I just seemed unapproachable.”
Long since slimmed-down from her youth after Victoria Wood advised her to lose weight or risk being typecast as the jolly Northern girl in comedies, Peake is now a poster-girl for a very modern, androgynous take on femininity.In a chartreuse-yellow top and navy dungarees with a spotted neckerchief, Peake looks gorgeously cool, like Tilda Swinton ready to join the band Dexys Midnight Runners. Peake admits in Hamlet she found the daily performances of more than three hours gruelling, to the extent that she felt as though she were running a marathon every night. “I got really sick in the middle of the run and the doctor had to give me vitamin injections. Often when I am playing difficult roles I have a problem sleeping because I can’t leave the character behind. But with Hamlet I was out like a light every night because you do all the psychological processing on stage.”
Peake as Myra Hindley in See No Evil (REX)
None the less she says the exhilaration of the challenge sustained her, and that she relished the chance to physically express herself, grappling with Gertrude and sword-fighting with Laertes. “I loved it when I got on stage. It was really liberating. You rarely get that with a female part and it felt so physically free.”
Sarah Frankcom, who also worked with Peake at the 2013 Manchester International Festival on Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, told me it was this feeling for the character that made her Hamlet so compelling. “She invests in the cause and effect of behaviour. There are moments where her Hamlet shocks us. She reminds us that Hamlet is grappling with murder, which is something that has often been lost.” She adds, “Her great gift is that she makes you feel like she is going through something. She helps an audience makes sense of what is happening between people.”
If the audience in Manchester loved her, it was an appreciation born out of what Frankcom says is the sense that “she is one of them”. Born in Bolton to Brian, a lorry-driver, and Glynis, a part-time care-worker, and with an older sister, Lisa (who is a police officer), Peake was inspired to act by women such as Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, but it took her until she was 21 to win a place at Rada. After working with both Wood and Walters on Dinnerladies in 1998 it was her three-year turn as the brassy Veronica in Channel 4’s 2004 series Shameless, along with James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff, that made her name. “I was desperate to get a foothold in a career. I never really understood what it meant to be an actor. I was attracted to the freedom but I was crippled by self-consciousness.”
She returned to the North West six years ago after 13 years in London, to free herself of the financial constraints of trying to buy a house in London. Living in Salford with her art director partner Pawlo Wintoniuk, she says, gave her the freedom to choose more risky roles and lower-paying jobs in theatre. “For the last few years I have been lucky enough to choose what I want to do. Living in Salford gives me the confidence to do that because I don’t have a massive mortgage.”
Peake in her acclaimed role as Hamlet (CAMERA PRESS)
You feel, though, that there is a spiritual and political sustenance Peake also gets from the North. As a teenager, Peake moved in with her Communist Party-supporting grandfather in Bolton after her parents divorced, and she joined the party herself at 18. Peake talks vividly and enthusiastically about her beliefs, something she says the theatre allows her to do in a way that television does not. “People are petrified of politics on TV.”
She says she signed up for BBC One’s 2013 series The Village because “it was a drama about the social history of the working classes through the years. I thought this is what we need. But it lost its way and people lost nerve with it.” She says the reactions to her Hamlet and the work Vicky Featherstone is bringing to the Royal Court as artistic director prove that audiences are receptive to more difficult work. “People are crying out for something more interesting, so we need to be braver about what we make.”
If there is one time I have seen Peake look a little bit daunted it was two years ago in a small east London nightclub, when she was singing with the band The Eccentronic Research Council, a group she describes as “her freaks”. She joined them “for a laugh” to make a concept album about the 17th-century Pendle witches. “I always wanted to be in a band but never as the lead person. It is nerve-racking when you aren’t hiding behind anything. But really it is just another way for me to be creative.”
It is this willingness to stick her neck out in the guarded world of acting that makes Peake so beloved, a feeling that she appreciates. “I was walking down the road the other day when a mother and daughter passed me in the street and the daughter shouted out, ‘I love you, Maxine.’ I was so choked up by that.”
Living in Salford has clearly given Peake a sense of family. “I’m old-fashioned. I don’t like modern life. I pine for the simplicity of the past and the connections people had.” She adds, “I am back with my friends who I went to school with. Nobody is really interested in what I do – they don’t make a fuss – but they are still really supportive. I love the community spirit that is there. I know everyone on our street and people look after you, they bring your bin in or look after your dog.”
Film is the one area in which Peake would like to work more. She says that she struggles to do the “still, not moving” style of acting in fashion on screen but is quietly magnetic playing an agoraphobic mother in the forthcoming Carol Morley feature The Falling. Even in her small role in The Theory of Everything, playing Stephen Hawking’s nurse Elaine Mason, who would go on to be his second wife, she invests the character with a magnetic sexiness combined with a sliver of steel. “I wasn’t going to take the role at first because it was so small, but then I read more about her and I thought, this could be really interesting.”
While many actresses complain of roles drying up when they are 40, Peake is forging her own brilliantly creative path through this stage in her life to impressive effect. She made her debut at the West Yorkshire Playhouse as a writer and also took the starring role last year in a play about the 1960s Leeds bicycling world champion Beryl Burton. This summer she returns to the Manchester International Festival in Caryl Churchill’s 1994 play The Skriker, about an ancient shape-shifting fairy who speaks in a made-up language. It will be directed by Frankcom, who describes the play as “even more challenging than Hamlet”.
She says of Peake’s future, “She is part of a generation who are having to shape their work and opportunities in a different way, and that is about taking control rather than serving an industry. Whatever happens, I don’t think we can predict what she will do and that is exciting.” Peake herself says, “I think this has probably been the best year of my work.” She reflects, “I love to entertain and tell stories”, before stating what must be her mantra in life, “Just be honest, be interesting, be alive.”
‘Hamlet’ is released on 23 March