IIf you go into the woods today, you might find Juliet Stevenson hanging from a branch, groping to photograph the light falling through a caterpillar hole in a particularly nasty leaf, with her partner Hugh laughing, resigned, like another quick ride. turns into a day trip. Juliet Stevenson upside down has been a rare constant of the Suffolk Lockdown landscape, even as snow buried it and tides washed away its ruined shoreline. The 64-year-old has been all over the East Anglian country, leaving a trail of snow angels on her quest to find her most picturesque and acrobatic angles.
What can an actor do when the West End goes dark? All that creative energy must go somewhere, and this actor is training the eye of the newly discovered painter who has kept it sane during the confinement. “When you get to my age,” he says, when I ask why painting would be the basis of our interview, “you get too used to the skills you know you have. I can do my job. I know quite a bit about parenting. But to be absolutely at the beginning of something, at the starting point, it’s just a great feeling. “
It seems to be such a good feeling that Stevenson admits that he “curses the canvas” when he can’t get it right, even with photographs to help her. But yearning for new challenges is what it’s all about: She worries that some directors may be afraid to correct or pressure her. “A lot of actors get to a point where they are no longer directed. But a part of you has to remain open to be directed, otherwise you will not improve. And the idea of getting worse is terrifying. “She will often go for less prestigious and less well-paid roles if they push her more out of her comfort zone:” The moment you feel safe, you have to stop or jump sideways, because the Security is a very dangerous place as an actor. “
I am tormented by the fact that what I do for a living may not be of much use.
This is how I came to be in his box of chocolates in a cabin dressed in overalls, brushes in hand. The deal is that I join his painting, but, of course, we never get to put a single brushstroke. Stevenson is 100% involved in whatever conversation I have, and she seduces me with occasional Suffolk soliloquies: “Oh! The reflections of the sky on the flat, wet mud banks create two sunsets at once: one sharp, high up, the other softened in the mud below. “
Her love affair with painting has not only taken her out of her comfort zone. “If you look at the world as if you were going to paint it all the time, everything is interesting,” he says, insisting that it could revolutionize anyone’s daily walk. And then he cuts himself off: “This sounds so fucking privileged. You should be so lucky to buy these oil paints and brushes. “
But one thing she is sure of is the importance of “finding what is interesting in everyday life.” This is how he believes the actors will survive the confinement: “Working with what you have and not wasting energy on what you don’t have.” This is how the confinement gave him the “most intensely creative week of my life.” In July, he co-created Blindness, a play about an epidemic of vision loss that reduces a city to ruins. Writer Simon Stephens adapted José Saramago’s densely packed novel into a one-woman show, a perplexing piece of light and sound brought to life by Covid-compliant through astonishing sound engineering, courtesy of the Ringham Brothers. Thanks to his 360-degree “binaural” recording, socially distant audiences have been able to don headphones and experience Stevenson’s performance from the UK to New Zealand, from the Netherlands to Mexico, all while protecting himself with his partner in Suffolk.
“I know it’s cheesy, but necessity is the mother of invention,” he says. “We really did invent this completely new way.” The theater, he points out, has been banned in periods of history or forced to conform to the whims of the rulers. “It is a very lively mobile form. Many, many things have been thrown at it over the centuries, and it metamorphoses. “She is in awe of the way the artists have embraced Zoom.” This is not how we want the theater to progress. But it is a sign. that creativity is unstoppable ”.
Ultimately, he is sentimental about the setting (“my natural habitat”) and laments that “the arts are being left adrift.” “I was amazed at what people have made happen online,” he says. “But I absolutely do not believe that theater is anything other than a live event. Theater on a screen is a contradiction in terms. It’s something else: really creative, really interesting, but being in a room with a bunch of people screaming with laughter along the same lines, recognizing the same fragment of human frailty at the same moment? Never. “Live performance is” an alchemy I’ll never understand. I don’t even want to understand it. ” She just wants to feel it again.
This is pure Stevenson, a passionate mix of old and new: a woman who sees “my tribe” in “activist youth” but thanks the fierce red-haired Welsh teacher who yelled her lisp at a military-funded boarding school. ; who gets excited about her own virtual binaural performance, but resists the thought of a screen that permanently separates her from her audience; who relishes younger directors with their Shakespearean precision, but still enjoys “that language has energy” and doesn’t quite agree with “this modern obsession with murmuring on the screen … Sorry, no! I can hear my signal! “
Until closing, Stevenson had toyed with quitting acting to focus more on charity or other areas of work. “I am very driven by the need to feel that I am useful. Useful is an unglamorous word. But that’s the feeling that I think haunts me: the fact that what I do for a living may not be useful. “Yet when he can’t act,” he feels the gap, the absence, so clearly. “This was filled with paint, but it is not the only hole in his life. There is also pain. In November, Stevenson’s eldest son, his stepson, died suddenly at the age of 37. “Tomo was one of the most beautiful human beings who has never walked the earth, “he says.” He was incapable of lying. And he was incredibly good at love. Losing a child is so scary. Much of the year has been about survival, the whole country looks at these terrible statistics all the time. nights on the news.But the young men were supposed to be fine.
“We are a happy family, full of humor. And it’s been so strange, this identity of being a tragic family. Not being able to cry together, it was like Alice in Wonderland or something. We had fallen into a rabbit hole and everything was wrong. The truth is, when you get a shock like that, when you get lost like that, you just wobble from one moment to the next. “
The painting has “rescued” her. That is why we are in overalls. “Sometimes I feel that the more physically constrained I am by the confinement, the more my mind wanders. But when I’m painting, I can’t think of anything else, probably because I’m so bad at it. So all those voices in my head stay quiet. “
Art and, of course, his partner Hugh, a 28-year-old love but without vows. As the daughter of an army wife, Stevenson says, “I grew up seeing the incredible restrictions that marriage places on women in certain situations. I felt my mother metaphorically hitting the walls at times. “Yet now she feels the need.” Same-sex marriage has reformed the institution, hasn’t it? I mean, I’m ridiculously crazy about it. And it would be amazing. tell that to the world. Then why not? “
As life speeds up again, Stevenson fears losing the stillness of art and the family sanctuary that has a silver year of storm clouds. “I have missed the performance so much, but I have loved the stopping of the other things, the noise.” She’s thrilled to be filming again: an ITV thriller about the Plymouth Brothers, an evangelical Christian movement. But she’s still not so sure that we’re free from all of this. “I can feel those forces at the ready. They are like leopards waiting to pounce on us as soon as they can. “
Stevenson admitted that she was not ready to accept an invitation to present an award at this year’s Baftas, as red carpets are the kind of “torture” she has liked to tune out. Instead, she and Hugh dedicated the week to their three children. Together, in the Suffolk landscape he loves so much, they planted a tree for Tomo. “It’s not about being in a beautiful place,” he says. “It’s about seeing the beauty in everything. It is about remembering what we have in the midst of all that we have lost ”.