Imelda Staunton discusses her career, new role in “Good People”

Imelda Staunton, who played Dolores Umbridge in the Potter film series, can currently be seen treading the boards in the West End, in the critically acclaimed play Good People. In a new interview with The Guardian, Staunton discusses her life, illustrious career, and role of Margi in Good People.

Staunton admits in the interview to there being parallels between herself and the character of Margi. She, like Margi, hails from an Irish working-class family. Staunton’s parents came to London from County Mayo after the war, her father Joseph to work on the roads, and her mother Bridie to cut hair. However, unlike Margi, Imelda rose from her working-class roots.

I’m the only one from my family to be doing what I’m doing. I’m not the last in the line of thesps, but there’s no doubt I was introduced to a different world through theatre. That was my education. We had no books in the house.

That is not to say the Stauntons were a poor family, though, as she explains.

I never wanted for anything. We went to Ireland for holidays every year. I was 14 when we first went to Italy. My mum was determined I was going to go to a good school. My mum was an absolute grafter. A real grafter. I got my work ethic from her.

Staunton remembers a time when she was told off by her grandparents for getting above her station:

One of the Kennedys was assassinated. My grandparents used to get the Daily Sketch or the Mirror. I went and bought a big paper to read about it. They said, ‘Why did you get that? Just because you’ve got that, don’t think you’re any better than us.’ I was 13, 14. Then I thought, ‘I don’t know what that means. I never thought bigger papers or better clothes make you better than anyone else.’

She believes that Good People is especially worth staging in Britain now since it exposes the bankruptcy of the American idea that everyone is free to make their own life choices, which brings us to her favorite line from the play:

My favourite line is when Margi says to Mikey, ‘You have made some wise choices, but you’re wrong if you think everyone has them.’

Staunton only got the role of Margi through good luck. She and director Jonathan Kent were working on a long-awaited revival of the Sondheim musical Gypsy, which was to be performed at the Chichester Festival last fall, but which ended up being postponed for a year, leaving both Kent and Staunton looking for other projects. The artistic director of Hampstead Theatre, Ed Hall, found a script on his desk, which he loved and passed on to Kent, who explains,

I thought this was one of the best plays I’d ever read about class – and my first thought was that nobody could bring it to life like Imelda. She’s really one of the pre-eminent actors of her generation.

Staunton goes on to admit to not reading the reviews:

If they say you’re rubbish, it’s hard to do it. If they say you’re great, it’s hard to do it. So no.

This year, we will also see Staunton in the Matthew Warchus-directed film Pride, where she plays the head of the women’s welfare in a mining community. She will also be starring in Gypsy this fall in Chichester, as well as playing a shy woman who dreams of singing like Shirley MacLaine in the Victoria Wood musical That Day We Sang this Christmas. However, we will next see her on our screens this May in Maleficient:

I’m playing a mad pixie alongside Lesley Manville and Juno Temple – if they’ve kept our scenes.

Staunton says that she cannot bear being stereotyped by playing variations of old roles.

I’ve always tried to fight against ‘Oh, who’s that small funny actress? Let’s get her.’ I was so happy that Vera Drake was so widely seen because it wasn’t me being funny.

Her role in Vera Drake helped her secure others, in particular Dolores Umbridge, the evil senior under-secretary to the Minister for Magic in two Potter films.

That was a great acting role, I have to say. It wasn’t like it was a bit of fluff.

On being asked if she has a desire to become a fixture in a franchise, Staunton said,

It’s in my DNA to duck and dive a bit. Even when I was in Harry Potter or Cranford, I wasn’t in for long. I don’t think I’d be content to keep being the same person.

Finally, does Imelda have any regrets?

Not at all, no way! I’ve always liked new writing. I’ve never hankered to play the classic roles. I want to create the part myself. I don’t want to follow in other people’s footsteps. I want it to be mine.

Good People is currently playing at the Noël Coward Theatre in London, and performances run until June 14. Don’t forget that you can attend a Q&A session with Imelda and select members of the cast, courtesy of WhatsOnStage, on May 1. For more details, click here.

Are you hoping to go see Imelda on stage in Good People? Looking forward to watching her new films? Let us know your thoughts!

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