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29 October 2014
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To The Ends Of The Earth
Victoria Hamilton plays Miss Granham

William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The Earth'


Victoria Hamilton plays Miss Granham


It's not every day that a young British actress comes face to face with not one but two of her legendary idols while appearing in a hit play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, on Broadway.


Especially when she's turned down the opportunity to work with acclaimed director Sam Mendes in order to be there.


"When Meryl Streep knocked on my dressing room door I nearly fell over!" recalls Victoria Hamilton.


"I hope I'm not a starstruck person. I very rarely meet people and find myself lost for words, but I genuinely just stood there not knowing what to say. As far as I'm concerned, she's one of the best actresses that ever walked the earth. In everything I've seen her do, I think she's utterly extraordinary. And to have her in front of me saying 'I don't know how you do that eight times a week, I really don't know you how you do that' was completely surreal."


Victoria was starring, with Eddie Izzard, in the New York production of their London award-winning West End play, and for four unique months they were the toast of Broadway.


As well as greeting a long line of famous luminaries at her dressing room door who'd come to pay their respects, she also met another Hollywood A-list legend, Lauren Bacall.


"Eddie and I had the most over-qualified dresser called Maeve, who had so many degrees and was also assisting Lauren Bacall in writing her memoirs," says Hamilton.


"We all went out to dinner after Bacall came to see the show. Eddie had just started wearing drag again in the evening and he turned up in full make up, headband, a little skirt and fake breasts out to there," she explains, miming a chest that would make Pamela Anderson proud.


"I will never forget Bacall's face, when she saw Eddie, for as long as I live. She was quiet for about five minutes, looking him up and down, and said, 'My goodness, what have you got on your head?'.


"Eddie - being Eddie - just started talking and they got on like a house on fire.


"When we left the restaurant after dinner, Bacall got into a stretch limo and watching her drive down 42nd Street I thought that this is really one of those moments you always remember. Bacall turned to look back at us and said something to Maeve.


"The next day I asked Maeve what Bacall said and Maeve replied that she exclaimed in her distinctive voice, 'Oh God, they're both gorgeous, isn't he fantastic, but my God, you have to do something about the headband!'


"She was fine with the breasts, the skirt, the high-heeled boots, but as far as she was concerned, the headband was a bit too far!"


Hamilton, who has been compared to a young Judi Dench, has made astute career choices since leaving drama school, although many would regard turning down a Sam Mendes season at the Donmar Theatre as not the smartest move for any actress.


"I think Sam has probably only just recently forgiven me because five months was a very long time to keep any director hanging on for a yes or no," she admits.


"I think you have to go with your instinct and your heart on decisions. The only times I've taken jobs because somebody has said, 'You're mad if you don't do this, it will be good for your career or make you very rich', when something inside me is going no - that's when I've been unhappy."


Trusting her instincts has served her well in her ten-year career, during which, in a profession known for its insecurity, she has only been out of work for three months at the most.


"When I left drama school I told myself that what I wanted to do first was five years of classical theatre, because the actors I admire - Judi Dench, Ian Holm and all that incredible generation of actors - started in the theatre."


With this in mind, Hamilton spent 18 months with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a year at the Old Vic with Peter Hall's company, a year at the National and has worked with many of the most acclaimed theatre directors since, including Richard Eyre, Michael Grandage and Trevor Nunn.


To The Ends of the Earth is a rare opportunity to see Hamilton on the television screen.


"When I have done television, such as starring in Victoria and Albert as Queen Victoria, I've always done what I think is quality, where the script is good and the part is interesting.


"The scripts for To The Ends of the Earth are some of the most beautiful scripts I've seen in years. In Miss Granham, I could see a development in her character. She is one of the strongest people on the boat; she has a very keen political sense and she's almost a feminist before there were feminists.


"I think she is aware that her fellow passengers initially see her as a dried-up spinster, but I love the way the character progresses.


"She's terrifying in the first episode, but what I love about the trajectory of the character is that as time goes by you see her being incredibly vulnerable, shocked by things that happen and caring for people. The bits of her that you don't expect to see are the ones I enjoy playing. She falls in love, she gets married and her life changes completely. She has an incredibly strong set of moral principles and she sees herself surrounded by what she regards as weakness, cowardice and debauchery.


"I read the part and thought, 'I sympathise with you, and I admire you'. She also made me laugh as well because she takes absolutely no rubbish from anybody - she's so rude on occasion and I thought that would be great fun to play. I thought it was a fantastic project with real integrity. It leapt off the page. A real, pure piece of storytelling."


As with the rest of cast, filming in South Africa was an adventure both on set and off.


"I went on safari and it was the kind of life-changing experience people say it is. I spent a weekend at the staggeringly beautiful Phinda game reserve with some of the other cast, where we did two game drives - one at dawn and one at sunset - and a night-time cruise along the river with lots of hippos."


With Benedict Cumberbatch, Jared Harris and his fiancée, actress Emilia Fox, Victoria also went whale watching on the Indian Ocean.


"The sea was very rough and the captain of this small boat had a gruff personality and looks that were the spitting image of Robert Shaw in Jaws, with a South African accent.


"On our way out to sea we hit a shark and were called back into land, where chunks of shark flesh were pulled out of the propeller. We looked out and saw loads of blood and lots of other sharks coming in to eat him. I have a real shark phobia and so does Emilia. However, once we out at sea, it was so calm she and I dangled our legs over the boat in the water, where dolphins were playing. We suddenly both looked at each other, thought 'Shark!', and quickly got back into the boat."


"I did things I never thought I'd do. We went horse riding and suddenly you're face to face with a huge rhino, or you look down and see an alligator. I think Africa does that to people - you get this slightly gung-ho, hell-for-leather, they won't eat us, we're British kind of thing."


The cast became a very close-knit 'family' as they were together for most of the four-month shoot. "Sam Neill quickly became the person who brought the company together," says Victoria.


"We'd have a meal at his house two or three times a week. He led that company, took on the position of elder statesman. If it was somebody's birthday he'd throw a party for them. We relied on Sam for parties."


The filming took place mostly in Richard's Bay, a small harbour town that is home to one of Africa's biggest ports. With only three local restaurants, the actors very much had to entertain themselves.


"Jared and Emilia's engagement party was amazing," Hamilton recalls. "The Zulu engagement ritual was fantastically moving, very powerful and hysterically funny at the same time, and watching two British actors go through this ceremony was extraordinary.


"The leading Zulu was shouting things at Jared and Emilia in Zulu, which we assumed was something about their commitment to each other. Emilia asked an interpreter and apparently he'd been telling her she must wake Jared up during the night to make love if he'd forgotten and to cut his hair! The kind of mundane thing your mum would say, but screamed at them by a very large Zulu warrior with full tribal headgear."


Following this epic shoot, Victoria made a decision about the next step in her career. "I'd love to do more television and film, so I've consciously decided that's what I'm going to try and do this year. I'm turning theatre down left, right, and centre at the moment and I hope my plan pays off.


"I've been working pretty much non-stop for ten years, doing back-to-back shows, and it's important to learn to stop at a certain time. Your life enhances your work, as your work enhances your life, and it's important to stop and take stock."


She is very close to her family. Her father ran an advertising business and her mother ran her own primary school. She grew up in the Surrey countryside with her older sister and younger brother.


"I'm very lucky to have the family I have. They've always been amazingly supportive. I have no idea where my acting came from as there isn't another actor in the family anywhere. I did A-Level Theatre Studies and when we improvised and did plays I decided that this was for me."


Until she is tempted by another fantastic role on television, she will be catching up with friends. "I also enjoy teaching and I go up to Oxford and teach American drama students a couple of times a year, which I love doing - I get an awful lot out of it.


"Otherwise I'm just going to be sleeping, eating, getting out into the country and seeing the people that I miss."



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