Dabtebook Magazine, February 1967
In this exclusive DB interview, Jane Asher talks frankly about her career as an actress and her current American tour with Old Vic.
By Michael Vestey.
"I don't want to be a star – I want to be an actress." That was Hane Asher's answer to my query as to weher she will try to be a star.
At the age of 20 Jane Asher has wringgled her toes in that horrendous stream, show business. Now she is on the brink of following her star truck contemporaries, many of whom have leapt in only to watched and thougtfully weighed up the turbulence in her profession; and she wonders could she succeed where they have failed.
While hundreds of girls with their so-called '67 faces imagine themselves on celluloid, jane Asher prefers the lure of the theatre. She says, sincerely, that to spend her life in repertory would be infinitely more satisfying than on a film set. She has acted in films – beginning at the age of five in a part in Mandy, continuing with Greengage Summer, Masque of the Red Death and finally Alfie. She has emerged, merely interested, but wiser, from her exploratory film acting experiences.
She is, in fact, rejecting instant stardom.
Jane Asher has made it. Of that there is no doubt. It amounts to her acceptance by the discerning British public on her ability as an actress.
Much rubbish has been spoken, and indeed written, aout her love life. What is more iportant is, surely, the Jane Asher who theatre goers of the present young generation will be seeing – and doubtless admiring – in years to come.
And so it was in that vein that I chose to talk to her. She lives in Wimple Street [sic], London, with her parents – her father is a doctor, a gland specialist, her mother an oboe teacher – brother pop singer Peter Asher, and younger sister Claire, 17, who has just taken her A levels. A talented, middle-class family who have made a considerable mark in the world outside.
"Luckily," she says, "my parents were not at all pushing. Some children have very pushing mums – my parents just let me do most of it, and quietly advised me in the background."
Her first part was in Mandy, 15 years ago: a film aout deaf and dumb children. "My mother knew someone who was putting her own child into it ans she asked if I could join her. I knew what I was doing. I knew I was acting – but my only recollection of the film is arriving at the deaf and dumb school in Manchester for filming. Although I was rather frightened, I don't remember being puzzled or fascinated by the deaf and dumb kids.
"They showed Mandy on television the other day and I watched myself act as I did 15 years ago. It was rather nostalgic but I seemed to be looking at another person – I didn't really feel much. I hate child actors anyway. So many become precocious – I know I was."
Jane has never been to drama school: her acting experience stems directly from working since she was a child. Her education was, she says, "ordinary" – a small provate school in London – and helped give her a realistinc outlook on life. Realistinc is the word.
For already show business to Jane is so transparent she can see straight through it.
"What I don't like about my profession? Well, the insincerity for one. You know the sort of thing: people coming round after a performance and saying all that 'hello, darling, so wonderful to see you' bit. And the constant flattery – 'Oh, you were great, dear.' it's all so false. You can never tell whether they like the play or not."
Then, she curled up on the floor, poured some coffee and smiled.
"But then I suppose if they came round to my dressing room and said I was awful I would probably be furious. I would like people to be as honest as possible. Anyway, I should be pleased they even come at all."
Jane was sensily dressed in grey skirt, black sweater. She resembled a student. Her face is small and elfin, topped richly with untidy red hair; everything about her is girlsih, which tends to hide the underlying firmness. Her looks and personality would never launch a thousands ships – but they could attract that many producers.
"People say my looks are very contemporary, but I don't feel very '66 – or '67," she said. "It would be super if they agreed I was pre-Raphaelite."
On being a star
Although instant stardom can see her righteously turned back as she makes off towards spiritual success, Jane says she would like to make the occasional classic film.
"If I have to take my part in films it must be in a part that makes me act. Although I can never see myself becoming a sex symbol, as you put it. I am frightened of becoming a product of the cinema.
"ut to avoid that you just don't pose for those sort of pictures or go in for that type of film. This is why it is often hopeless for a film star suddenly changing to the stage – few people can do it.
"I would also hate to be a star because you can rarely find privacy. I don't like the persecuting bit aout it all. I find shopping a bit of a drag. I don't mind autograph hunters, but it is the staring and giggling that make me emarrassed. You feel you're supposed to be different. And people are terribly disappointed if you're really quite ordinary. There is this assumption that because you are an actress you must e interesting – that is not always so. Everyone expects you to be funny, witty and clever. It must be awful for those who try and act their lives to fit."
If Jane dislikes the starlet, pin up aspectof her profession she despises even more what she calls "the wandering vagabond iage people have of us – thinking we are scruffy and wild. Acting is just a job like any other. We are no different. In the theatre, though, we come close to each other because we work together so much, but then after, say, three weeks, when our job is finished, we say good bye."
Theatre VS. cinema
If she failed in the theatre could she honestly say she would resist stardom in films? She looked serious, and replyed thoughtfully. "Well, I know I wouldn't enjoy it, you see. It would have to e something awfully drastic for me to do it. Anyway, I can always go into rep (repertory)."
In the past, she has rejected several plum parts, motivated partly through other engagements, partly self-honesty. she turned down the eldest daughter in the film The Sound of Music. "I knew I couldn't dance and certainly couldn't sing. It would have been wrong for me to attempt it."
The theatre is accounting for most of her time in the next year. She finished a spell in The Trojan Women, staged during the Edinburgh Festival at the Assembly Halls – "I shall miss having the audience on three sides as they do up there," she says – and then did The Winter's Tale. Following that, four weeks at the Bristol Old Vic as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet; then the 18 week American tour with Hamlet, Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet.
She played Juliet in a televised school's broadcast five years ago.
"I think I was too young to play it then," she says, "but after all this time I think, well, I've learned so much and acquired lots more experience, I should be perfect – but... even now I'm having y doubts. a part I would really love to do is Gertrude in Hamlet; but I would have to wait to wait at leasr 10 years before I'm ready. And the same with Helen in The Trojan Women.
What makes an actress so keen on Shakespeare?
"I've often wondered myself," she said. "I suppose I love the poetry in his plays; it can be so satisfying. But so many people have done it before, and it will not be the play that is reviewed and talked about, but how you interpret your part. I think shakespeare is popular in America because they are searching for culture over there – and Shakespeare to them is a bit of old England."
Night Clubs and music
Despite her connections with the pop world (bother Peter, boyfriend Paul McCartney) Jane says the endless round of night clubing bores her.
"I don't like spending all night until the early hours sitting in a discotheque with raucous pop music blaring out all the time. My idea of a perfect evening is the theatre and dinner."
She likes some pop music but wakes enthusiastically over the classics. Her favourite piece – Beethoven's Fifth. "Of course," she adds apologetically as though it were unfashionably fashionable.
With Jane there are the usual attendant fears during rehearshals.
"I go through all sorts of stages," she added. "Everything for me is working up to the first night. It can be very worrying because sometimes I feel I'm hopeless, or I'll never do it. You can imagine the doubts I go through – often I think I'll give it up. I sometimes feel a comedy is very unfunny, or a tragedy quite empty. It is only when the opening night arrives and you go on that you realise there is nothing to worry about. I also find it difficult to judge myself and I like to find out fro other people.
"The worst experience I have had in the theatre was five years ago in a play Walk a Little Faster. We toured and then went to london. It lasted exactly four days at the Duke of York befire coming off. It was very depressing getting a cold typewritten notice saying it was all over."
Birthday in America
Next April Jane Asher is 21. She will spend her birthday on a train between Sacramento and Denver.
"The American trains are quite large so I will throw a party for the cast on board," she says.
Will she be throwing parties for her cast when she is 51? "I shall probably be wrinkly and horrible by then," she giggled. "Like most people, I suppose. I don't want to grow old. The worst part will be watching old films of myself when I was 17."