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Interview with Lydia Wilson: “People easily curb their misogyny when they talk about Ivanka Trump”

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LYdia Wilson always flips the script and turns standard characters into charismatic, fully formed people. The swearing best friend in the satire by Anna Paquin flack. A starship officer enters Star Trek Beyond. Domhnall Gleeson’s shitty little sister about time. When she first graduated from the Rada, she rolled her eyes at the oppressive roles she was sometimes asked to audition for. “The main thing [would] something about how they are perceived physically – ‘a brittle beauty’ or ‘a fragility’.” She pauses, searching her brain for a more damning example. “Actually quite obnoxious [ones] like ‘a beauty that doesn’t quite show up on closer inspection.’”

Her resilience is no surprise—Wilson is far too authoritative an actor for boring roles. Whenever she performs, the 37-year-old commands a lot, to the point where I’m surprised at how gently she speaks in person. At several points in our conversation in the Old Vic Theater bar, I worry that her voice isn’t picking up on my dictaphone. Still, Wilson’s presence has a real strength. Her hair is tied back and she wears a black t-shirt and leather pants. Her words, however soft they may be, pack a punch.

She will need it for her latest role: Ivanka Trump. Wilson plays along The 47tha new play by the man of the moment Mike Bartlett (who currently has three shows on the London stage, new play scandal town in the Lyric Hammersmith and a revival of tail at the Ambassadors Theatre). It’s set on the eve of the 2024 election, a showdown between presidential candidates Donald Trump (Bertie Carvel) and Kamala Harris (Tamara Tunie).

This isn’t the first time Wilson has landed a real-life role in one of Bartlett’s Future History plays. In 2014 she played Kate Middleton in it King Charles III, which envisioned the events leading up to Prince Charles finally ascending the throne. Her performance as the Duchess of Cambridge was widely lauded The Independent‘s Paul Taylor compares her to Lady Macbeth – “all smiles and steel underneath”. You would probably choose similar words to describe Ivanka.

But there are other similarities between the productions. Bartlett’s dialogue in both is written in Shakespearean blank verse, a lilting de dum form that Wilson says bridges the flow between comedy and tragedy. “It’s a really empowering form of getting people to say poetry because it just puts them in that epic space,” she says. “You don’t have to dig around to see where the drama is. It naturally has that.”

When you’re playing a well-known character like Trump or Harris, it’s hard not to slip into imitations or caricatures. But Ivanka is different. She’s a bit mysterious. We know she has power, but not the magnitude of it. Wilson calls it a “silhouette” or a “hieroglyph” to be deciphered. “I’ve always found that she defies categorization,” she says. Within the play, Bartlett presents her as a volatile outsider. “I think he trades in the unreadability of the Force in real life… [He’s weaved] them as a slightly ambiguous presence.”

With Bertie Carvel at rehearsals

(Marc Brenner)

Prior to reading the script, Wilson didn’t have particularly strong thoughts about Ivanka, as she suspects many Brits don’t. I’m asking if it’s hard to research a person who’s so seldom written about neutrally—when someone talks about Ivanka, it’s probably from a place of awe or hatred. she nods. “100 percent. And actually, maybe you put your finger on what a challenge that was for me. It’s interesting because I noticed that she’s obviously a woman and that people also curb her misogyny a bit and that let go when they start talking about her…Once you have permission to make someone a villain, then these other things kind of get smuggled in. You can tell the misogyny is so close to the surface.”

At previews, she’s noticed that British audiences react very differently to misogyny on stage than they did back then King Charles III. “The disgust and protest in the audience when they see things happening with Ivanka is vocal … When we did it King Charles In America I felt like they were more advanced with that conversation…while in England I really felt I almost had to flirt with the audience to get them to hear Kate Middleton’s point.”

At several points during our conversation, Wilson makes comparisons The 47th to a music theater production – glittering and a bit “crazy”. “I can’t believe we have 21 people and it’s like having a village and it’s so damn beautiful,” she says. Being back on a show like this took some adjustments. Wilson was one of the first actors to make a proper return to the stage when theaters were allowed to reopen in May 2021, appearing alongside Gemma Arterton and Fehinti Balogun Walden in Harold Pinter. That was a completely different, “singular” experience in comparison. “To be honest, I was probably afraid to remember my lines,” she says, laughing. “I know Gemma was a lot more aware at that moment and she was like, ‘Wow, that was one thing’. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it was a thing’.”

As the theater industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, many artists have grappled with the question of whether or not to portray the trauma of recent years on stage. I wonder if she was similarly concerned about showing the Trump presidency on stage?

“It’s a very lively subject,” she says. “At stake are life and death, people’s livelihoods, jobs and the future of the planet. These people…” She falls silent. “I guess there’s theater as a place of escape and that messes that up a bit. But I also think there is a certain awakening where we realize that now is the time to act. So maybe in the theatre, now it’s time to get our hands dirty with the unpleasant things that are happening now.” It was only during this conversation that I realized that 2024 is only two years away, I say. she nods. “I hope we don’t uncork any spirits that we can’t put back in the bottle.”

The 47th runs at the Old Vic Theater through May 28

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/lydia-wilson-interview-the-47th-b2053101.html Interview with Lydia Wilson: “People easily curb their misogyny when they talk about Ivanka Trump”

JOE HERNANDEZ

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