Interviews - Astrid Bellamy

Astrid Bellamy
Role: Phrynia

What was your first exposure to Shakespeare?

I grew up in Cambridge, and when I was a child my family took me to see an open-air production of "Romeo and Juliet", put on by the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. It was set in one of the college gardens on a summer’s evening against the backdrop of the university buildings, and I remember it had a very magical atmosphere – even if as a child, the Shakespearean language was hard to understand!

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play, and if so, why?

"The Merchant of Venice" is my favourite. I became familiar with it when I worked on a monologue from Portia for a Shakespeare class at the Actors Centre (in London). I was inspired by everything about the play; it was romantic, full of Shakespearean drama, and I loved the role of Portia: her femininity, her love for Bassanio, and the determination to do things her way. The class was taught by Jonathan Broadbent, a Shakespearean actor and teacher, and his passion for Shakespeare and the work we were doing was infectious. Since then, it’s been my favourite Shakespeare play.

Staying with Shakespeare, is there any Shakespeare role (which you haven't played) that you would love to do?

I would love to play Cleopatra. As a woman and as a feminist, I’m drawn to the fact that, despite being the main female character in a play written in the Elizabethan era (where woman belonged to either their father or their husband), Cleopatra is the Queen of Egypt, financially independent and a fiercely strong woman, not to be defeated by the patriarchal society she exists in. Cleopatra is also a hugely complex and ambiguous character. There are so many different elements to her: she is charismatic, volatile and passionate, but also tender, and her emotions change suddenly from one thing to another. To be able to inhabit Cleopatra’s character and grasp the complexity of her psyche would be a wonderful challenge as an actor, and I imagine hugely rewarding.

Did you have any experience with "Timon of Athens" before this production?

No, I hadn’t; I learnt about "Timon of Athens" for the first time through "Misanthropos". I was excited to discover a Shakespeare play I hadn’t had any previous knowledge of, and which is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works. I find it fascinating that it’s a seemingly unfinished play, with some historians even believing that Shakespeare abandoned the play because of a mental breakdown .

How do you find the role of women in Shakespeare, and more specifically in this production?

It strikes me that women have much less space in Shakespeare’s work than men (on average there is one female role to every four male roles in the complete works of Shakespeare). Their roles are also very much intertwined in the lives of the men around them, rather than having the autonomy and freedom to live their lives through their own will and merits. In the original "Timon of Athens", women appear only very briefly. In "Misanthropos", their presence is stronger, and they bring a powerful message to the audience. Of course, they are still trapped in the world in which they live, one which as courtesans, is wholly dependent on the level of attention from their potential male clients.

How do you feel about your role? Do you like your character?

In "Misanthropos", we see Phrynia in the way she presents herself to society: as a courtesan, she was an entertainer, but a highly educated one, well-versed in conversation, philosophy, music, and more. But we also see Phrynia in the depths of her true emotions, where she’s revealed as a human being and not just an entertainer. It is wonderful to be able to explore both two sides of Phrynia: the frivolity and sensuality of her outer world as a courtesan, and the depth and suffering of her inner world, as a human being and a woman.

You have quite a task in this feature because a lot of your dialogue is 'shared' with another. How is dual-logging Shakespeare? Maintaining rhythm and pace in unison with another, while also still delivering on the language?

It can certainly be a challenge! I think the secret to making it work is listening to the other character, in this case Timandra. If one gets lost in one’s own words or what’s coming next, it’s easy to get out of sync. It’s also a case of working on different aspects separately at the beginning, for example, language and rhythm, and then gradually working on putting them all together, until it becomes more natural and everything works in unison.

The role of ritual is key in this film, how do you feel your character is part of/or away from such ceremonies?

Unlike the women of ancient Greece, Phrynia and Timandra as courtesans are allowed into the banquets and symposiums, attended by the aristocratic men of Greece. These events were ritualistic and lavish, and the courtesans had an important role to play in their proceedings. Dance and ritual are also heavily intertwined in the film. Phrynia and Timandra offer Alcibiades a surprise dance as a gift before he goes off to war the next day. This dance is offered not only as entertainment, but is also highly symbolic as a war ritual.

What is it like to work with Maximianno Cobra?

It’s been very inspiring to work with Maximianno. He really pushes you to achieve more and more, and beyond what you think you are capable of. He does this in a very encouraging and supportive way, and with a good dose of humour too! Maximianno has immense attention to detail and a great sense of vision for what he wants to create with Misanthropos. It’s wonderful to be able to be a part of this, and the creative process that’s involved in bringing it to life on screen.

What will happen to your character AFTER? Do you feel there is hope for your character/for the world, by the end of the film?

I believe Phrynia will continue to live the life she has always known; that of a courtesan until she is of an age where she can no longer work in the profession – but her spirit will be heavier, marked by witnessing Timon’s downfall and all that it provokes in her and Timandra. Hopefully Phrynia can find solace in the fact that she has been able to face the darkness inside of her, and the world around her. With this comes strength, which I believe will keep her going in the face of difficulty.

And lastly what do you take away from the story of "Timon of Athens"?

The power that money has on people, and the destruction that it can cause. If one’s whole value system is based purely on external factors like money, glory and popularity, and these things disappear with no internal foundation to fall back on, everything can crumble – which it definitely did for Timon.