Interviews - Heidi Mumford-Yeo

Heidi Mumford-Yeo
Role: Phrynia

Hello Heidi. Thank you so much for talking to us today.  I'll kick off very simply, as this is  Shakespeare feature film, by asking what the best Shakespeare performance you've seen is?

Goodness, that’s a tough one. I think it would have to be Trevor Nunn’s "Macbeth" with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench for the RSC. I watched the recording as a drama student and revisited it over the years; I still consider it to be pretty much the apex of performance and direction - a masterclass in acting that I’m uncertain has been surpassed.

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

Sadly, no, it was one of the few that I hadn’t read or studied at University or subsequently drama school. Coming to it new was a delight though, and now it’s one of my favourites.  As ever the themes are universal, relevant and I find particularly resonant in these worrying times.

What do you take away from the story of Timon of Athens?

Quite a lot actually – I find "Timon of Athens’ to be quite a heart-breaking treatment on the condition of humanity, which, as I say, is as relevant to today’s audience as it was almost four hundred years ago.  For one of Shakespeare’s less ‘lauded’ tragedies (by which I mean commercially)... it ranks amongst the best, in my opinion.  It’s timeless ontological exploration and how the trajectory exposes the sickness inherent in our society and our collective psyche is hugely poignant.  Altruism, avarice, betrayal, the sense of disenfranchisement, of somehow not belonging or wanting to belong to the society and times you’ve been born into – these are hugely moving and profound themes to me.

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

Yes, it was a challenge, but I love pushing boundaries; to have that opportunity, as an artist, was quite a gift. Obviously, there needs to be a great symbiosis between us, so mirroring, tempo-rhythm and a degree of homogeneity were key drivers to making it work. It was a new experience for me and very good acting work-out!

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

Without a doubt, Desdemona.

What is like to work with Maximianno Cobra?

Challenging, inspiring and wonderful in equal measure.  I still feel quite privileged to be part of this project which I think is so unique and so special, particularly when you factor in the background of the project, it’s narrative, and what Maximianno has accomplished with it.  He facilitated quite an incredible exploratory framework, and as an ensemble piece, that was exciting to watch and be part of.

How do you feel about your role?  Do you like your character?  Was it easy to relate to your character's motives and intentions?

I’m always drawn to strong, complex characters, and that’s who I believe Phrynia is – a strong, intelligent woman surviving in a brutally patriarchal society as best she can.  She has her flaws - significant ones, but I like her in the sense that I admire and pity her at the same time, which I think is quite rare, and it creates a little conflict at times, when I’m trying to get inside her head. I’m drawn to complexity, anomalies and people who have enough layers to hold your interest.

You're also an accomplished writer, and your debut novel "Penumbra" was published in 2018?  As someone who also understands writing, do you have any thoughts on our adaptation and expansion of the roles of Praxilla, Timanda and Praxila?  Shakespeare isn't always the kindest to female roles, and the original play certainly featured very few women.  As a writer is this something you hope to challenge in your own work?

Well, Shakespeare did give us Portia, Cordelia, Desdemona and Beatrice (along with some notable others), so I don’t think he was too austere or misogynistic with his female characters and of course he was reflecting the social mores of the time.  I believe what Maximianno has done with expanding our roles is inspiring, empowering and progressive.  Also, I think that cinema is evolving all the time, enabling the creation of multi-dimensional, strong female characters which defy stereotypes and which challenge our preconceptions – I think that’s something we’re seeing more and more... which is terrific, and as it should be. It’s certainly something I made a key driver when I approached writing the two lead female characters in "Penumbra" – these two powerful, yet deeply paradoxical women. I wanted it to be a story about their psyche’s and their polarities but with no overt feminist agenda.

Lastly, 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 wonder!  I’d like to see Phrynia find her peace and her independence. I have hope for her, yes. She’s thinks, she knows, she feels – she doesn’t always do or say the things we’d like her to, but she’s shown quite a profound capacity for revelation and self-analysis. She’s one of those people in life you meet that will surprise you I think, and quite possibly surprise herself.