Interviews - Heidi Mumford-Yeo
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
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!
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
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
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.