In this second interview Ellie talks about creating a backstory for Helena and how the relationship with her father dead father impacts on her throughout the play.
Time: 9 minutes 35 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Okay, so we are now a few weeks into rehearsal, so I want to ask my first question which is what relationships in the play are important to your character?
My relationship with the Countess, Helena’s relationship with the Countess, who has taken her in after her father died and, to a degree, is part of the household. Possibly much like a daughter, we don’t really know how far that translates in daily life...
...because the issue’s maybe the status difference I suppose.
Yeah, we’ve had a lot of talk about it and I think where we are is that they have a very close relationship, but they still retain their positions as Countess and the kind of equivalent of Ward. You know someone who is around the household, but doesn’t probably join in with everything. Might have very well learnt and schooled with Bertram, but probably spent a lot of time with Bertram as a sort of best friend, brothery type thing, which of course when they are not your brother and feel like your best friend you can very easily love them. So Bertram is, I think, the most important relationship in the play for Helena, but what’s weird is that the play is about trying to have a relationship with Bertram. Also it’s really important her father, her father’s memory and the honour of her father to her. That’s a relationship that’s talked about in the play a lot, that she tries to represent and honour a lot, but he’s not present.
He’s more important because my next question was what do you think about a back story to your character? So I guess he’s pretty central to that.
Yeah, there’s no mother so it’s just been me and my father alone for a while. And I think I’ve been really distraught since he’s died, but it’s also mixed in the hurt that Bertram is leaving, so what they had is going to end and that leaves Helena without anyone except the Countess. So that, I think, redefines the fact that she is the Countess to her, not just a mother figure, because otherwise she wouldn’t be so upset about Bertram going. She is all alone and her love of her life is Bertram and I guess the Countess also represents Bertram to her. They haven’t been there very long, in the position they are in, I think the father only died six months ago. So it’s all been relatively recently that there has been more of an inclusiveness, but they would have definitely been on the estate somewhere and valued with what the father could do in terms of medicinal stuff. You know probably helped the Countess through childbirth and being very, very present with making everyone healthy. You have quite a kind of intimacy with doctors and people that help you and you end up telling them stuff that’s very intimate. So I think I probably would have helped my father in his work so there would have been an intimacy through the herbal medicine that would have allowed for more of a relationship with the Countess I think as well.
So you mentioned your relationships with Bertram, the Countess and also your father, but what about later in the play? Do you think the other women in the play perhaps?
I think Yes. I say I’ve got friends, I do have friends, and I talk about them to the Countess. We’ve taken it that her going off on this pilgrimage and leaving everything behind – she comes across these women that are really feisty , and really vibrant, and full of life, and have the freedom to make the decisions that she’s kind of having to fight for herself, in terms of defining what life you are going to have. They really appeal to her and I think also there’s an element where what they are trying to do is for all women, to be able to be free to make the choice of who they should marry based on what they’ve got to offer, despite where they are in life.
In other words she’s kind of a martyr perhaps for lower status women being able to get somewhere in life basically, through hard work and knowledge and...
...I think rather than feeling like she’s going out to convert people, I think it’s more that she, along that journey she sees other people who are also fighting for themselves and also passionate about their rights, how they can access what’s deserved and they’re worth deserves. And I think that’s what appeals to her about Diana, they form a really close relationship her and Diana, they’re much of a muchness. They are both intelligent maids and that’s why I think they have such a good time and such an incredibly brilliant plan, that stands up right up until the point where Diana is threatened to be put in jail, in a court of men, and still upholds the thing that her and Helena and the Widow as well have claimed, which is to get a man that can give you the right of life that you should have and do so by being yourself and bringing out your own intelligence...
...And that is why it is so fitting for today as well.
Yeah, I think so. And I think what’s funny is that throughout the play there are many points where Bertram could really loose his favour. You know Bertram reacts in a way that could make it seem very odd that Helena still pursues a relationship with him. But I feel quite strongly that when you see someone do stuff they don’t mean to, and they do it quite obviously from a place of discomfort, sometimes in order to help them, because you deeply love them, you will ignore what effect that’s had on you and keep with it and still endeavour to get them to be free and to be with them because you think you can help them. And you think if I can just get you to a place where you can see how good I am I know that you’ll feel better by it.
Although it was very heavy measures I think, but still paid off in the end.
We also think that she’s got quite a strong relationship with Parolles because they are both people that aren’t part of the household. They are underneath, they are servants that don’t necessarily have to serve, but they are part of the kind of below stairs. So we think that they’ve got a faux pas.
And so finally, I just want to ask how has your character developed over these first few weeks of rehearsals? So do you see a transformation from day one to now?
I think that she is becoming kind of less aware of how she appears to herself. So I think that she’s starting to react much more readily rather than being aware of how that reaction might come across, which I think is important because she often responds to things. And her plans, I said last time aren’t really necessarily thought through, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a thinker. But I think that she responds to things incredibly quickly and tries to resolve them incredibly quickly, without necessarily knowing if the plan might work or what that might do. It’s really important I think with Shakespeare to start from the text and to find the character from the words that they use and the rhythm that they have. Sometimes Helena is incredibly, clearly, eloquent, sometimes it sounds like she thinks one thing, then something else comes into her head, then she comes back to that original thing in a better way. So she’s got a lot going on in her head, and I think has that extrovert, but is also quite a private person, so holds secrets very dearly, but yet will work things out by the doing of them rather than sitting there and thinking, “now what can I do about this?” So I think that she’s starting to have a lot more energy and feistiness, we think a youthful disregard is fairly important. If you knew you were going to put yourself in a position where you could die, most people wouldn’t choose to do that, so there has to be a level of something that overpowers her perspective of it. And I think that’s the passion for Bertram, and the passion to kind of save Bertram, and of course, to save the King. And that’s what’s also developed because at the beginning it was all about Bertram and as we are rehearsing it is also so extraordinary the opportunity to heal the King, not only for her own merit, to look good in Bertram’s eyes, but also because it will heal someone, change their life. And that also means that it will completely allow for her father to be honoured for life. So things build in her as she’s going. You know when you have a small idea and it becomes bigger the more you realise what a...
...That she has so many more threads than just everything for Bertram, there’s other elements.
Yeah, so I think she’s building. I think that’s what happened. She starts in a place where her life is just about the fact Bertram’s gone, she says, “I am undone, there is no living, none, if Bertram be away.” [I. i] Which just means I’ve got nothing left, or to do, or to think about , or to talk to, or I don’t know how I fit in here. And then to going “I will risk my life to heal the King so that I can honour my father and Bertram will see.”