In her second interview Indira talks about what’s been happening in rehearsals so far, the manipulative skills of Tamora and the important relationships and scenes for her character.
"I think she’s giving him the baby to kill, but actually she knows that he won’t kill his own child, just as she wouldn't kill her own child. Titus, however, does kill his own children. Who is the sick one here, actually, thank you very much? Everyone thinks that Goths are bad…"
Time: 11 minutes 58 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Welcome to the Adopt an Actor podcast series. This is the second interview with Indira Varma, who’s playing Tamora in Titus Andronicus. So, what have you been doing in rehearsals so far?
Indira Varma: We’ve done a first stagger of act one and a first stagger of act two, and the first stagger of act one went fairly well and we were quite encouraged because we were reminded how great this story is and how it goes at a real lick, and then the stagger of act two was pretty awful. I think this stage of rehearsals is always a panicky one and life outside the rehearsal room doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The tube on your way out, you’re looking at your script. On the tube on your way in, you’re looking at your script. You’re boring your partner with, you know, your anxieties… so what have we been doing? We have… There’s less improvisation now, going on, thankfully… Though I love improvisation and it has its place, definitely. We’ve been running things, we’ve been trying solidify a little bit the blocking, although I think there’s a sense that you always want to have that freedom, but the blocking is there, I think, to help us tell the story. Sometimes we’ve found things that next time we do it, they don’t work anymore, and that can be quite frustrating. It feels like we’re about to come full circle, where we’ve tried that initial read through and seem to have revealed some really nice things, and seem to be quite funny, and now we’re in a place where we’ve tried every other thing out, we don’t seem to have found it and I’ve got a feeling we might be completing the circle and going back to the read through, hopefully. Things that I’ve discovered are… well I think one thing I’ve been struggling with is that I think Tamora has extraordinary power and status, despite being a prisoner to start with, because of her charisma – her natural sexuality - but how do you play an aura? You can’t, it’s not possible – you need other people to endow you with that gift and I think sometimes, obviously, if not everyone in the room fancies me, that’s difficult… but I think that’s sometimes quite interesting – it’s actually about listening. I think we’ve realised that there’s a lot about listening, and in this play – I can’t remember if I said this last time – as an early Shakespeare play, there’s a hell of a lot of speeches where people are making their point and sometimes everyone else within that scene wonders what the hell they’re doing there if they don’t have much to say, but Shakespeare’s put them there for a reason, and also he’s given the speaker the need to tell those people in the room whatever it is that’s on their mind and to change them in some way, and I think we’ve had a few moments where we’ve really struggled with how we’re listening – it’s important to be an active listener, but not so active that you’re playacting.
PB: You have to just try to complete the scene so it’s all one thing and see all the bits working together.
IV: Yeah, one of the thing that I’ve been struggling with is what I was talking about - that idea of you can’t play power; people have to give you power. I think I’ve just learnt this in the past couple of days, actually, that people need to give me that power a little bit more and who likes to give power to other people. So that’s quite tricky – that’s tricky. It’s easy to undermine someone’s power, but it’s quite difficult to give them power if the other character feels like they, too, should have power. It’s who has the power in the room, and it’s not because of me the actress going 'I need to be the most powerful person in the room', because I think Titus ultimately has that, and at times Marcus has it, and Saturninus wants it - thinks he has it - but at the end of the day we all have different… I think what’s interesting about Tamora is that she doesn’t play power, I think, because she doesn’t need to, because she’s so intelligent. She knows how to manipulate, but she does it very carefully and round-the-back-door kind of way, so people don’t realise. But why are they able to be manipulated? I think because she has this aura or, I suspect, it’s because in those days – you know I was talking to David, who plays Aemilius and Bacchus - about the fact that there was Cleopatra, we had Boadicea, there was Dido, Queen of Carthage, there was all these extraordinary women, but I think – were there that many? We know about a handful because it’s so extraordinary to have women in power that they really stood out. Who gave them that power? There was somebody who gave them that power and actually, fundamentally, an animal instinct towards a person is often men don’t like to give women power – I mean nowadays it’s all changing, blah blah blah – but, you know, a woman who has authority because she’s sexually appealing, and then on top of which has an intellect, is very exciting I think for people, and I think that’s who Tamora is. Unfortunately, I’m realising that I can’t do that by myself and I need other people to give me that, which is really interesting.
PB: Would you say that there are any specific scenes or moments that really stand out for Tamora?
IV: Well definitely when she first becomes empress – when she’s made empress – there’s a real rapid rise, you know, queen of the Goths, sure, but no longer – more prisoner of the Romans, and then Saturninus – why does he make her queen? His empress? He obviously fancies her, no other reason, and he wants to fill that bridal place. He relinquishes Lavinia back to Bassianus, his brother, but in that moment where she becomes empress, she’s silent – she’s quiet – she hasn’t really spoken very much, and the first time she really speaks - apart from the first scene where she’s begging for her son’s life when she’s a prisoner – all of a sudden she’s speaking on behalf of everybody. She’s being politic and seemingly indifferently from all she says, which is brilliant – she’s moulding them all to like her. We’ve seen two kinds of… either in a sort of girlish kind of 'oh don’t listen to me, I’m nothing', you know, 'I just have these opinions, take them as you will.' It doesn’t really work, it seems very manipulative, whereas actually when she just says it, with charm and grace, without needing to say it, it’s much more convincing – because, again, it’s what happens once she’s said it they give it to her – but she does say, you know, 'my gracious lord, my sweet emperor', she uses all that kind of loving language to Saturninus, and she teases him – you know, don’t look at Titus with sour look – and then she takes him aside and tells him, you know, because she says 'lose not so noble a friend on vain suppose, nor with sour looks afflict his gentle heart', and then she takes him aside and quite firmly says be ruled by me, be won at last, and it’s pretty strong to say that to someone who has only just promoted you and then tell him, it’s because obviously she thinks he’s a bit thick, because when she says 'lose not so noble a friend on vain suppose', regarding Titus, make friends with him again, I think she’s implying that he would be foolish, because Titus is the one that all the people like and patricians love – the whole of Rome is behind Titus, they wanted him as emperor – and if Saturninus is not going to let him be emperor, then he’s going to be in trouble. She subtly says that to him, he doesn’t pick up on it, so she has to say 'lest the people, and patricians too, upon a just survey, take Titus’ part, and so supplant you for ingratitude'. So, it’s all in there. She’s really clever, I think.
PB: Is there –you’ve mentioned a few already – are there many relationships in the play that are important to your character?
IV: Well, inevitably her sons – I think this play is definitely all about family and clan and factions. Her and her boys have the most… I suppose it’s an unspoken - well it is unspoken, it’s a blood tie where they will do anything for each other, and often she says to them – when she says they can rape Lavinia, she said 'the worst to her, the better loved of me' – and then another time 'revenge it as you love your mother’s life or be you not henceforth called my children'. It’s pretty strong, but it’s a kind of narcissity – it’s not unconditional love, they have to do what she wants – they adore her as she adores them, she will do anything for them and ultimately she dies for Alarbus, she dies for her sons. Also, Aaron, is I think the love of her life and it’s quite interesting, we were talking about the blood ties with the sons, and we’ve decided that the boys don’t know that they are lovers and when Tamora has the baby with Aaron, they are appalled and shocked because they didn’t suspect, and also they’re really racist – it’s so racist in that play – but Aaron turns them round because he’s kind of like a father figure to them, and doesn’t seem to take it badly that Tamora says kill the baby – she gives the baby to him to kill. I think it’s covertly she’s giving him – otherwise she would have killed it there and then – but I think she’s giving him the baby to kill, but actually she knows that he won’t kill his own child, just as she wouldn’t kill her own child. Titus, however, does kill his own children. Who is the sick one here, actually, thank you very much? Everyone thinks that Goths are bad… so she doesn’t think that he’s going to kill their progeny, instead – as we know, in the play – he swaps the baby with another mixed-race couple who’ve happened to have a slightly whiter baby, to pass of as Saturnine and Tamora’s, and that trust between Aaron and Tamora - that’s extraordinary, I think - and whenever they’re together, they have their very lovely moment in the woods where I think she’s really trying to – she’s just been made empress and she’s just been very openly loving with Saturninus, and talking about nuptial beds and all that kind of thing – and then the next scene she goes to find Aaron in the woods, she asks why so sad and she then suspects that he’s jealous of Saturninus, I think, and she loves him so much anyway she wants to have sex with him there and then, but he’s resistant - and he’s not resistant because of Saturnine, he’s resistant because they’ve got to get on with their plan – he really is helping her carry out the revenge that she wants to do to the Andronici - but I think that’s a true love, they speak so lovingly about one another with the words about the soul, you know, I can’t remember what he says about her… but it’s all that, it’s really loving.
PB: Fascinating, thank you very much.