The magnificent Eve Myles is back in the UK, following several months living in Los Angeles while Torchwood: Miracle Day was being filmed. And, what’s more, she’s treading the boards, starring in a new play with Zach Braff (who wrote it), by the name of All New People.
Here, Eve tells us about the play, about working with Zach, and then chats about the future of Torchwood, and of Gwen Cooper…
I should start by telling you that I’ve read a book.Well done! [claps]
Thanks! It’s by a man called David Weston, called Covering McKellen, and in it, he charts understudying Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear on an RSC world tour for a year.
And what he really gets across is the day to day variance of a theatre performance. One, for instance, that stuck with me was the absence of a director on a daily basis, once the show is set up.
Given what you’ve just come from, and the weight of TV work you’ve been doing, is it that differing culture that’s brought you back?I think the kind of need I had to come back was that I’d done so much theatre up until the point of doing the first series of Torchwood, which kind of took over my life for five years. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
But with a play, for me, there’s no time to sit back on it. You’re living on your instincts. And, every night there are subtle changes and adjustments, because what’s in front of you is a living, breathing audience. They will tell you, straight away, what works and what doesn’t work.
It’s a very strange partnership, they are like your silent partner. You’re doing a performance so that they enjoy it. They don’t care whether I enjoy it. I don’t care whether I enjoy it! I want them to come to the theatre.
This play is 90 minutes. Every play should be 90 minutes. There would be so many more theatre-goers if plays were shorter.
Do you really think that?I do, because 90 minutes is a blast of fun. This play has a very dark undercurrent to it, but that’s what makes it as funny as it is, because you’re dealing with real people. Heightened situations, but dealing with being young, lonely, and needing.
Is it almost a 90 minute exercise then in holding your nerve? You talk about the audience giving you instant feedback, presumably the discipline for you is not overreacting to that?Sometimes with comedy you can fall into the trap of trying to please the audience too much. You can’t do that. We’ve still got to tell the story of All New People. We’ve still got to tell what we’ve been doing in rehearsals.
If certain gags get bigger laughs than we expect, then there’s a certain discipline you’ve got to have, not to tip it over the edge. Because if you start expecting that big laugh every night, you start playing it differently. Suddenly, the laughs get smaller, because you’re playing it for a laugh, you’re not playing it for real.
What Zach is drumming into us, and Peter, the best director I’ve ever worked with, what they’re drumming into us constantly is that we play everything straight. We play everything for real. As an actor, that goes against everything in your body, because you know it’s funny, you know the lines are funny, but the situation is even funnier. Played straight, it’s brilliant.
Do you remember when Stephen Fry was in the play Cell Mates? I remember reading what Simon Gray wrote about one of the performances, where he was livid, because he thought his leading man had gone for an easier laugh, damaging the tone of the rest of the play.Did you read the book he wrote about Cell Mates? I did a study on it in college.
You can’t do too many things. If you stay truthful to what you’ve done in rehearsals, and truthful to the script, then you can’t go wrong?
Presumably, you also have to always be aware that it’s the audience’s first night, even if it’s your last?Exactly. And you’ve got to go in there and give them 90 minutes of a great time. Because they’ve spent a lot of money to get there, to sit there, and look forward to it all day. To go out there and be able to do that live for people is the best job in the world.
My favourite bit in Zach’s Garden State is where Natalie Portman tugs her ear. Does he give you an ear tug moment in this?He doesn’t.
I’d drop out, then.Yeah. Better cancel. He didn’t tug anything, unfortunately. [Laughs]
We last met up just as Torchwood: Miracle Day was about to start, you’d been living in Los Angeles for months. Was the play giving you something to get back to some sort of normality?Since I’ve come back I’ve done Baker Boys for the BBC. Afterwards, last year had been such a whirlwind of events, just incredible, I was having lots of stuff sent, and there was nothing that I wanted to do. As a jobbing actor, I never get a script and go I can’t be bothered with this. Life doesn’t work like that. For a movie star, maybe, but for a jobbing actor, that doesn’t happen.
When this came up, I kept saying that next year, I want to go back to theatre. I’d done six years of television, I don’t want to fall into the rut of just being a TV actor. The discipline you have to come back to with theatre is massive. It’s brilliant for an actor, it reminds you why you did this job in the first place.
I’ve never done comedy, so my idea was to do a play, hopefully with some comedy in it, and it would be great to do it in the West End. So when this came about, a comedy for Sky came about too. My agent said there’s a script coming through for you, and you may have an audition on Monday. They’re going to have a think about you.
She explained who it was, and I thought I’m not going to read a script that I may have an audtion for on Monday. I’d rather go to the park with my daughter. I don’t have time for that.
But the script came through on the Friday. And on the second page, I was reading it out loud. It was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. 40 minutes, I’d read it, and I was like, I’d better be seen for this on Monday. This is what I want to do next. This is what I need to do.
So I did the audition on Skype, which was probably the most bizarre evening of my life, with Matilda [Eve’s daughter] watching Alice In Wonderland in the background…
The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp one?No! The proper one, the proper one!
She’s shouting “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” in the background, with me doing a big, heavy scene.
You know, in one line, you’ve cost yourself a role in the next Tim Burton film, don’t you?Literally. Yes!
I had to do this. I’m petrified, but that’s why I need to do it. I don’t want to ever feel that I’m going to work, and I can do it. I want to be like, can I do this?
Torchwood, then! Where is it?
It’s in limbo. It went down sensationally well, better than we’d hoped. I know that Russell has put out what his situation is at the moment, so things have been on hold for a while. And that’s all I know. There’s no closure on it at all at the moment.
Do you think we’ll see it again?
This happens every time! All the time! There was never going to be a second, there was never going to be a third…
What does your gut say?Yes. It says that it definitely won’t be 2012, I’m guessing 2013. A movie, to draw a line under it.
You think that’ll be it, one last hurrah?
We appreciate our fans too much. And Russell appreciates his fans too much, and all the support they’ve given us from day one. If Russell wanted to do another one, he’d do it. And he’d do it as a thank you to everyone who supported us. I know that they mean the world to him.
What format do you think? An American television movie, or a big screen release?I’d imagine it’d be a screen release. Then, that’d be the end of a massive chapter for all of us. The fans, Russell, Julie, me, John. It’d close it.
Do you think Gwen has to die in the end? You have almost the Jack Bauer challenge with her?
No, I don’t. And I am looking at it as an outsider. Every year, you’re expecting to turn to page 16, and go, oh I’ve been shot in the face. You just expect it, it’s Torchwood. But no. I don’t think so.
I think they’ve really developed that character into a fantastic everyday hero. I don’t think that it would be right to take somebody like her out of the equation.
My reading of Gwen has always been that living is harder for her than dying.Yes, absolutely. She lives, especially from when Ianto died, in complete guilt. And she loses people around her all the time. It’s always the ones who are left behind who suffer. So I don’t think they’d kill her off. But saying that, we never knew that Tosh, and Owen, and Ianto, Alexa, they would be killed off. It depends on what story [Russell] wants to tell. If he tells the story of, in the first scene, Gwen gets shot in the face, and it’s then backstory…
That’d be the Hitchcock way to do it.Wouldn’t it?! It’d be great.
So I’ll write down that you want to be shot in the face, Zach Braff tugs things, and you don’t want to work with Tim Burton. You know how the Internet works, I’ll distill everything you’ve said down to that.[Laughs] Oh Christ!
I think if she does die, she’s going to die fantastically.
Beyond Torchwood, beyond theatre, looking ahead, I’d imagine that once you’d been exposed in America, to coin a phrase, for six months or so, the offers must change.
The general rule from talking to others is that once you’ve had success in a female sci-fi role, 90% of anything you get through is a watered down derivative of what you’ve done. Has that been the case with you, and have the offers been changing? What are you looking for?
Inevitably, offers do change. Scripts get sent, and are you interested, rather than the other way around. It also happens because I didn’t start a year ago. I started in my second year of drama school, doing television.
You did Shakespeare early, too.Yeah, I did it straight out of drama school. I did four television jobs, then straight into the RSC. So I’ve done it for a long time, I’m in it for the marathon and not the sprint. I also understand that you’re very popular one moment, and not the next. So I’m a stickler for good scripts.
I wouldn’t do anything because it’s money, or it’s the next big blockbuster. I do it because it challenges me, it’s a good piece of writing, and it frightens me a bit.
Future-wise, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Stay grounded, and try to enjoy the work I do. As soon as I start feeling miserable, then I need to change the work I do, or try another medium. Maybe a radio play, or something completely different.
My goal is to stay happy in my work, and to do quality work. For people to see me in different things that they did not expect me to do. If they come to see me in All New People, they will be able to go, I can’t believe that’s Gwen Cooper.
Gwen Cooper, thank you very much!
All New People opens for a strict ten week run at London’s Duke of York Theatre on February 22nd. More details here.