Ageless Amanda has the star quality of a woman to be taken very seriously
I’m in a churchyard in a leafy suburb of North London, waiting for Amanda Donohoe to finish morning rehearsals inside the church so we can talk about her role in the Noel Coward play Star Quality, when a young woman, I’d guess in her late twenties, comes through the gate.
The PR person who has arranged the interview turns with me as we see this woman dressed in jeans and a white vest, come into the churchyard.
We both pause, do a double take, and say at the same time, incredulous: “Is that her?”. It is and Amanda Donohoe, 49, really does look that good.
Up close, she still could pass for a woman in her early thirties.
Previous interviews with Donohoe could lead you to expect someone who is at least a little bit of a diva. In her time she has dismissed journalists’ questions as “stupid” and once, at the height of her fame, apparently asked a journalist how much they earned a year, adding “how can you live on that?”.
It doesn’t start well when she sweeps (she’s the sort to sweep) up to us and asks the PR person to go put money in the parking meter for her car.
Later, despite being supplied with a lunch, she declares that she would like some chocolate and the same PR is dispatched to fetch treats.
However – before you get the impression that this is the same Donohoe that has terrified journalists during her illustrious career, the money for the ticket machine came out of her own purse, she only asked someone else to collect the ticket so we could get on with the interview and the chocolate she wanted? A Twix.
“I can just see the headline now, ‘she’s so high maintenance’”, says Donohoe.
She then says, on this unseasonally beautifully warm October day, that she’d like to do the interview sitting on the grass outside the church where the cast are rehearsing. I’m quick to agree to anything she wants.
It is not just the fact that I don’t want to feel the full heat of her ire, but Donohoe could ask me to stand on hot coals while doing the interview and I would probably agree.
Any man aged around 30 to 60 will understand this desire to stay the right side of her.
Since her revealing role in the 1986 movie Castaway, she has been the subject of many teenage boys’ fantasies.
And the fantasies of men in their early twenties. And thirties. And forties...
I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. As we sit down on the grass, Donohoe stretches out and I tell her that the PR person and I didn’t at first realise it was her coming into the churchyard, thinking it was someone much younger. It sounds like a line – but I’m just being honest.
“Oh, you little charmer,” she says with a throaty laugh
Donohoe has been having this effect on men since her film debut in 1986, in Castaway in which she appeared alongside Oliver Reed and wearing, for much of the film, not very much. She went on to appear in Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm and The Rainbow.
They proved important milestones for Donohoe, who had already had a taste of fame when, at 15, she became the girlfriend of popstar Adam Ant.
Castaway catapulted the young beauty into a whole different stratosphere of fame.
She took advantage of her profile, moved to Los Angeles and became properly famous when she joined the cast of long-running legal drama LA Law.
“Hollywood is a great place when you’re young and all you want to do is party, but if you want to live a real life and have real life experiences, you better get the hell out of there quick or you’ll be lost,” she says.
“When I joined LA Law it was getting something like 60 million viewers per week and I would get off a plane at any given airport and be recognised. It was great, flattering – at first, but then it was just freaky.
“You end up thinking ‘just leave me alone’, I was a very young, unformed character and if you are like that and everybody is kissing your backside you start to believe your own legend, and that can be very dangerous for a young actor.
“I can’t say I didn’t fall into all that, but I think my education and background helped me to survive – unlike a lot of young actors.”
Although she survived – and flourished – professionally, personally it was a different story.
When I point out that the experiences she has had must have been extraordinary, she is quick to add a caveat.
“It has been an extraordinary, crazy, crazy career, and crazy life, but there have been plenty of tears as well as laughter,” she says.
Donohoe lies in the sun, sits up, munches on her lunch of carrots and hummus, hides the second of the two Twix bars she is given, for later, smokes, laughs, puts her sunglasses on, swaps them for her normal glasses. Nothing about her suggests a woman approaching 50.
“When my mother was my age she was – not old – but she didn’t have the spring of youth in her step, now, though, we are living in such a different time.
“I think what surprises every woman as they age is that they realise that young men find older women attractive and God bless them for that” – the throaty laugh accompanies her speech yet again.
She is perfect to play the role of Lorraine Barrie in Star Quality, the final play by Noel Coward. Adapted by Christopher Luscombe, the play tells the behind-the-scenes story of a production starring Barrie, a once brilliant star of the stage.
Donohoe spends every morning “trying to make sure all the lines are there in the memory.
“With Coward you have to have everything perfect or it just doesn’t work, his language is so precise, you have to be word perfect,” she says.
With such a glittering career to her credit, and a name that still pulls plenty of weight, why is she touring around the country with a play?
She comes to Hull in a couple of weeks and has found “a very posh bed and breakfast outside of the city”, but presumably dragging yourself around the country in a play is pretty hard work? Especially, as she admits, she might look younger than her years, but “my body is certainly starting to feel its age”.
“Touring’s not easy, eight shows a week – for an actor at any age to commit to something like a tour you’ve got to love the play and part or you’re going to get very bored, very quickly,” she says.
“I did soap opera for two years – and I’m not going to knock it because I’m as much a fan of soaps as any other addicts, but it is a very limited screen language and what you get from a play is a far greater depth of challenge.
“I’ve done pretty much everything there is to do in my career, including killing aliens that aren’t there because I’m standing against a blue screen, but the purest form of my craft is theatre and that’s why any actor worth their salt – A-list, B-list, Z-list, comes back to theatre at some point in their career.”
She originally signed up for a year, but enjoyed playing the character so much – and found audiences also enjoyed it – she stayed for two.
“I went away at Christmas, when audiences saw Natasha leave the show.
“When I came back I was wondering if anyone would have watched it and we had ten million viewers,” she says.
“Being on a soap is an amazing experience, it is this huge, Titanic machine, but it was great fun. Even back in London I had cabbies shouting ‘I’d have shot him an’ all love’, the way it touches people is really quite something.”
Final question, another that, admittedly, sounds more than a little cheesy.
Given that she is such a beautiful woman, famous, certainly in the early days, for taking her clothes off, has she ever found people don’t take her seriously? She lowers her dark glasses and fixes me with a stare.
“You’ve met me, do you think anybody would not take me seriously?”
There’s no need to answer.
Amanda Donohoe career highs
1986: First film role in Castaway, opposite Oliver Reed.
1988: The Lair of the White Worm, alongside Hugh Grant.
1988: The Rainbow, directed by Ken Russell.
1990-1992: LA Law, in which she played CJ, and became famous for the first lesbian kiss on an American show.
2006: Lou Stoke in Bad Girls.
2009-2010: Natasha Wylde in Emmerdale.
Amanda Donohoe appears in Star Quality, Hull New Theatre, Oct 18-22. Tickets: 01482 300300.