Vanessa Kirby: Whirlwind year brings rising star Vanessa to leading role

A year into an acting career, Vanessa Kirby is playing Shakespeare's biggest female role in Leeds. Nick Ahad met her.

THE start Vanessa Kirby has made to her acting career is impressive enough to demand an interview.

It turns out to be even more impressive than at first thought.

How does it feel to have a CV loaded down with awards and brilliant roles just a year after leaving drama school, has to be the first question?

"I didn't actually go to drama school," says Kirby, coyly, almost apologetic.

I'd been misinformed. It turns out that Kirby landed a place at drama school – the high profile LAMDA – but she turned it down.

All the training she has had – aside from three years of student productions at the University of Exeter – has been on the job.

The breakthrough came last year, when she met with David Thacker, the artistic director of Bolton Octagon.

At the end of a first meeting, Thacker offered Kirby the opportunity to appear in the theatre's next three plays: Arthur Miller's All My Sons, Ibsen's Ghosts and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"He asked if I was going to say yes and I said, 'I'm supposed to be going to LAMDA'," says Kirby.

"He told me he would give me the weekend to think about it."

Weekend over, decision made, LAMDA spoken to, Kirby accepted the job offer from Thacker and set off on a remarkable career journey.

How remarkable? There was a weekend between the end of the last performance at Bolton Octagon and the start of her next job – at the National Theatre.

When that job finished, she had a fortnight of meetings in LA, arrived back in Blighty and half a week later started rehearsals at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds for the role of Rosalind in As You Like It.

"It's been a crazy year," says Kirby, which may sound understated, but is said with a mile-wide beaming grin.

"I can't really see it in context. I know it's like a dream, but it's not something that really registers. A year ago, I was wondering if I was going to get a recall for drama school – all I was thinking was 'I hope I bloody well get in'. I can't grasp it, it doesn't feel – I can't feel it."

No wonder she's lost for words, it really is one of the most impressive beginnings to an acting career that you could conceive.

Kirby, however, does hint during the interview that she might have always been destined to succeed.

The daughter of a surgeon father and an editor mother, she considered acting as a career when she was as young as 17, auditioning for Bristol Theatre School.

The school was impressed, but suggested she was a little tender in age and should perhaps wait until she had lived a little more life. Which is what she decided to do.

"I took a gap year and went round Africa and spent four months in Asia. I realised that if I was going to be the best actress I could be, I neededto read and be literate and articulate, see more theatre – so I decided to do an English Literature degree and set myself the target of getting a First.

"I knew that if I could discipline myself to do that then I could have the discipline to be an actor," says Kirby.

First class degree attained, Kirby was all set to start auditioning for drama school, when an old drama teacher, coaching her for her auditions, suggested she meet with an agent.

"I thought I was going to be having a cup of tea and getting some advice and

he offered to take me on," says Kirby. "

"He told me he wanted to throw me in at the deep end and set up the meeting with David Thacker."

The rest is Kirby's short, but impressive, career history.

In between all the roles, Kirby has also won accolades – the Rising Star Award at the MEN Awards and she was nominated for the Ian Charleson Award.

Now she's about to take to the stage of the West Yorkshire Playhouse's main theatre, playing the biggest role Shakespeare wrote for

a woman.

"She has more lines than Hamlet," says Kirby, who seems excited, but not over-awed by the prospect of taking to the main stage to play Rosalind in Ian Brown's production of As You Like It.

"When I went for the audition, the play wasn't one of my favourites – I prefer the tragedies. But as soon as we started rehearsals I absolutely fell in love with it and with her. She's the most amazing girl – I love her more than any other part I've played."

With an ever growing and increasingly impressive CV, you get the feeling that Kirby is going to get plenty of chances to play more great roles during her career.

As You Like It, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, to Oct 16.