With the likes of 24 Hour Party People and The Parole Officer packing out Cinema's world-wide and Linda Green, Cutting It and Clocking Off winning TV Awards on a weekly basis Manchester has been called the UK's answer to Hollywood, albeit with a bit of Northern grit and dirt. We caught up with actress Carla Henry who starred in Queer As Folk (the program that kicked off the great Northern revival) and is currently in the debut UK Production of Habitat until November 30th at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
In-between QAF and Habitat, Carla has acted in the likes of Bob & Rose, The Vice and Clocking Off amongst others and has just finished filming the female lead for The Revenger's Tragedy alongside Christopher Ecclestone and Margie Clarke, which looks set to be released in February 2003. We caught up with Carla after the opening night of Habitat to discuss the leap from youth theatre in Moss Side to being one of the most wanted actresses in the UK.
Q: You're currently performing in the debut UK production of Habitat by Canadian Playwright Judith Thompson at the Royal Exchange Theatre. To sum up the idea of the play in it's simplest form, it deals with the opening of a care home in quite well to do area of town and the problems that follow when the property prices fall and the crime rate soars. Would you like to tell us where your character Raine fits into the play itself?
A: Raine basically is 16 years old and her mum's dying of cancer. Her dad has actually left and is living with a younger woman called Patrice. The play is basically about her experiences - she goes to live with her dad for a while after her mum dies and ends up going to a home in Mapleview Lane where she meets Lewis Chance and Sparkle.
She's a middle class child who's had her upbringing with ballet lessons and all the rest and she goes to this home where she meets Sparkle who's had quite a bad experience growing up. Because she didn't get put into care - her mum died and she didn't feel comfortable living with her dad - so she was there because there was no where else to go. It's about her journey and her experiences.
Q: How much preparation did you have to put into a character like Raine?
A: You draw on your emotions a lot of the time...your own memories and your own experiences. You just draw on what you've got and there's self harm in it where she cuts herself with a razor so I got information on that of the internet. I had to find out why people self harm and what they feel like before they do that - she was just angry really and anger is an emotion anyone can feel. It's just the way you express it and hers was through self harm.
Q: Whenever I've seen you before you've always played characters with quite a strong Mancunian accent. How did you find working with a Canadian accent?
A: I did a Liverpudlian accent for The Revenger's Tragedy, but the Canadian accent was probably the hardest. The voice coach Leese was excellent and we worked together to get it down in the end. We just spent a day listening to each to iron out little things out...like my r's had to be more r-ey
Q: The last time we saw you before Habitat was in Storm at the Contact Theatre. Again it was based around the care system / children's home but at the same time both very different plays. Would you like to tell our readers a little bit about them both?
A: Two children's homes, but very different children. Elaine in the Storm had been abused, yer know what I mean, so she didn't really speak till the end of the play where she had a monologue. She lived in her own world whereas Raine has a completely different background. Middle class, Canadian and she had a background where she would have done lots of things Elaine wouldn't have. So they were different roles - similar ages but different experiences.
When I first got the script through for Habitat I thought it was interesting, but it had the potential to be cheesy and a bit boring really. But when I had the audition with director Sarah I really liked what she was saying. I thought Raine was a really interesting character to play and she had a complete journey from the beginning to end.
Q: Taking it right back to the beginning. Tell us a little about from when you first started acting to your first major role?
A: The first thing I did was do my GCSE's at St Vincent's High School and there was an amazing tutor called Mark Goggins and he really supported me. I did Annie...but they wouldn't allow me to be Annie because I didn't have a big orange Afro - so I was Miss Farrell!!! He just really encouraged me and I got in contact with the Contact Youth Theatre and we toured Russia and I just really liked this acting thing.
I've just had fantastic people who encouraged me and got me into Bretton Hall University (Ed: The same University the League Of Gentlemen went to). I've lived in Moss Side all my life and the first time I moved away was to West Yorkshire - so that was a bit of a shock!!!
I've been really blessed because I've have had the opportunity to do fantastic roles. For this one it's a Canadian middle class girl and when I did Revenger's Tragedy it was a 16th Century play which I'd probably never ever be seen for unless it was for a slave and then she'd have like two lines. But I got the opportunity to play the lead in that. In terms of being from Moss Side - it's not that bad!!!
Q: The first time the general British public would have seen you would have been in Queer As Folk. When you first took on the role of Donna did you think the program would be as successful as it was?
A: No, I didn't know how big it was going to be actually. I just really liked the character and I thought Russell was fantastic. She was funny and I thought that would be interesting.
Just after it went on air I was in Moss Side and I was getting people shouting Ghetto Superstar across the road, which was nice. The whole community was really supportive and told me carry on what I was doing and when I walked down the street they were singing to me.
Q: After QAF you went on to do everything from Casualty through to the Vice and various programs like Bob & Rose and Love In the 21st Century for Red Productions. But tell us about you're first major role Speak Like A Child and then your latest film The Revenger's Tragedy?
A: It was Speak Like A Child with the Director John Humphries for the BFI. That was the first professional job playing the character of Dot, it was fantastic. The film i've done most recently is The Revenger's Tragedy and a little short called Job Done by a new director Jamie Roberts.
Revenger's was the best experience I've had acting and the cast were fantastic. Chris Ecclestone is amazing and he really pushed me. It's 16th Century verse and was a play i'd done at A Levels. It was brilliant casting because Chris Ecclestone played my brother, Margi Clarke was my mum and Andrew Scofield was my brother. They cast me as the sister and it was a mixed cast so it's about time that they have a mixed casting in a major production like that. I hope there's more of that in the future.
I feel like I've been quite blessed because I started off with films and I've had the opportunity to work with people like Christopher Ecclestone and Alex Cox. I've not done a soap or anything like that so I'd like to continue doing films and good quality theatre. I'd never say that I've got to do Hollywood because it's a good script that counts at the end of the day - people go to Hollywood and they end up doing disgusting films. I won't be doing any of that!!!
Carla Henry is in Habitat @ The Royal Exchange Manchester until November 30th
The Revenger's Tragedy is to be released in February 2003
Job Done follows later in 2003
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