A Q&A with Britt Ekland

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by Matthew Amer

Star of stage and screen Britt Ekland tells us about her latest challenge, appearing in spine‐tingling tale The Cat and the Canary

You’re starring in thriller The Cat and the Canary. What’s the play about?
It’s a story about a big, deserted mansion on the Bodmin Moor. The owner died 20 years earlier and he has instructed his solicitors to assemble all the possible heirs to go through the will. There’s an assortment of people from all over the world that come into this spooky house, and loads of surprises ensue from the start. It is an interesting story with many twists and turns. It’s very much in the tradition of Agatha Christie and the type of thriller British audiences love. I think our audiences will get a big surprise and that’s all I’m going to say.

What made you want to be part of this production?
First, I’m always up for a challenge. I always have been. I have done almost everything you can think of in my career. This is definitely not a role I’m used to; this play is not a farce, for a start! It’s something a bit more challenging for me.

britt ekland interview cat and the canary

Britt Ekland as Mrs Pleasant in The Cat And The Canary
image: Paul Coltas

So, who are you playing?
I play the housekeeper. She has been in this house alone for 20 years before this midnight meeting with all the assembled heirs and the solicitor. She’s probably had quite a solitary life and had to find ways of surviving that solitude, the cold and the war. She hasn’t had any physical company, but she feels she has had spiritual company. She’s very stern. Her job is to guard this house until the heir takes it over and that’s what she’s done for 20 years.

“I don’t have the background that most actors my age have”

What makes this such a challenge for you?
I haven’t been on stage since my last panto in 2013. And I was never a rep actor – I was a movie star. I finished school when I was 17 and went to drama school for two years, then toured with a variety show and did a film in Rome. The next thing I know, I have a contract with Twentieth Century Fox and I’m sent to London. That’s where I meet Peter Sellers and marry him. Although I wanted to be on stage, being a movie star didn’t hold the prestige of being a good stage actor – not in Sweden where I came from. I don’t have the background that most actors my age have, which is my main challenge on this tour.

How do you feel about performing in York?
I can’t wait to play York. York Grand Opera House is the prettiest theatre. It’s like a little jewel box.

You’ve been working for more than 60 years. How do you keep yourself fit enough to tour?
I’m very fortunate that I’ve always worked out. In March 2018, I did Strictly Come Dancing in Sweden as the oldest participant ever. But I don’t take anything for granted. You have to be alert and stay on top of everything. A lot of this is your own mental attitude to life as well, not just what you eat and how you move. You have to have a very mobile mental attitude.

That sounds like a fantastic philosophy.
As you get older and what you look like matters less, you’ve got to challenge yourself to stay relevant and continue working. I could just sit down with a cup of tea and biscuits and watch television… but I don’t do that!

‘The Cat and the Canary’ is at York Grand Opera House, Mon 30 Mar – Sat 4 Apr, 2020

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