MONICA DOLAN may be giving another typically great performance, but the actress still sounds genuinely taken aback by her win at this year’s Oliviers. She scooped the Best Supporting Actress award for All About Eve and says she was ‘really, really surprised. I’d seen all the other performances in my category and thought they were all incredibly good.’
No one who saw her could have been shocked, though, as the smart, considered, narrator Karen in Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of the classic showbiz melodrama, Monica arguably upstaged super-starry leads Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Stealing scenes from Hollywood names is something Monica is in the habit of doing. Think of her recent Bafta-nominated turn as the formidable wife of Hugh Grant’s disgraced MP in the BBC’s A Very English Scandal, and her exceptionally creepy, Bafta-winning performance as serial killer Rose West, opposite Dominic West in ITV drama Appropriate Adult.
Her involvement in a production is also usually an indication it will be meaty and provocative fare, as is the case with her latest theatre project, Appropriate, at the Donmar Warehouse. The play, by hotshot young US playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, tells the story of three siblings returning to their childhood home in Arkansas after the death of their father — only to be met with nasty revelations. It comes with an explosive twist — and much to say about race and racism. Subversively, given both the subject matter and the fact that Jacobs-Jenkins is African-American, it features an all-white cast.
‘I’ve had conversations with friends about that. And their immediate question is, “Is that intentional?”’ says Monica. ‘And yes, you know, that’s part of it. But, without giving too much away, the presence of people of colour is very much felt.’ Challenging as the material may be, you would imagine it’s nothing compared to the intensity of playing a national hate figure like West.
However, Monica says her pragmatic attitude to acting helped her cope with the darkness of the role. ‘It sounds so obvious, but the number one rule always is that the character’s not you. It’s healthy to have a level of detachment.
‘One of the things that I learned from working with Mike Leigh is to always call the character ‘‘she’’. That means you can talk about them, and stay objective about them, and it is much easier.’
On the other end of the spectrum, Monica showed off her funny side as Tracey Pritchard in the BBC’s self-mocking sitcom W1A; it’s the role she’s probably most recognised for by the public. It was also notable for her Welsh accent — which she dedicatedly assumed even when the cameras weren’t rolling. ‘I was just speaking in my normal voice, and [one] of the make-up artists said: “I don’t like this. Can you carry on speaking Welsh, because it feels like you’re haunted,” she laughs.
Recently, Monica branched out into writing. Her 2017 debut play The B*easts, which dealt with society’s sexualisation of children, earned her another Oliver nomination. She has other plays in the bottom drawer, she says. As for the future, she’s especially excited about her upcoming role in coming-of-age film Days Of The Bagnold Summer, directed by Simon Bird of The Inbetweeners fame, which sees her star as the single mother to a teenage heavy-metal fan. It was a project on which Monica particularly relished the opportunity to take the lead. ‘I think, in a lot of ways, doing a supporting role can be a more difficult job. If you’re going in filming for a couple of days, you’re entering a world and you’re trying to fit into that quickly. Whereas if you’re playing a leading role, it’s a slog, but you’re sort of creating the world every day as well.’
Superb supporting actor though she is, let’s hope there are more chances for her to take the limelight where that came from.
■ Appropriate opens tonight at Donmar Warehouse, London and runs until October 5, donmarwarehouse.com