Actor Juliet Stevenson in conversation with Andrea Sabbadini

Andrea Sabbadini and Juliet Stevenson

Photo: James Royall

Listen to the conversation

Listen to the Q&A session

Venue: The Institute of Psychoanalysis, W9 2EQ

Date: Friday 15 January 2010

Actor Juliet Stevenson, who has portrayed characters in conversation with therapists on screen (Truly Madly Deeply) and stage (Duet for One), talked to psychoanalyst Andrea Sabbadini. They explored the impact of playing emotionally demanding roles and discussed the differences in acting for film and theatre.

Juliet Stevenson is one of the UK’s most well-respected actors. She has performed in numerous stage productions including The Seagull, Private Lives, Death and the Maiden (for which she won the Laurence Olivier Best Actress Award) and, most recently, the highly acclaimed Duet for One. Her film credits include Truly Madly Deeply, Mona Lisa Smile and Drowning by Numbers.

Andrea Sabbadini is a psychoanalyst in private practice in London, where he also chairs the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival and a regular series of screenings and discussions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He is the film section editor of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and the editor of two volumes on European cinema, The Couch and the Silver Screen and Projected Shadows.


 

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Our sense of self is often entirely mutable; life constantly lunges and surges in a way that makes us question who we are. In this conversation Andrea Sabbadini, who is heavily involved with the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival, delved into the increased danger of this malleability within the acting profession. Juliet Stevenson, whose enviable career has included psychologically demanding roles in plays such as Duet for One and Antigone, responded with a sensitive insight into her craft, self-assurance and -awareness.

Sparking the discussion with the provocative statement, 'Actors must be a little mad', Sabbadini and Stevenson discussed the fine points of emotional and cognitive splitting. This was remarkable in the degree of nuance and accuracy both strove for. Whilst Sabbadini assumed both splits to be necessary to an actress, Stevenson explained the necessity of channelling her own emotions in order to effectively convey the emotions of another. Stevenson finds herself to be most successful as a 'conduit' when the balance between fiction and reality is swayed towards the former.

Sabbadini recalled Stevenson's performance in Duet for One and her incredible power of transformation. Stevenson\'s delight in this seemed to be in part a vicarious joy; a venting of the possible selves that normal life does not permit. Although becoming less herself - that is, less the self she usually appears - she tellingly revealed that 'When I go on stage, I can become more myself, even thought I am transforming'.

On a more practical level, Stevenson also told of the affects of different mediums and approaches to acting on her craft. Theatre seems ultimately to be the more satisfying media to an actress like Stevenson, who takes every performance as new and exploratory space; film is 'the director's medium'. Faith in a piece of work is also paramount, and Stevenson prides dramatic integrity over celebrity endorsed plays, and even success.

This was a gripping discussion between two professionals both utterly engaged with and dedicated to their fields. Stevenson proved both incredibly articulate and modest, saying 'Finally it's the same thing...you know, dressing up and pretending to be somebody else'.