When Ophelia Lovibond is drowned out by a male cacophony on set, she sits down, rather pointedly, with a book. “Until they’ve noticed,” she says, tartly. “And you think, ‘That’s quite bad — it took you two pages. And I was supposed to be a part of that conversation.’”
These days, she leads it: the 32-year- old actor has been a high-profile activist for female representation in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. She marches — last month in the streets of London against violence against women — and she adds her name to polemical open letters (in February, alongside 100 other actresses, acknowledging their industry’s role in the cultural representation of women).
When we meet at The Bridge Theatre to discuss her role in Nightfall, which opens at the theatre in May, she wears an ERA 50:50 pin on her blazer — signposting her alignment with Equal Representation for Actresses. It has been working “for years, pointing out the inequality and the ramifications that has on wider employment”, and Lovibond reaches fluently for statistics. “Women make up 17 per cent of crowd scenes but we make up 51 per cent of the population. There is no reason for that,” she says. And adds: “Women make up 68 per cent of theatregoers — if you put us on stage you are going to be richer.
“It’s not just a matter of opinion,” she adds. “It’s a fact. And I don’t really know how to debate this with people who aren’t willing to accept that these are facts, not a narrative I’m choosing to select and believe. But the current climate is that people are listening and asking questions. It wouldn’t have happened three or four years ago. I think it will only get better.”
Notably, Lovibond nods to directors including former National boss Nicholas Hytner, co-founder of The Bridge, who are taking diversity seriously. Nightfall, a new play by wunkerkind Barney Norris, is about a mother, son and daughter reeling and reconfiguring after the death of the father. “Barney builds this tension and it all ramps up without you even noticing it,” she observes. “It’s about the things they’ve kept secret from one another and the ramifications of not being honest.” Lovibond plays daughter Lou, who is “struggling to function”. Rehearsals are intense. “But it’s satisfying because you think, ‘I’ve really got into the meat and gristle of it’.”
It’s a shade darker than her most famous role as Izzy Gould in the BBC satire W1A. “Such an excellent way to earn a buck,” she smiles. Offices across the land still sustain their humdrum day-to-day by shouting lines at each other, I suggest. “My dad does it. He says, ‘Yes, exactly, yes’. I’m like, ‘Stop it! Don’t!’” I mention a colleague who is regularly (and fondly) compared to Will the intern. “I feel like there should be a Will Humphries support group. They can meet monthly and just discuss the trials of being him.” As well as W1A, there has one season in the Sky 1 treasure-hunting caper Hooten & the Lady — she was the lady, Lady Alexandra Lindo-Parker — and in 2016 Lovibond played Elizabeth Barry in The Libertine at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Lovibond grew up on an estate in Shepherd’s Bush with her single mother, brother and sister. Lest her name mislead, she points out that she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and her route to success was the result of straightforward passion and hard work. She was precocious, joining the Youngblood Theatre Company in Hammersmith at 10. “I immediately knew this was what I was going to do. I just loved it. If I met a 10-year-old now and they said that, I’d be like, ‘OK yeah, it’s a phase’. But I was adamant.” She worked throughout her teens: her first TV appearance was on Channel 4 drama The Wilsons when she was 12 (she lied about her age to get the role, pretending to be two years older).
After school, she studied English at Sussex University. Did she immerse herself in the student drama scene? She smiles guiltily. “I did some but it was just really cliquey.” She pauses. “I just thought it didn’t have the right spirit.” She loved university though — “just reading books all day long” — and graduated with a first-class degree, before returning to life as a full-time working actor.
Drama school never appealed, she says. “I didn’t really like the idea of sitting around studying it. Acting was always something I knew I was going to do for ever, so I was like, ‘I don’t want to go straight into work. I know I’m going to do this until my last breath, so I’d like to go and study English’. But I like that I did it a different way — it can be a difficult industry to get into, but I’m proof that it is doable.”
After Nightfall there’s no plan, except a trip to Mexico. “I’ll just buy a ticket and then figure it out when I get there. I like doing that.”
The break is well timed. “I’m curious to see how the conversations that are going on now engender new, more representative writing, so I’m waiting to see what comes in. I think at the end of this year you will start to see evidence of people’s gaze shifting. I hope.”
Source: Evening Standard