Sky Atlantic's epic drama about the Romans invading ancient Britain, starring ZoŽ as vengeful Queen Antedia, returned for a second series on 7 November. Both series are available via Sky and NOW TV.

Worzel Gummidge

ZoŽ plays eccentric aristocrat Lady Bloomsbury Barton in the second episode of the BBCís new adaptation of Barbara Euphan Toddís classic childrenís stories, which aired just after Christmas. It's available via the BBC iPlayer.

Shadow and Bone

ZoŽ recently finished filming this major new fantasy series for Netflix, based on Leigh Bardugoís novels. She's been cast as Baghra, a ruthless teacher. The release date hasn't yet been announced.


ZoŽ in conversation at JW3: 'You have to keep going forward all the time'

8 December 2013 19:35

Londonís new Jewish community centre, JW3, hosted a lively discussion on Thursday evening, when ZoŽ was interviewed by her friend, the TV and radio presenter Jeni Barnett.  Around two hundred people came to this ĎOut of the Boxí event, in order to hear ZoŽ talk about her life, career and what being Jewish means to her.

As Jeni explained at the beginning of the discussion, she and ZoŽ were born only weeks apart in 1949, and have both worked extensively in the arts and media.  They have particularly fond memories of acting together in Omnibus documentary 'The Story of Pantomime' (1976), during which they learned the secrets of comic timing, alongside Bob Hoskins, Duncan Faber and others. 

Jeniís first question for ZoŽ, who has worked as an actress for more than forty years, was characteristically forthright: what are ZoŽís regrets?

ZoŽ made clear that she believes it is important not to harbour regrets, because they will only hold you back in life.  'You have to keep going forward all the time', and 'you have to accept who you are,' she emphasised.  If ZoŽ regrets anything, it is the fact 'that I didn't accept who I was earlier'.  In addition, ZoŽ commented that she has learned the hard way that Ďirony does not work in printí, and so is now particularly mindful of this during interviews.

Jeni pointed out that ZoŽ, as the daughter of the famous actor and director Sam Wanamaker, was 'born into a name and profession'.  Her background, however, has not shielded her from the unpleasant aspects of the acting industry.  ZoŽ emphasised that, at times, the life of an actor is filled with 'crippling' rejection; sometimes the industry is 'not a kind world' to inhabit.

Because ZoŽ's parents knew how brutal the acting profession could be, they encouraged their daughter to 'try other things first'.  As ZoŽ explained, this included directing her creative energies towards an alternative pursuit, by studying at Hornsey College of Art.  Perhaps the most valuable lesson she learned there was how 'to draw with one line rather than a hundred'. 

Although ZoŽ enjoyed studying at Hornsey, she realised that acting was her real passion - training to be an actor felt like her 'vocation'.  So that she would have another skill to fall back on, during periods when acting work was not forthcoming, Zoe enrolled on a speed typing course.  Although its slogan suggested that anyone who completed the course could 'get a good job in three months', ZoŽ had a very different experience, perhaps partly as a result of her dyslexia.  After six months of study, she was still learning to speed-type and not enjoying the process.

The course was followed by a spell as Ďa Girl Friday in a casting directorís officeí, where ZoŽ became familiar with the harsh realities of the acting industry.  This experience, she noted, Ďnearly put me offí becoming an actor altogether.

Fortunately, ZoŽ remained determined to act, and earned a place at the Central School of Speech & Drama towards the end of the Sixties.  When she left drama school, her father recommended that she hone her craft in repertory theatre.  In ZoŽ's words, repertory is where people 'get their grounding as actors', because they 'learn by doing' a wide range of plays in a wide range of venues.  For example, ZoŽ remembers performing The Cherry Orchard in Edinburgh 'with some fantastic actors', such as Antonia Pemberton and Penelope Wilton, as part of a 1971 production directed by Richard Eyre.

As ZoŽ embarked on her professional acting career, Sam Wanamakerís work to reconstruct the Globe Theatre in London was well underway.  ZoŽ remarked that her father, on his first visit to the city in the 1940s, 'could not understand why there was nothing there' to celebrate the place in which Shakespeare's plays were originally performed.  As a result, Sam had resolved to rebuild the Globe, which now stands on the South Bank and has very recently been joined by an indoor theatre, named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

ZoŽ commented that she has never been as outgoing as her father.  'It just wasn't in me to do that,' she said.  ZoŽ remembers being approached, years ago, in an Edinburgh pub by an aggressive man who wanted to direct his anger at Sam Wanamaker, and she 'couldnít take that on'.

While ZoŽ may not be an extrovert, 'there is something very centred' about her, Jeni observed.  This is reflected in ZoŽ's world view; like her parents, ZoŽ believes in Ďa multi-cultural, multi-faithí society.

ZoŽ finds that being in the public eye can be challenging, because she is not particularly confident.  For example, she noted that she 'didnít feel articulate enough' to become a personality in the media.  'Will you now accept that you are a brilliant actor?' Jeni enquired, to cheers from the audience.  'I probably don't believe it,' ZoŽ replied.  'As women, I think it's very hard to have that self-belief,' she added.  For example, ZoŽ commented that when she saw a clip of herself in The Cherry Orchard (2011), during the National Theatreís 50th anniversary celebrations, she immediately focused on aspects of her performance that she didn't particularly like. 

When pressed, ZoŽ remarked that 'I do believe I have something', and emphasised that she greatly enjoys acting.  When playing a character, she strives for what she describes as the 'hovercraft moment', at which point 'you are it and it is you'.  When asked by Jeni if she views acting as 'a service' to other people, ZoŽ agreed that she does, to some extent.  'Youíre passing on storytelling and great writing' to audiences, ZoŽ explained, as if you are 'a cog' in a great theatrical machine.  'I love going to the theatre', because 'you just become so involved' in the action.  She cites the National Theatreís recent production of Othello, starring Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear, as a particularly captivating show. 

In 1959, at Stratford, ZoŽ's father played Iago alongside Paul Robeson's Othello, in another acclaimed production of Shakespeare's tragedy.  'It was a big year for me', ZoŽ recalled, because it marked a 'turning point in my life'.  From that point onwards, ZoŽ was determined to become an actress.

Another turning point came several years ago, when ZoŽ explored her family history for the documentary series Who Do You Think You Are.  Jeni wondered if the process of making the programme had changed ZoŽ.  After thinking carefully, ZoŽ agreed that the 'very visceral' experience of exploring her cultural and religious background 'did change me'.  In particular, realising how many Jewish people had fled from the pogroms and made the extremely difficult journey to the US, in order to make new lives for themselves, had a 'powerful' effect on her.  ZoŽ praised the strong sense of self-improvement and integrity that is evident in many people in the US.

Audience members posed questions about a diverse range of topics.  When asked what part she would most like to play, ZoŽ explained that she 'would love to have played Juliet'.  Who is her favourite leading man?  'All of them; they've all been lovely.'  Adam Faith, for example, ZoŽ's co-star in the enormously successful drama Love Hurts (1992-4), 'was a charmer' and 'great' to work alongside.  Similarly, ZoŽ cannot choose just one favourite actress, because she admires so many, including Maggie Smith, who she describes as a 'consummate' performer, as well as Judi Dench, Lesley Manville, Harriet Walter and others.

A particularly memorable question came from the audience member who asked ZoŽ which of her TV or film characters she would most like to play on stage.  ZoŽ chose Sophie from Baal (1982), a disturbing drama with a 'really good director', Alan Clarke.  David Bowie played the title role in that TV production, and ZoŽ remarked that 'we got on very well'.

ZoŽ's backstage rituals include completing physical and vocal warm-ups.  'I usually get to the theatre at least two hours before a performance', in order to have plenty of time to prepare for it.  Similarly, when filming, ZoŽ likes to exercise, perhaps with a yoga routine, before going into make-up.  Jeni encouraged ZoŽ to share some of her vocal warm-up techniques with the audience, but ZoŽ explained that it is a 'private' process.

When Zoe is relaxing, she enjoys Belvedere Vodka Martinis.  She commented that she was introduced to them by her husband, Gawn Grainger, and they are a great way to unwind in the evenings.

The mood of the discussion at JW3 can perhaps best be summed up by the audience member who commented, as the event was drawing to a close, that ZoŽ's work has 'given a lot of people a lot of pleasure'.

I'm sure, like me, you can't wait to see what ZoŽ does next!

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