When Rebecca Night was five, her mum found her sitting in a washing basket, crying her eyes out. “She asked me what was wrong, and I said ‘My mum’s dead! My mum’s dead! A train has hit my mum!’ And she replied ‘No, I’m your mum, it’s fine.’ It took ages to get me to snap out of it.”

There was no way that Night was going to become anything other than an actress: the odd one out at a particularly academic school, by the age of thirteen she had already ordered prospectuses for drama schools. “Being someone else was really fun,” she says. “It was a place to escape to, not that I had much to escape from. I remember going away to Sheffield with my mum, and the whole time I was a spy—I had an earpiece. She would say I was too old for it and I’d say ‘No, I’m a spy!’”

For Rebecca, her imagination was a way to transform everything around her. “It was a confidence thing, maybe. I was always either really shy or really bold. I was obsessed with puppets. I was an only child, so I created my own world, I suppose.”

Rebecca Night interview, published in Oh Comely Issue Eleven. Photograph by Liz Seabrook.

Rebecca is enthusiastic and warm, qualities which have seeped through to her performances, making a fresh Fanny Hill in the BBC4 adaptation and a beguilingly steely Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest. Her latest role is a pregnant 23-year-old in Starlings, a heartwarming comedy drama about an extended family living in the same overcrowded house.

The first episode begins with the daunting scene of her character giving birth. “Half the country is sitting there saying, ‘I’ve done this. That’s not what it’s like.’ You want to get it right. I don’t know what it’s like, and I can’t imagine how painful it is. But I think the scene was made easier by everyone pretending together. Lesley Manville was touching my forehead with a cloth and comforting me, and there were genuine midwives in the room. Everyone was really going for it, so I couldn’t shy away. You have to take a leap of imagination.”

If anything, it sounds like the research was the more nerve-wracking part of the process. “I went to a bookshop and ventured into the New Mother section. I didn’t want any of my friends to see me—I was afraid they’d get the wrong idea. I came home with this book called Breastfeeding and Mothers, and made sure I wrote all over it in marker pen, ‘Research!’ in case that my husband saw it and thought, ‘What’s that?’”

Rebecca’s breakout role was the eighteenth-century prostitute Fanny Hill in an adaptation of the eponymous novel, appearing in every scene and carrying the weight of the drama on her shoulders. Rebecca’s portrayal was both coquettish and knowing, tender and strong. “I was so lucky because the character went on such a journey, from a northern, working girl to a society lady by the end. It’s great to have an interesting character, but there’s something about being in every day and being able to really get your teeth into something.”

The part was a striking one, and soon Rebecca found herself offered lots of period pieces. “I was in a corset for a while. I was in The Importance of Being Earnest, and then Lark Rise to Candleford, and then Wuthering Heights. But the parts were very different, and they were interesting women to play.”

These days Rebecca finds herself firmly in the present with Starlings, and a starring role in Mike Figgis’ new film Suspension of Disbelief coming up. But part of her misses the effect of the corset. “It instantly affects your movement, it affects what you can eat, and it makes you feel a certain way. Just dressing up, you can feel, ‘I’m playing now.’ And coming back at the end of the day and getting into your regular clothes, you think, ‘Oh, I’ve had a transformation today.’”


Published in Oh Comely Issue Eleven. Photograph by Liz Seabrook. To read the original article click here.

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