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'At 57, I'm an actress of a certain age... being a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman isn't awfully popular at the moment'

She's played 007's Miss Moneypenny and lorded it over us all in Downton Abbey but now, ahead of starring in The Glass Menagerie, Samantha Bond talks to Barry Egan about growing older and while she loves sharing a stage with Belfast actor Marty Rea


Class act: Samantha Bond

Class act: Samantha Bond

Marty Rea

Marty Rea

With Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey

With Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey

Class act: Samantha Bond

As punishment for mentioning "the Scottish play" (for the non-luvvies among you, that's Macbeth), Samantha Bond has ordered me to go outside the door in the green room and spin around three times saying sorry before knocking on the door and asking to come back in again.

The famous actress - who is playing the leading role of Amanda in a new contemporary take on Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie has one of those cut-glass English accents (she used it to great effect playing the widow, and sister, of the Earl of Grantham, Lady Rosamund in Downton Abbey on ITV, and HRH in The Queen And I on Sky One) that when she dismisses you from the room, you go.

Mercifully, she lets me back in.

Whereupon, she opens a bottle of Le Petit Balthazar sauvignon blanc and pours both of us a rather large glass. For the next 60 minutes, Samantha is so engagingly entertaining and witty that I carried her suitcase down to the waiting taxi, put it into the boot of the car, while she puffed away on a cigarette standing outside on the steps of the Gate theatre in Dublin where the play has its premiere on May 1.

They don't make them any more like Samantha Bond...

She told me earlier that Pierce Brosnan (playing 007 in four James Bond movies opposite her as Moneypenny) was "a better kisser than Sean Bean", who she starred opposite on stage in the Scottish play on tour in 2002 and 2003.

"I'll tell you who I'm loving, and obviously who I didn't know until a couple of weeks ago, is Marty Rea," she says of the acclaimed west Belfast actor who plays Amanda's son Sam in The Glass Menagerie. Then she does a very Samantha segue...

"It is a very strange thing with actors," she muses. "There are some actors, whom one has worked with, who you've never quite trusted. You are never quite sure what they will bring to the table. Marty was also opening Beginners (at the Gate). So we only had him for three hours a day. I can remember towards the end of the first week, the pair of us having a proper hug because we both felt safe with one another. I hope he would say the same. Trust with the people you are working with is an immense part of it."

That they won't eat the furniture onstage?

"Well, we don't like actors who eat the furniture!" she laughs. "Actually, it's to do with honesty. Yes, they are actors who will do one thing in a rehearsal room and another thing when they have got an audience."

She won't name the ones she's worked with, who possess this characteristic. "They are what I call 'An Audience Whore'. Which is someone who can't resist a laugh, for example.

"If you are getting a truthful laugh, all well and good, if it becomes what I call a cheap laugh, then it is bad and it damages the piece."

It must be awful if you are on stage, I say, and you are wondering will that actor do it again the next night?

"It is awful. And they will do it again because it is in their DNA."

How do you deal with it?

"Oh, I've done all sorts of things! I start by trying to get the director to deal with it. But that doesn't always work."

And would the offender say to Samantha, 'I'm the star, dahling, deal with it!'?

"There are ones who say that, yes. Interestingly, I have a run of them! I did a play not so long ago and occasionally it would happen," Samantha continues. "And I thought, 'Okay, you are going to talk about it. You are not going to pretend it didn't happen'. So, I used to go in and say: 'Hello. Do you know what happened the other day? You did that!' And they'd say, 'Oh, did I?'

Samantha says that she is now trying to, rather than get crosser and crosser quietly, to tell them how much they are annoying her.

Is that how Samantha dealt with people in her life? She would have dealt with it quietly and internally. Then she decided in her life to stand up for herself?

"What a very good question. Maybe that's part of the growing older thing. You get to a certain age where you go, 'Actually, I am not going to let that just go. I am going to comment on it. I am going to very graciously argue that point'."

Samantha sat by her mother Pat Sandy's side when she died from bowel cancer, 19 years ago on May 19. TV producer Pat was, she says, "still working on The Bill right up until two weeks before she died".

Samantha's father Philip Bond - an actor perhaps best known for playing Philip Albert Frazer in BBC's legendary nautical drama The Onedin Line - passed away on January 17, 2017. He was 82. Samantha was by his side, too. She gets very emotional while recalling losing her father.

She says there is a club that you enter when you become a parent and lose both your parents. She says you live with the loss. But you never entirely lose the grief of it. "I think this is the first proper interview I've given since he died," she says, "So it could start."

And if it starts?

"Then I have tissues in my handbag and you will pour more wine!"

Samantha says she is an actress "of a certain age" at 57.

Has she felt herself becoming less visible as she has gotten older?

"Yes. But I have been very, very lucky. It is all sorts of things. But being a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman isn't awfully popular at the moment. That's why when you get asked to read a script like The Glass Menagerie and you literally go: 'Dear God almighty, someone has written about me. They have written about my age'."

Samantha says that she had an argument recently with "a very dear friend of mine who is a middle-aged female producer", asking her: 'Why are you not telling our stories? What middle-aged women deal with? Stories about real people. It is never there. You just see another policeman," she says, meaning yet another crime drama on the telly.

Born on November 27, 1961, Samantha is married to the actor Alexander Hanson; they have two children, Molly and Tom, who are both actors. She grew up in London with two siblings (Abigail, who is an actress turned drama teacher, and Tom who is a film critic) in a house divided along political lines. Her father was a staunch left winger, who campaigned for the Labour Party, while her mother voted for Margaret Thatcher. "It got tricky on election nights!" laughs Samantha, whose politics lean more in the direction of her father's.

Samantha did inherit, however, her sense of feminism from her mother. "She was a female producer in a very, very male world. We are going back to the 1970s, where it was predominantly male. Mum just did it. She didn't do the thing of being one of the blokes. She went in with her female skills, with her compassion, with her wisdom. She was an incredibly wise woman. I don't think she would say she was a feminist, but actually she was a huge example to me growing up."

Before Samantha got married in 1989, her mother told her about the importance of the three Cs in marriage - the aforesaid compassion, compromise and care.

"The care part is huge. Obviously, you care about someone, but it is to do with taking care. So you are taking care of your marriage. You are taking care of your other half. And compromise."

What did Samantha compromise on in her marriage?

"It's only little things. For example, we moved house three years ago and had a new kitchen put in. My husband wanted a warming drawer. 'Why do you need a warming drawer? We've got two ovens.' Then, someone said to me: 'Pick your battles'. So, I said, 'Okay, you can have your warming drawer, but I'm having a gas hob'. Compromise. Instead of locking horns. We do celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this year, so..."

Samantha earlier described her father as "charming, mischievous, probably an appalling person to be married to". (This is possibly evidenced by a story he told in 2012 apropos of playing Ganatus who meets the Daleks in Dr Who in 1963 for the first time: according to an interview Philip gave, he "enjoyed many a pint with William Hartnell, the first Dr Who, during lock-ins at The Black Prince, on Black Prince Road in London, after recordings.") Some women are attracted to men who remind him at some deep non-physical level of their fathers...

"No," she smiles. "I did not marry my father."

"Dad and I were close," she adds. "But it could be very erratic. He was a working actor," Samantha says of her dad who was in movies like Count Five and Die (1957), Orders to Kill (1958), and Foxhole in Cairo (1960).

"He was away a lot."

Like your husband, I say.

"We're been very lucky. The biggest long-distance thing we had was when he went to Broadway to do A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2009. He was there for a year. I am frightened of airplanes. He rehearsed for six weeks and I didn't go over and in the ensuing 10 months I travelled to New York 10 times. That's 20 transatlantic flights!" she laughs, adding that her husband is coming over next weekend, and "then he'll be over for press night. You just look after each other."

What drew Samantha towards acting was, she says, "a bit like a doctor's child becoming a doctor. It was what we knew".

"The house was full of actors. Patrick Magee would cross his legs and I would climb through them," she says. "I didn't meet a solicitor at the dinner table. It was all actors."

Having said that, Samantha's first love was the ballet. She danced in London four days a week after school.

"I was a very late developer. When I was 14, I was like a stick insect but by the time I was 15, I was doing puppy fat in a major way. So the ballet disappeared. But I had the most wonderful teacher at school. She directed the school plays. I walked in on the first day of sixth form and she handed me the script of Electra by Sophocles.

"And that was that," says Samantha, who has played everyone, from Juliet opposite Kenneth Branagh for the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1986 production of Romeo and Juliet, to a certain manipulating queen in the Scottish play who I daren't mention lest Ms Bond throws me out of the green room again.

Our wine glasses are nearly empty. Has age taught Samantha anything?

"Being 57 has taught me b***** all. The bit I'm looking forward to is my freedom pass when I'm 60. Tube. Overground. Buses. It is going to be transforming!"

So will Samantha's portrayal of southern belle Amanda Wingfield.

The Glass Menagerie is at the Gate, Dublin from April 25-June 1. Visit www.gatetheatre.ie

'At 57, I'm an actress of a certain age... being a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman isn't awfully popular at the moment'

Belfast Telegraph