Mum star Lesley Manville reveals her West End dressing room secrets

The Olivier Awards nominee on the creature comforts that got her through a 10-week stint starring in theatre production Long Day's Journey into Night

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As London dressing rooms go, this one – at Wyndham’s Theatre – is really good. It’s decorated in a classic, old-fashioned style, and it’s got some wonderful pieces of furniture that I moved around a bit – Jeremy Irons, my co-star in Long Day’s Journey into Night [Lesley Manville is nominated for an Olivier Award for best actress], is quite jealous.

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Lesley Manville photographed exclusively for Radio Times by Mark Harrison
Lesley Manville photographed exclusively for Radio Times by Mark Harrison

It’s also got a modern shower that they put in a few years ago. I use it when I’m off stage between acts – I get quite hot because of a little fat suit I wear in the show.

I don’t do anything to prepare before I walk out on stage and I don’t get nervous, but putting on my make-up, wig and costume is part of the process. I’m very good at getting in and out of character quickly: when the lights go down, I’m in it, I’m Mary Tyrone. There’s an excitement when you look out and all the layers of the theatre are full – thank God, we’ve played to really big houses. A performance is never the same as the one you did before – there’s real spontaneity each time.

I think this will go down as the most challenging ten weeks of my career. There’s been press for Phantom Thread, press for this play, press for Mum, awards season with the Baftas and the Oscars (lucky me, I know – but it wasn’t easy!) and I’ve been on stage in the evening, and up at 5am and filming a new series of Harlots at the same time.

I don’t have a day off either, because of the Sunday matinée! It’s been intense – there’s a lot of make-up removal in cars. I think a lot of 20-year-olds would balk at my schedule. I don’t feel tired, but I’ve been saved by naps here on my sofa in the corner! It’s really important to me to make a dressing room homey.

My cushions always come with me from home. They’re pale and creamy and old, and give the room a shabby chic look, which I like. I bring in a nice throw for the sofa, a blanket so I can have a snooze and all my press night cards that you traditionally put up around the mirror.

My fellow Olivier nominee Imelda Staunton gave me this lovely mug when we finished filming Maleficent – we were both playing pixies. It’s become my dressing room mug.

I bring my own kettle in, and my Yorkshire Gold tea bags, which I’m passionate about and which I take everywhere – they’re in my trailer on set as well. I like nice healthy snacks, like oatcakes and peanut butter, for an instant bit of energy and to keep me going.

I’ve always got champagne in the fridge. If you’ve got friends watching, people can come back and have a quick drink – then I’m in the car home!

I’ve been wearing quite a chunky knee brace under my costume – you can’t see it under the big skirts, but it’s been an absolute godsend! When you’re performing on a slightly tilted stage – especially when you’re wearing heels – it throws your whole balance off-kilter.

About 12 years ago I had to have a cartilage operation after I spent five months doing His Dark Materials at the National Theatre. It’s a common problem, and I was really worried at first, but the knee brace has saved the day.

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Lesley Manville was talking to Sarah Carson