Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Is Keira Knightley feeling first-night nerves?

By Tim Masters
Entertainment and arts correspondent, BBC News

Keira Knightley
Knightley's opening night is on 17 December

"I wanted to vomit, which I was told was a very natural feeling."

So said Keira Knightley about first-night nerves last week ahead of her professional stage debut in a revival of Moliere's The Misanthrope.

In an interview in The Times, the star of Atonement and Pirates of the Caribbean admitted she "freaked out" when she was set an acting exercise by the play's director Thea Sharrock.

Knightley is the latest in a long line of Hollywood actors to swap movie glamour for the West End theatre - among them Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe.

Martin Crimp's version of The Misanthrope transports the action from 17th Century Paris to modern-day London, where Knightley plays an American movie star.

As previews began this weekend, we asked some well-known actors to share their wisdom on how easy - or terrifying - it can be to make the transition from screen to stage.

SADIE FROST

Sadie Frost
Sadie Frost's show Touched was a comedy about Madonna fandom

Sadie Frost, whose movies include The Krays and Bram Stoker's Dracula, made her West End debut this year in one-woman play Touched.

She has been nominated for a best solo performance at the Whatsostage.com awards, and appears next year in Fool for Love and Richard III at London's Riverside Studios.

I can't wait to see the play, I'm going to go on the opening night - and very excited about it. From what I know of Keira she is incredibly professional and she has approached her role - from what I can gather - with huge amounts of preparation.

If you do come from a background of film and TV, and you are going onto the stage, you've got to work with the best people.

I've worked with the best voice coaches, the best movement people and I'm sure that's what she's done - she's a professional girl she'll just throw herself into it and she's incredibly intelligent. I'm sure she's just enjoying it and getting on with it, and not focusing on what people think.

Film is very dissected and there's a lot of waiting around. I'm very impatient and that I found very frustrating. The rehearsal process for doing a play is so intense. You are really stripping back layers and putting layers on, and stripping back layers...

The small bit of theatre I've done I like much more than doing film because you can be much more physical - and you don't have to think about what you look like.

JAMES EARL JONES

James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones made his film debut in 1964's Dr Strangelove

James Earl Jones is best known as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films. He has appeared in dozens of films including The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games.

He is currently playing the role of Big Daddy in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at London's Novello Theatre.

On screen I'm a novice - I'm just learning that craft. I find it wonderful to work with actors like Adrian Lester who is both screen actor and stage actor, and the way he is able to transfer his energies so that it reaches the audience - and then on film he can contain it so it reaches deeper into the audience. It's a wonderful thing to watch and it's something I'm trying to learn.

JEREMY IRONS

Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons won a best actor Oscar for Reversal of Fortune in 1990

Jeremy Irons has had a long career on stage and screen. His theatrical work includes the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and Broadway.

His film and TV work includes Brideshead Revisited, The Mission, Reversal of Fortune and The Lion King.

What she's got to be able to do is to emit what she's feeling - which she's used to doing to a camera which is about two feet away from her - to an audience of however many thousand so that they know what she's feeling and thinking in the same way that the camera does.

She's also got to make sure that her voice is supported - you have to be heard by more people. But she's a good actress and so that's the important thing - you can learn all the other things if you have a clear and honest way of playing.

But it'll be a learning curve for her, and I can't wait to see it. I think it's very brave of her. When you're out of your metier you get a bit nervous - that's understandable - but if she's any good, I'm sure within a week she'll find her feet.

I think it's a very good thing - this cross-fertilisation. In theatre we need stars to get the audiences in, and people will go and see her - a very beautiful and talented lady.

JASON DONOVAN

Jason Donovan
Jason Donovan is nominated for best actor in a musical at the Whatsonstage.com awards

Jason Donovan shot to fame in the Australian soap Neighbours in the 1980s and went on to have a successful pop career.

His London theatre performances include Joseph, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and his is currently appearing in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Like all actors know, the stage is where you hone your craft.

TV and film are a very important part of theatre because it actually brings people into the theatre. You need publicity, you need a love affair with a character or a person for the audience to be able to want to come to the theatre in the first place.

I think it's also very important that we try and educate youth that theatre is an important part of our world.

LENNY HENRY

Lenny Henry
Lenny Henry won the newcomer prize at the Evening Standard awards

Lenny Henry is best known for his many BBC comedy shows and his charity work for Comic Relief. He launched his TV career on New Faces and made his name on anarchic children's show Tiswas and sketch show Three of a Kind.

After many years of touring, Henry returned to the stage taking the title role in the Northern Broadsides/West Yorkshire Playhouse touring production of Othello.

You have to take a lot of things on the chin when you are doing a West End show. It's very noisy. When Algeria got into the World Cup all you could hear during the most tragic part of Othello was beep! beep! beep! "Algeria! We beat Egypt! I can't believe it!" Beep! beep! beep! - but it was funny, and good for them.

I think rehearsals for me were the scariest part. If Keira's done any theatre at all she'll be able to handle it.

Having been a comic and never really done the rehearsal process it was a big surprise to me and I had insomnia. I had high blood pressure for the first time. Hopefully she'll handle it a bit better than I did.

You know when a cat gets stuck up on the roof by its claws? That was me in the week leading up to the opening night. Thankfully Dawn [French] made me drink camomile tea and get down off the roof and do the performance.

Get down off the roof, Keira, and do the performance! It's going to be fine.

The Misanthrope, which also stars Damian Lewis and Tara FitzGerald, is at the Comedy Theatre until 13 March.



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