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Tom Brook Saturday, 29 April, 2000, 03:33 GMT 04:33 UK
Acting across the ages
Ehle plays the young bride Valerie in Sunshine
By BBC News Online entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

British actresses Rosemary Harris and Jennifer Ehle - mother and daughter in real life - are dazzling audiences in separate plays on Broadway - and appearing in the movie epic Sunshine which opens this week.

On Broadway, 30-year-old Ehle is playing the role of Annie in a revival of The Real Thing - Tom Stoppard's celebrated play about love and betrayal.


I was amazed when I saw the similarities we bear and which I wasn't aware of.

Rosemary Harris

One critic referred to Ehle as "delectable" and "a rising star", while her 69-year-old mother - who is starring opposite Lauren Bacall in a revival of Noel Coward's Waiting In The Wings - is also receiving lavish praise.

Harris says she was drawn to Sunshine, the epic story of a Hungarian-Jewish family over three generations from director Istvan Szabo, partly "because it was a chance to work with Jennifer".

Mother and daughter portray Valerie, a strong character who weathers the winds of change in Central Europe through two World Wars, the rise of Nazism and Soviet domination.

Ehle plays Valerie when she is a sister and a young wife. Harris takes over and portrays her in her later years.

Rosemary  Harris in Waiting in the Wings
Harris is on Broadway in Waiting in the Wings
Master class

Strangely, Harris says, she didn't discuss the role with her daughter, but found there was a genetic imprint in their acting.

Harris says: "I was amazed when I saw the similarities we bear and which I wasn't aware of. I think it's in the hand gestures or something."

Sunshine is currently opening around the world, and meeting with a mixed reaction. Some critics think it is overly ponderous, few say it matches director Istvan Szabo's classics like Mephisto and Colonel Redl.

But Rosemary Harris, who made her stage debut more than 50 years ago, says she found there was much she could learn from working with the Hungarian director.

"Each scene I did with him seemed like a master class," she recalls.

Ralph Fiennes drives Sunshine
Ralph Fiennes drives Sunshine n three different parts
While shooting in Budapest, the director would "slowly nudge you with little taps on the nose here and there until he got what he wanted.

"Sometimes he would get it in a first take and sometimes he would go on for ten takes."

In acting terms Sunshine is driven by Ralph Fiennes who plays three different characters: a father, his son and then a grandson in three successive generations of the same family.

Ehle, who appears opposite Fiennes, was very impressed by his approach.

"There is no element of showing off. It would be tempting at some point when you are playing three characters to say, look what I can do".

Being away from home, whether it is working on location in Hungary, or on the Broadway stage is part of the actors' life that both Ehle and Harris have grown to accept.

Ehle and Fiennes in Sunshine
Ehle and Fiennes: She says he was modest about his talents
The characters in Sunshine are constantly being torn away from home and for Ehle - who admits to feeling "rootless" - it was an aspect of the film she could identify with.

"I had quite a rootless upbringing, so that was something just very personally that probably pushed a few buttons".

Harris explains further: "Jennifer was practically born in a trunk and moved around all over wherever I got work.

"I would put her in my pocket and we would go, the three of us, her father and me, we'd just trot off and throw her into another school and hope she would survive."

Despite their transient existence mother and daughter definitely seem to have flourished.

Their performances on the New York stage have made them must-see attractions of the current theatre season and both actresses could find temselves in the running for Broadway's top prize, a Tony Award, when the nominations are announced on 8 May.

See also:

08 Jun 98 | Entertainment
31 May 98 | Entertainment
10 Apr 99 | Tom Brook
12 Jun 99 | Tom Brook
19 Nov 99 | Entertainment
23 Feb 00 | Entertainment
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