LUCIE SHORTHOUSE

Actor/ Feline Fiend

Lucie and I caught up over gluten-free ginger biscuits and coffee in her dressing room at the Apollo Theatre, where she is currently performing in ‘Everybody’s Talking about Jamie’.

 

Ellie: Right. So the first question is what do you love? What makes you happy?

 

Lucie: People smiling. People laughing. I know that sounds really cheesy. Equality. People having mutual respect and understanding regardless of each other’s background or status. And telling stories about that. I’ve been really lucky in terms of the work I’ve done, telling contemporary stories, and in every one of them I’ve been able to find a story that needs to be told. So I love telling stories that need to be told, need to be put out there in the world. What else do I love? Being a vegan! Best decision I ever made.

 

Ellie: I’m a flexitarian.

 

Lucie: I support all choices, I mean, I ate meat for the majority of my life! I love Grease. I love The Sound of Music.

 

Ellie: I love that you’re not the first person to say The Sound of Music as an answer to this question.

 

Lucie: It brings so much joy. I know it’s desperately uncool. Um… It sounds really corny but lately I’ve been on a bit of a self-help book, self-care journey and just investing in positivity, because I’ve spent so much of my life dwelling on the negativity. I almost felt if I was too positive I’d jinx myself, as though if I was too positive that would seem like over-confidence and then things won’t work out. All this sort of negativity. And lately I’ve just been really trying to silence those voices and dwell on the positive. So if I’m comparing myself to someone, catching myself and knowing my own worth regardless of that other person. I have so much to be grateful for, whereas other people I see every day, on the streets, especially in London, have nothing; finding a way of comparing that highlights what you have to be thankful for.

 

Ellie: I mean I am all about self-improvement, to the point where I’m practically addicted to self-help books. I am obsessed with Brené Brown and she says an amazing thing about the experience of joy and how the opposite of joy isn’t sadness, it’s fear; the idea that when we’re happy our first thought is one of disaster or the worst that could happen. I get that all the time, the second that I think things are going really well or I’m really happy I start panicking that one day my parents will die or my dog. It’s like I’m reminding myself that it won’t last.

 

Lucie: Yes, so true. I’m reading ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert at the moment and she talks about how crippling fear is and how fear is boring, that it’s always around and it’s boring. It’s so true. So, yeah, things that I love at the moment would be trying to stay as positive as I can, and operating from a place of love for everyone else, but for myself as well. We’re taught that that’s a bit selfish or embarrassing, to be like ‘I’m on a self-love journey’, but if I can’t be okay with myself how can I have a healthy relationship with anyone else? Or as an actor, if I can’t respect myself how can I respect another character and empathise with them?

 

Ellie: What a wonderful lead-in to my next question, which is what do you love about yourself?

 

Lucie: Um. Oh God. I do like my smile, actually. I like that I know I’m very caring and generous and that if something bad happens, I don’t know if it’s just guilt, but it weighs on me for a long time, and it’s because I care. If I see a homeless person on the street or a ‘Big Issue’ seller, after I’ve tried to help out, I’m thinking about them for the rest of the day, thinking about where will they sleep, what’s happening with them. It weighs heavy on me. When the Brexit result came in, when Trump won the election, I sobbed. I care so much. I just want people to love each other. And with the show as well, I sent an email to the press team asking what we’re doing about outreach and education, because sixteen year olds can watch the show and decide ‘it’s okay to be who I am, even if my parents aren’t okay with my sexuality or how I identify with myself and my gender, there is a whole audience getting behind a boy in a dress here, so I know it’s going to be okay.’ I felt really strongly that we need to get children in to see this show, and they were saying how important it was to them that I felt so passionately. So I suppose that.

 

Ellie: It’s so fascinating. I know that I’m also a highly empathetic person, perhaps even beyond that. I’m so glad that you celebrated that in yourself because it’s a wonderful thing. I’m a fixer, I always want to fix everything, to the point of being obnoxious, and sometimes that kind of caring is exhausting and also quite irritating for some people, because I find it hard to let go if I can’t fix something. I’ve said so many times to my boyfriend that I wish I could let go of a problem and care less. I wish I didn’t feel things so deeply that if someone says something hurtful, that I wouldn’t take things so personally. I find that heightened hypersensitivity is both a positive and a negative: it makes me deeply empathetic and is what draws me to acting, but at the same time it’s exhausting and sometimes makes me very obsessive.

 

Lucie: That’s the thing, it is exhausting. My dad told me he thought it was a bit neurotic but I don’t think it is. The behavior might manifest itself that way but it’s not operating from a place of self-indulgence.

 

Ellie: I have a real inability to let go.

 

Lucie: Me too. I’m getting better at it, but if I feel like I’ve hurt someone, that is going to weigh heavy on me, even if I think I’ve said something as a throwaway, I’m worried: ‘what if that person has really taken it to heart?’

 

Ellie: You know what I’ve realized about this, and it’s hard to hear in some ways, after a shitload of therapy, is that in a way it is neurotic. I used to be someone where if I was having a conversation with someone and I said something that I didn’t think was very funny or I worried something had been taken the wrong way, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wouldn’t be actively listening because I was obsessing about my own stuff. That actually is selfish behavior, it is a kind of self-absorption that I really had to work on. It thought it was because I cared about everyone else but actually it’s an obsession over yourself. It’s not being present. What’s the biggest challenge that you’re facing in your life at the moment?

 

Lucie: Um. Staying truthful to myself. I’ve literally, this week, broken up with my boyfriend after three years. And it feels like the right decision, but it’s really hard because it’s amicable. I love him, we’re best friends, but it’s just not right at the moment. So having to stay truthful to myself and asking myself ‘am I just staying in this relationship because it’s easy and it’s routine?’ It’s the hardest thing for me to break it off and discover who I am now, three years later, just on my own. Working out who am I now and who am I without that relationship, because that formed so much of my sense of identity and who I was and what I was good at and how I dealt with things. So just staying truthful to myself in the purest way possible. In terms of career, just making sure I soak it up and keep learning and it’s like at the moment I have this awards nomination and then it’s press night the other night and everyone’s so excited for me and saying how amazing it is and trying not to care about all that stuff and just do the job and serve the play, serve the story, I think that’s important. I just want to keep focusing on doing that and not giving too much noise to things that have a shelf life. Just keeping my head down and enjoying the moment and learning.

 

Ellie; That is such a mature, grounded response. I’m the first person to throw my hand up and recognise that we all say ‘it’s not about awards and recognition’ but somewhere in me I’m like ‘Oh but I want them, please VALIDATE ME’.

 

Lucie: Of course, it would be lovely, and when we get a standing ovation it’s amazing and it’s such a bonus. We say we don’t do it for that but that is the audience’s way of telling us that we’ve done a great job, it’s them saying ‘you’re there to entertain us and tell us a story and you fucking did a great job’. So it’s hard not to invest in that.

 

Ellie: All of those things, it’s a form of affirmation. I suppose that’s why I know I personally have found myself secretly wanting those more shallow forms of success occasionally, it’s because I want that validation. Especially in harder times, you want that recognition and affirmation. And actually everything we were saying before about learning to love yourself and be with yourself, that’s it isn’t it? Learning to affirm yourself. Then you wouldn’t be searching for the external validation of having your ego stroked by those parts of this industry. I was thinking the other day, can you imagine how amazing life would be if we spoke to ourselves like we talk to our closest friends? If our inner dialogue was filled with encouragement and affection instead of doubt and criticism.

 

Lucie: I’m nowhere near perfect on my little journey but I’m a lot better than I used to be and it makes me sad – there are these two little fourteen year olds that I used to tutor and I remember thinking, ‘oh my god, if they grew up with some of the things I went through, the sadness and stuff with food and the hating, hating myself, full on hatred, looking in the mirror crying, I  think I would never, ever wish that on them, to see themselves like that’. We have to be kinder to ourselves. When my friends complain, like, ‘Oh look at my stretch marks’ I’m immediately like ‘Shut. up. You are beautiful and wonderful and I love you’. I just wish I could catch myself when I have those thoughts about myself and tell myself ‘Shut up Lucie, You are incredible’. We’ve got to be kinder to ourselves. And when we aren’t we give permission to other people to treat us with less kindness.

 

Ellie: One of the things I did in therapy was to go on a shamanic drum journey, as you do. It was pretty amazing, and one of the things that happened was I met myself as a separate person, and it took me seeing myself and the damage I’d done to myself to shake me out of a lot of bad patterns. When we treat ourselves in ways we would never treat others, it’s bullying. Or if you look at a photograph of yourself as a child, you would never speak to that child the way you speak to yourself and yet we do, and we have, our whole lives. I found it hard to realise that the only person who was really bullying me and treating me appallingly was me; everyone else was pretty lovely to me. Most of the time.

 

Lucie: It’s so true, and if you’re in a good place you also don’t let other people’s behavior get to you. If you’re in a good place you can go ‘that’s not on me, that’s your problem, you’ve had a bad day or that’s your own insecurity’. Actually I had a problem with a girl recently, and this is the thing, I never fall out with girls and it wasn’t even a proper fall out, but I said ‘If I have ever been negative towards you or even slightly abrasive or just a bit odd, just know that that is nothing to do with you. That is my own insecurity, that is me not being secure with myself. It is not a reflection on you, because you could have been anybody in that moment.’

 

Ellie: That’s so cool. I love that. So often with our partners, or when we fall out with people, in the same way that they are projecting their stuff on to us, we all do it back. Ooh I’m gonna nick that, that’s amazing. That’s a lovely way of leading on to the next two questions, the first of which is which women inspire you, and why?

 

Lucie: Um. My nanny, so my Dad’s mum; she was born in Uganda, she met my grandad, a white man, faced a lot of opposition there and moved to England and then faced a bit of opposition here as well, raised four children, one of whom is a lesbian and she couldn’t come to terms with it but now we’ve come full circle and they’ve found a harmonious relationship. So I just really admire her journey and just how much she’s grown, that gives me hope. I always have so many questions for her, I wanna know everything. Like, she was telling me about the first time she had sex, that it was with my grandad, and other people might think that’s gross but I was just – I just wanted to know it all, because she won’t always be there. She taught me how things get better, that shit things do have a shelf life. She’s really grown as a person, she’s learnt from her mistakes and that’s growth. Inspiration-wise, in terms of career, obviously Meryl, the queen. Anyone who is pioneering for a change and shifting the way things used to be. I just admire anyone who is saying ‘enough of the bullshit’.

 

Ellie: Absolutely. What assumptions do find that you tend to make about other women?

 

Lucie: Mainly that their lives are really good. If you see a girl looking good, assuming ‘she must have a better life than me’. You just never know what goes on; you can look at a picture of yourself and think ‘I look so happy there’ and know that actually you were going through loads of shit at that time, so basically that other women are really happy and are existing perfectly. And then, less and less now, just that other women are better than me, I guess. Just by stupid comparisons, particularly weight-wise. I was a chubby child, I’m never going to be super skinny, and in this industry as well it is your casting. If I put on ten to fifteen pounds then I am a chubby girl character and if I lost it I’d be more of an ingenue.

 

Ellie: She’ll hate me saying this but my mum once said to me: ‘You have to decide – do you want to gain weight and be a character actress and be the funny fat girl or lose weight and be the leading lady material?’. I mean, she was making a comment on this industry, she wasn’t condoning that. But it’s horrible if you sit in the middle it feels like you don’t fit anywhere. I do a bad thing: I assume that thin women are happy.

 

Lucie: Yeah, that they’re happy or that their lives are easier in some way. I know that weight plays a large part in how I view women and I wish it didn’t and I’m working on that. But in this industry it’s unavoidable, like, I had some therapy and I remember saying ‘why am I in this industry?’ Because every time I feel like I’m making progress it just takes one casting and I feel like I’m back to square one again and I really have to put in that work – and it is work – to stop giving power to that sort of crap.

 

Ellie: With the weight thing, I find that if I lose out to someone on a part, I catch myself immediately assuming that it’s because they are thinner than me.

 

Lucie: Always!

 

Ellie: I think that they’ve thought ‘She’s good, but I don’t think that the character would be believable at that weight’. Yeah. Which is awful. But then I have to keep reminding myself that it is not our fault that we feel this way; we’ve been conditioned to have so much shame around our bodies. For you is there a certain stigma surrounding women that has got to go?

 

Lucie: Weight, for sure. Just the whole idea of women being difficult, because we’re deciding not to be as apologetic. The automatic suspicion when women speak out.

 

Ellie: That is so true, when men speak out I don’t see them held up for examination in the same way, or by the media. They aren’t immediately scrutinised and accused of exaggeration.

 

Lucie: If a man speaks out his word is gospel. Another thing – if I speak out about feminism, like my boyfriend used to say ‘Yeah, but you want us to be chivalrous and open the door and you can’t have it both ways’, its weird that men can think that feminism is somehow disempowering to them.

 

Ellie: It’s true, it’s like if a man was working on getting in touch with his emotions but also wanted to buy into an image of masculinity that included working out and downing power shakes. We wouldn’t be like ‘well you can’t have it both ways’. We can all have it as many ways as we like.

 

Lucie: There are so many compromises that women are forced to make; we have to fit in to these little boxes, that I think men do perpetuate. The whole Trump thing as well, the fact that we have a man holding such a big seat in power who said of women ‘You can do anything, you can grab them by the pussy’ – I mean I know Hillary Clinton isn’t a saint either, but the fact that they would rather put a sexual predator and an absolute knobhead in power rather than get behind the idea that a woman could do that job as well… Like when he made comments about her inability to lead if it was a certain time of the month and that she might set off the big red button because of her period making her temperamental, just URGHHHHHH.

 

Ellie: Yeah, because he’s shown real restraint and composure. So how, for you personally, has gender affected you at work?

 

Lucie:  I’ve worked with some kick-ass female directors. I’ve worked jobs with some real strong women at the forefront. Like Coky Giedroyc, she did The Sound of Music Live and she was such a boss. I’d love to be that comfortable and confident in my decisions, because I’d love to direct one day but I feel like I’d be so tentative and ‘Oo I mean- I’m not sure -um’ – like as soon as someone would challenge me, do you know what I mean?

 

Ellie: My god, you’ve been directed by me! You know I know exactly what you mean, I’m exactly like that!

 

Lucie: Exactly, well maybe it comes with maturity. It was amazing watching her run around, just a complete boss. In terms of gender a lot of the shows I’ve been a part of have gender exploration at their heart, like this one – gender neutrality and freedom. Just challenging the norms of gender binaries.

 

Ellie: Do you ever feel aware of your own gender, as a woman, in the rehearsal room?

 

Lucie: I do sometimes feel, if I make a suggestion, I do feel intimidated, but then that might be on me. But sometimes I feel that my voice isn’t valid enough. Male voices are louder, if that makes sense. If a male wants to challenge something the director has said it’s more respectful but if a woman wants to then it’s that idea of being bitchy or bossy, if you’re assertive as a woman.

 

Ellie: Yes, the word bossy is reserved for women, you don’t get bossy men. If you are assertive as a woman you get put in the bossy box. It’s sort of an accepted masculine trait.

 

Lucie: I have been so lucky though, all the directors I’ve worked with have been really lovely, really respectful and very encouraging. So I haven’t had any horror stories, but I do feel a shift is happening, that women’s voices are starting to be heard.

 

Ellie: What is one bit of advice you wish you had been given, or could give to your younger self?

 

Lucie: My mum was always a bit of a ‘hope for the best and expect the worst’ kind of person, and in some respects she is right, but just to think more positively. Have more self-belief and know that it’s not arrogance; it’s not being over-confident. And to stop worrying; I was a really fearful child, I was terrified to learn to ride a bike, it took me ages to learn to swim. I carried a lot of fear around and I’ve carried it into adulthood. But I don’t worry when I go on stage, that is like my sanctuary; whereas in everyday life I worry about everything from going on an escalator to going to a new exercise class at the gym.

 

Ellie: That is so interesting because, for me, suffering from dysmorphia, onstage is the only place that I don’t ever worry about how I look, and I have looked awful in shows – like a 70s male porn star in Twelfth Night for example. But I don’t care, it’s the one place where I feel totally safe looks-wise; I never worry about being ugly onstage, but my god, going to the shops or out the house I can’t stop thinking about it. So I have a question for you from the amazing Hannah Hauer-King. She asks: ‘what is our personal responsibility as women and what can we do?’

 

Lucie: To operate from a place of love and to keep challenging the things that need to be challenged. To keep looking forward. To encourage a sense of sisterhood, because if we can’t show a united front how can we expect other people to? To start loving ourselves a bit more. A lot more actually. To keep challenging and holding people accountable. I walked past Topshop to other day, and I love Topshop, but the mannequins where emaciated, I mean new levels. I literally did a comedy double take and went back and took a photo, and I thought ‘Why are we doing this?’

 

Ellie: Yes, it’s like – jumping back to the stigma question – if I could lift another stigma around women it would be the amount of shame girls are made to feel around their breasts as a result of the fashion industry. I’ve got very large breasts and every time I venture out to Topshop or Zara I leave humiliated that I can’t even begin to fit into anything in the largest size because it doesn’t fit around my chest. It doesn’t feel like breasts are celebrated in fashion and so, as a result, I hate mine. There is nothing wrong with the body types that these shops are designing for but my god the lack of variety, the lack of displays of multiple body types and celebration of different bodies.

 

Lucie: It needs to be recognised. The women who are celebrated are tiny. I would say part of our shared responsibility is to celebrate all types of women; there are no limits, you can be anything you want to be. We need greater visibility, I mean, playing a Muslim girl in this show – there is a moment in the show when she explains why she wears a hijab and she says ‘Because I want to. Because it keeps me simple, because it’s who I am”. I don’t think I will utter words more important or visceral in my career onstage then going ‘Because I want to’.

 

Ellie: Right, last question, what is one question that you feel needs to be asked?

 

Lucie: Describe the moment or moments when you have felt most comfortable with yourself.

Leave a Comment