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Sheridan Smith says playing an actress who has a breakdown is like ‘taking back control’ after her own mental health struggles – as first pictures of her in new stage role show her drunkenly falling over


Sheridan Smith wanted to play a troubled middle-aged actress on the brink of a breakdown to ‘take control’ of her own demons.

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline inside her dressing room at London’s Gielgud Theatre ahead of her debut performance in Opening Night, the Brit star, 42, appreciates the obvious parallels between herself and Myrtle Gordon, the drunken Broadway legend she’s bringing to life in her new stage show.

However, where some actors may swerve such triggering parts, Sheridan describes being offered the role as ‘a gift’ because she can use it to finally extinguish past traumas which threatened to derail her career.

She said: ‘It feels like a moment of taking back control. I feel like the part is a gift, it’s a gift of a part for any actress to play and I’m loving every minute of it, it’s such an honour. I can’t wait for people to see it now.’

Sheridan is on great form as she speaks enthusiastically about her return to theatre.

Sheridan Smith wanted to play a troubled middle-aged actress on the brink of a breakdown to 'take control' of her own demons

Sheridan Smith wanted to play a troubled middle-aged actress on the brink of a breakdown to ‘take control’ of her own demons 

The Brit star appreciates the obvious parallels between herself and Myrtle Gordon, the drunken Broadway legend she's bringing to life in her new stage show

The Brit star appreciates the obvious parallels between herself and Myrtle Gordon, the drunken Broadway legend she’s bringing to life in her new stage show 

However, where some actors may swerve such triggering parts, Sheridan describes being offered the role as 'a gift' because she can use it to finally extinguish past traumas

However, where some actors may swerve such triggering parts, Sheridan describes being offered the role as ‘a gift’ because she can use it to finally extinguish past traumas

In MailOnline's footage, Sheridan puffs on a cigarette and drunkenly falls to her knees during a scene that sees the rest of the cast discover her character Myrtle in an intoxicated state

In MailOnline’s footage, Sheridan puffs on a cigarette and drunkenly falls to her knees during a scene that sees the rest of the cast discover her character Myrtle in an intoxicated state 

Her dressing room, which she calls her ‘shrine’, is littered with pictures of her three-year-old son Billy and it’s where she recuperates after performing her main drunk scene, which she’ll improvise each night, that is so physically demanding she joked about needing to use shin pads.

She added: ‘When I went home on Sunday I have to say, I woke up and I was aching everywhere and I was like my goodness, I’m getting older.’ 

In MailOnline’s exclusive footage, Sheridan puffs on a cigarette and drunkenly falls to her knees during a scene that sees the rest of the cast discover her character Myrtle in an intoxicated state.

The moment will be filmed live every night outside the London theatre, for all passersby to see and the audience witnesses the action live via a video transmitted into the theatre.

Sheridan crawls on the floor, wearing a leopard print coat and slim fitting jeans, as her character is shamed by the show’s producer, who yells for her co-stars not to help her recover as she stumbles.

But Sheridan says she loves the unpredictability of improvising, saying: ‘It’s fun and I love all of that, that’s the excitement and why I want to be an actress. I have never done anything quite like this before. That moment will be live every night so anything could happen.

‘But that’s the whole point of working with Ivo van Hove, our director, he wants it all naturalistic and to be very real so if people are passing through that scene, every night, he wants that so, we will be doing it live eight times a week in Soho… but it’s so exciting.’

The double Olivier-winning star admits she’s been learning the music for the show since October when she got the part.

The moment will be filmed live every night outside the London theatre, for all passersby to see and the audience witnesses the action live via a video transmitted into the theatre

The moment will be filmed live every night outside the London theatre, for all passersby to see and the audience witnesses the action live via a video transmitted into the theatre 

Sheridan crawls on the floor, wearing a leopard print coat and slim fitting jeans, as her character is shamed by the show's producer, who yells for her co-stars not to help as she falls

Sheridan crawls on the floor, wearing a leopard print coat and slim fitting jeans, as her character is shamed by the show’s producer, who yells for her co-stars not to help as she falls

But Sheridan says she loves the unpredictability of improvising, telling MailOnline: 'That's the excitement and why I want to be an actress'

But Sheridan says she loves the unpredictability of improvising, telling MailOnline: ‘That’s the excitement and why I want to be an actress’ 

In a scene which will be performed live during every performance of Opening Night, Sheridan takes to the streets of London, where her character is found smoking after hitting the booze, but the show must go on

In a scene which will be performed live during every performance of Opening Night, Sheridan takes to the streets of London, where her character is found smoking after hitting the booze, but the show must go on

Sheridan smiled after rehearsals for the improvised scene went well on Monday morning, taking off her designer sunglasses as she celebrated the end of a successful day

Sheridan smiled after rehearsals for the improvised scene went well on Monday morning, taking off her designer sunglasses as she celebrated the end of a successful day

But despite her illustrious background in music and theatre, she felt the need to have singing lessons to ensure her vocal delivery matches the standards set by legendary US singer and composer Rufus Wainwright, the man behind the show’s soundtrack.

Sheridan explained: ‘We have had weeks of rehearsals, and I knew I was doing this back in October, so I started learning the music because Rufus Wainwright’s music is just phenomenal, he is a genius but it’s very hard to learn.

‘As you can see, I have some sheet music here but I don’t read music like a lot of the cast, so I have been learning the songs for quite a while and having singing lessons.’

Opening Night is adapted from the 1977 film, starring Gena Rowlands as Myrtle, by Rufus and director Ivo van Hove.

The plot centres around the actress starring in a play called The Second Woman which is limping around dead-end venues before its planned star-studded debut on Broadway.

But its main star is on a dangerous downward spiral, fearing she’s lost her youth, her mind and is also traumatised by the death of a young female fan knocked down and killed outside the theatre, whom she now sees everywhere.

Her volatile behaviour grows to such an extent she has the curtain pulled down on her, which is something Sheridan has previously experienced when she suffered her own breakdown.

Eight years ago, while playing Fanny Brice in the West End show Funny Girl, her mental health hit rock bottom, sparked by her drinking and father’s cancer diagnosis, which saw a show cancelled mid-performance amid reports she was slurring her words.

She later took a four-week break from production citing ‘stress and exhaustion.’

The stage and screen actress admits rehearsing for the new West End show has been challenging but she is loving every minute of returning to theatre

The stage and screen actress admits rehearsing for the new West End show has been challenging but she is loving every minute of returning to theatre

Dressed in character, Sheridan wore a simple pair of jeans with a leopard print coat, electric blue cardigan and white T-shirt, alongside sunglasses which helped to disguise Myrtle's drunken state

Dressed in character, Sheridan wore a simple pair of jeans with a leopard print coat, electric blue cardigan and white T-shirt, alongside sunglasses which helped to disguise Myrtle’s drunken state

Sheridan looks back at those troubled times with much regret and reassures fans there will be no danger of a repeat in Opening Night.

She told The Guardian: ‘I’ve been through that sort of crisis but there are therapists here that you can talk to.

‘It’s so different from when I had my meltdown eight years ago. There was no support team then. It was just, “Get on stage!”‘

Thankfully for the much-loved star, who’s featured in the likes of Gavin and Stacey, Cilla, and theatre show Legally Blonde, she’s managed to rebuild her career, both on screen and on stage, while also balancing being a mum to Billy, to have her name in lights once again in Opening Night.

And her new bosses are backing her, namely producer Emily Vaughan-Barratt, who has described her as their ‘biggest West End leading lady’ as well as a ‘triple threat,’ due to her ability to sing, dance and act.

She said: ‘Sheridan is a professional and one of the best actresses I have ever worked with.

‘She’s a triple threat because she is an actress first and foremost but she’s also an incredible singer and can move, although there’s not much dancing in Opening Night.’

  • Opening Night will be at the Gielgud Theatre from 6 March 



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