This website started as Pop Speaking as tribute to the legend John Ritter, who wanted to be remembered as someone who tweaked the golden thread. It’s still a tribute to him, and it’s only fitting that one of the first interviews in the site’s new iteration should be with another legend, Fiona Ramsay.
Fiona Ramsay is one of South Africa’s most formidable actresses and has appeared locally, as well as in America and in England, on stage and on the screen.
Her career has many highlights with nominations for her roles as Princess
Kosmonopolis in “Sweet Bird of Youth”, Stella Goldschlag in “Blonde Poison”, Marlene Dietrich in “Miss Dietrich Regrets” and Sister Aloysuis in “Doubt”. She also regularly appears on television in local and international productions, such as “Black Sails”, “Homeland”, “Dominion”, “Scandal”, and “Justice for All”.
Fiona is highly in demand as a dialogue coach for film, television and theatre.
In this capacity she’s worked on “The Dark Tower”, “Roots”, “Mandela: Long
Walk to Freedom”, “The Giver”, “The Bang Bang Club” and “Winnie”.
Fiona has a pivotal part in the film Vergeet My Nie, (Vivienne Tiff, an 88 year old a chain smoking, hacking-coughed British author). The film is featured in earlier posts on Gaynor, so I grabbed the opportunity to chat to this legend of screen and stage!
Firstly thankyou for speaking to me. It’s a huge privilege. What drew you to the part of Vivienne in Vergeet My Nie?
Interestingly enough, the director Andre Velts saw me in a play called Ms Dietrich Regrets where I played Marlene Dietrich at the age of nearly 90. She just lay in her bed. It was a stage production, and when he saw it he came up to me and said I’m going to work with you one day. Then one day he phoned me up and suggested this role. He said he thought of me as being able to play a woman beyond my years. Someone with authority and spirit. So I leapt at the chance. It was a character that I understood to a large extent. I come from a character of writers and this character was like my aunt. She was also the heart of the piece for me, almost as she had such a big influence on Mardalene.
How does one prepare oneself for the role of a reclusive, ill writer in Britain in the mid 90s?
I’d lived in London for some 5.5 years. In the time I was there I worked at a jewelry store which was a great experience. All the different people that came in. I saw a lot of women who were very like Vivienne. Who were absolutely clear about what they wanted, well-heeled and eccentric. Between my aunt and my reference to living in London, I think that was in a way – in a way a lot of us are reclusive to a large extent. I spend a lot of time at home. I’m not really a recluse – I do go out and am quite social, but where one enjoys solitary kind of moments, so that’s what you tap on. That’s how you prepare.
Is there anything you’d do differently in your career, if you could go back and change it?
I always believe you shouldn’t have any regrets. Everything you do shapes you. One thing I would say I regret is I didn’t say yes enough. Very often I’d say I’ll do that when I’m older, and before you know it you’re older. Having said that I’m not one to shy away from an open door, even if it is quite challenging, I will go through it and test it. I’ve had a great career. I have little regrets. Much like Vivienne expresses in the movie towards the end, many of us pursue our craft, at the expense of relationships and love. I’ve pursued acting and it’s taken an enormous commitment and amount of my time. Maybe at the expense of personal relationships, although I have lots and lots of friends and a busy social life, but I don’t really regret it. I’m happy where I am.
My website explores and celebrates the concept that artists, musicians and authors tweak the golden thread of humanity – meaning that the work you do today has the power or the possibility of impacting those in future generations, people across countries, races and generations. Is that something that would mean something to you?
I believe very strongly and also at this time in global dissent where people are so intolerant, they seem to be more and more intolerant of other different races, you know. People with different ideas to yours and it’s only by tweaking the golden thread of humanity, by opening up to other cultures and doing work from other cultures, is very important. Only that way will we be able to elicit some empathy in the world. There seems to be such a lack of empathy in terms of attitudes to the environment, attitudes to animals and to human beings. So the pursuit of peace and unity, your golden thread.
What is your favourite medium?
I think that stage will always be my first love. The immediacy, and camaraderie of talking to people after a show, there’s a sense of community. There’s something incredibly mysterious about someone who saw a production and shared an evening. It’s more spiritual, I suppose. It’s so dependent on the group of people in that theatre at that time. What they were seeing and what they generate. Television reaches more people though and it’s a good medium. Film is wonderful. I just think we don’t get to do enough in SA. The Afrikaans industry flourishes, but the English, we have a lot of international films that come here so I suppose there’s not enough chance to flex your muscles in that medium. If I was playing Vivienne on stage, I would ask Andre to write more for her, because I’d want to be on stage.
If a movie was made of your life, who would you like to play you?
I’m going to be really cheeky and say I’d like Meryl Streep to play me and for her to get an Oscar. But she’s a bit old to play me. Maybe I’d like to play her life. Someone once told me that if someone did the story of my life they’d have to have three different actresses, because I’m so chameleon like. I change a lot. So I don’t know. But I’m sure there are many talented young actresses.
Tell me about Speakeasy Vocal Academy
I started it in about 2005 when I came back from England to address the imbalance of some of the actors coming into the profession who had not had any formal training, because of course it all opened up, and a lot of people hadn’t had the opportunity to have any training so that was what it was for. It started out to encourage as a communication tool to speak more clearly, to be aware of accent neutralisation and that sort of thing but it extended into dialog coaching and that’s become its main source now. Though I do private and corporate clients and I teach international actors to be South African and South Africans to be American and British and that has been enormously rewarding. I have a facility for accents and i find it fascinating. So that’s become a big thrust of Speakeasy.
You also are a lecturer at Wits. Is there a message that you’d like to impart to youngsters or newbies wishing to get into entertainment today?
I think when I started it was so much easier. It wasn’t so financially taxing to put a play on. Within your ambit you could – also there were so many platforms that enabled you to publicise your play without having to spend loads of money. Social media does that but it reaches a lot of people. Advertising is very expensive and rights are much more expensive in terms of our rand. But I think I would say to young people, there’s a lot of people who don’t train and go into the profession and do well for two years but then it becomes problematic because they haven’t got technique to fall back on. So I think taking your craft seriously and do your own work. Write your own work and go and perform it for people. that’s the only way you test the waters really.
What’s up next for you?
I’m still on the audition roller coaster. I might have a play coming up soon. I try to do one a year, I just finished The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and just heard yesterday that I’ve been nominated for best leading actress at Fleur du Cap which will be a great party down in Cape Town. I am quite busy with my studies and I am hoping to take a play to London in the middle of the year just to test the waters. I think it’s important to challenge yourself, so that’s what’s in store for me. More stimulation, more challenge, more movies.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I’d just like to say it was wonderful working with the crew. They were really fantastic. I don’t know if anyone knew, but my parents had died the week before within 21 hours of each other, in separate hospitals. It was quite a traumatic time, so in a way the character of Vivienne although she was very similar to my aunt, she was elderly and both my parents were elderly, so in a way it is a tribute to them.