What type of membership would you like to apply for?
Account access problem
You do not have permission to access this page with your current sign in details. If you require any further help, please get in touch at questions@spotlight.com.

By Tahlia Norrish

On the one hand, it seems a most unlikely story: the daughter of a physician and psychologist, born in Upington, South Africa (without a television), finds herself making her feature film debut at age 27 in the Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire. Shortly thereafter, Alice Krige became a regular at the Royal Shakespeare Company and then cast as the iconic Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact.

On the other hand, given her all-consuming love for the craft and ceaseless curiosity towards the “elusive” endeavour that it is, it’s equally unsurprising that Krige has been able to so deftly sustain the eclectic body of work she has.

We were recently fortunate enough to talk to a very thoughtful Krige about her long and varied career as an actor.

It was the first term of my third and final undergrad year Bachelor of Arts degree. I was majoring in Psychology, Drama and English, intending to study post-grad Psychology and become a clinical psychologist. The English Department offered me a place as an Honours/MA student with a long view of lecturing. I was in an English tutorial with perhaps ten other students and a lecturer [discussing] Blake’s O Rose Thou Art Sick – a poem I love. It struck me like a bolt of lightning that I was the only one in the room other than the teacher who actually cared about the poem.

I realised I couldn’t possibly spend my life teaching students who couldn’t wait to be out of the class. And that if I wanted to be entirely engaged – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – in what I would spend my life doing, it had to be acting. It would mean sailing into uncharted waters always, no job security, but at 21 that seemed unimportant in comparison to the potential of what the exploration and connection being an actor would offer and require. 

I still feel the same way and I still feel privileged to be a working actor.

I didn’t need a quote or mantra to stay inspired – I just was utterly engaged and absorbed by the challenge each new role presented. Motivated by what I found to be a fascinating exploration of each character’s psyche and then the extraordinary task of living inside it. Motivated also by sheer terror most of the time that I would fall far short of truthfulness, and that she, the character, might not ‘arrive’. Many years later nothing has changed!

I’m a working actor, mostly I’ve just been very happy to be offered work at all! But whatever the role, what fascinates and engages me is exploring and inhabiting the journey on which the character goes, making it my journey too. Whether she learns or discovers something – or if she doesn’t – is a process of discovery for me, and possibly for someone in the audience. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have been offered a very wide spectrum of characters and projects – rich journeys!

That said, I am reluctant to accept projects with extreme violence but find in the last 15 years that this has become increasingly difficult if one wants to keep working.

I have been lucky enough to work very consistently throughout my career, mostly going from project to project, so the work itself becomes the training. Each new piece is a learning curve, a new challenge. I somehow always feel as if I’m starting from scratch, as if it’s the first time, as if I’m journeying into the unknown.

In each project, I find I always learn from the director, writer (or writers) and crew with whom I’m working, and from the research I do for the role. And I’ve been particularly blessed to work with wonderful actors who have taught me more than I can say.

Additionally, I have begun to work with my husband, Paul Schoolman, producing. This has been and continues to be another vertical learning curve. We worked for many years in prisons developing his award-winning feature, Jail Caesar, where I learned not only about the production side of the industry but was also taken back to grassroots as an actor by the men we worked with and inspired by the passion of those who took the experience with them on release. One in particular springs to mind – Michael Sambridge – who against all odds has continued to develop his wonderful talent for writing.

I love gardening and fortunately, I have one. I have practised yoga for many years, more recently Pak Gua, and am currently studying Shaolin Qi Gong.

I have always measured my success in terms of how far I fell short of or accomplished what I imagined the character to be. This has been and is a constant.

But in about my mid-forties I suppose another measure of success became apparent to me. I realised that, for me at any rate, in addition to everything else it might be, acting is the field in which I was seeking to be the best person I could be, in the context of a life lived. So, it’s not just about acting but also about something much wider.

Doing too much is one of my great failures – one with which I always wrestle.

No. The whole process remains utterly elusive and mysterious – as I complete a project I really don’t know if I’ll ever work again!

I really hesitate to offer anyone advice, each individual’s experience is so specific to them. What I can say for myself is that I have never taken anything for granted. The privilege of working [and] of doing this work in particular [is] the joy of the exchange that happens between the members of the whole company if you’re open to it [and] my responsibility as a member of a creative team [and] my responsibility to the audience.

Thanks to Alice for taking the time to speak to us. You can read and listen to more discussions with actors, casting directors and agents in our Interviews and Podcasts section

Tahlia Norrish is an Australian actor and writer currently based in London. After graduating from both The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Acting & Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (BA (Hons) Acting), Tahlia stepped up as Head Coach at The Actor’s Dojo – an online coaching program pioneering actor empowerment.

Tahlia’s headshot is by Ben Wilkin.

Photograph of Alice Krige by Michael Wharley.