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How do I look?

The Independent, 26 August 2000

How do I look?: The magic ingredient: Short, middle-aged, no eyebrows and a face like Plasticine (her description). So how come Maria Friedman is once more casting her spell on West End audiences, this time opposite Ian McShane in The Witches of Eastwick? By Peter Stanford

"Make-up artists say my face is like Plasticine because it has no definition to it. I'm very fair, with no eyebrows, blonde eyelashes and hardly any profile. It's as if someone has sat on my face and squashed it. There are negative and positive sides. When you're in your late teens and twenties, there's a whole band of incredibly beautiful people who may not be as good at things as you are, but they get the juvenile lead parts because they're just much more gorgeous to look at. I was given the oddball parts. But set against that, you can paint a face on to my face. So I can give myself all these different looks. I'm a make-up artist's dream, not because they can make me look beautiful, but because they can create characters. I can play younger, older, ugly, interesting. My Plasticine face has meant that I can do characters like Fosca in Stephen Sondheim's Passion [for which she won her second Olivier award]. Fosca is dying and is described in the script as so frightening to look at that she made people scream and wince. I hardly had to use any make-up. People would come up to me afterwards and say the make-up was incredible. How long did it take to put it on? The truth was, not long.

"I don't wear make-up at all during the day. My sisters always say that's because I'm so confident, but it isn't. This is my face, this is what it is. I spend a lot of time changing who I am for my job, so to be myself, plain or not, is better for me during the day.

"My mum always used to say I should put on eyebrows and lipstick before I left the house, and people would respond better to me. I've never been confident about the way I look, but it hasn't ever been something that I have spent time thinking about. I've got a friendly face. I'm happy that at 40 I'm staying youthful in looks. I wish I had eyebrows and eyelashes. But that's it. I don't have mirrors in my house.

"There are certain things that I do. I wax my legs and I highlight my hair. For The Witches of Eastwick my hair has been bleached, but it's normally a subtler blond. which was actually my colour when I was younger. I have gone more and more browny as I have got older.

"I'm not that interested in whether other people are beautiful or not. It seems to me that beauty emanates from inside. So I don't buy lifestyle magazines. I don't flick through Vogue. Life is fantastically too short for me to spend time studying magazines. I'm not saying I'm a better person because of it. I'm sure if I had been built differently and had been incredibly beautiful, those sorts of things would have interested me more. I would have been taught that they mattered.

"In Witches, I play 'Sukie Rougemont', who starts off like an ageing Bette Davis figure In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? all blonde wig, big pink fluffy skirts and Fifties retro. But when 'Sukie' meets 'Darryl Van Horne', she becomes very sleek, all cropped and French couture. The second is nearer to me. I love simple, sharp clothes with clean lines. I'm not into jewellery and I really struggle with girly things. Because I'm quite short - five two and a half - I can't take anything too voluminous or I drown.

"In terms of how I look, I feel more comfortable with a camera than on stage. A film camera, that is. I feel very very uncomfortable if I do TV because I know they don't have the time or money to light it properly - though I loved the year I spent in Casualty [as 'Trish Baynes'] and wish, with hindsight, that I'd stayed longer. But I've just made a feature film of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat [playing 'The Narrator'] and I looked fantastic. No bags, no lines, and they used a digital thing that even made my teeth whiter. I just don't look like me. I look like the best part of me, but that was thanks to 20,000 worth of lights."

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