Rosie Day: rising star

Outlander actor Rosie Day tells Theo Bosanquet why new play Again has brought her back to the London theatre.

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The term “rising star” would normally be apt for a 22-year-old. But in the case of Rosie Day it feels a little odd, considering her career has spanned nearly two decades.

One of her earliest memories is being carried around the National Theatre by Trevor Nunn. She was five and appearing in his production of Maxim Gorky’s Summerfolk alongside her older sister.

Since those lofty beginnings she has added more stage credits to her CV. These include Les Misérables and Anya Reiss’s play Spur Of The Moment at the Royal Court. But it’s on screen that she has really made her name. She plays the central character of Mary Hawkins in the TV version of time-travel saga Outlander. And she recently starred alongside Sarah Jessica Parker in the film All Roads Lead To Rome.

The reason she gives for her absence from the stage is straightforward: “There are a lot more parts for teenagers on screen than there are in theatre.”

But now she’s returning to her theatrical roots in the premiere of Stephanie Jacob’s play Again in the intimate confines of Trafalgar Studios 2.

Rosie Day stars in Again at Trafalgar Studios (Image: Zute Lightfoot)
Rosie Day stars in Again at Trafalgar Studios (Image: Zute Lightfoot)

What was it about the project that appealed to her? “I’ve wanted to do a play for a long time, but I just couldn’t fit it around my filming schedule. Then I got sent the script for Again and it fitted perfectly. And when I read it I realised Stephanie had written such brilliant roles for women.”

The play centres on a divorced family who reunite for lunch after a long estrangement. The twist is that each character is given the chance to reset the clock to steer the action the way they think it should go. It’s an intriguing device, which sees scenes replayed with subtle changes and surprising outcomes.

Day describes her character, Izzy, as being “on a permanent gap year”. She sounds fun – a “wild, directionless borderline alcoholic” – and Day is clearly having a ball. “It’s liberating playing such a wild character. She doesn’t really have a filter, which is fun. And although she’s a bit of a mess she’s also very funny and smart.”

The fact that Jacob, an actor known for her work at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, has written such strong female characters feels significant at a time when both sexual exploitation and the lack of roles for women have been in the spotlight. The play is directed by Hannah Price, founder of multi-award-winning company Theatre Uncut.

Rosie Day stars in Again at Trafalgar Studios (Image: Zute Lightfoot)
Rosie Day stars in Again at Trafalgar Studios (Image: Zute Lightfoot)

“It’s very important, considering everything that’s been revealed recently, that things change,” says Day, “and that starts in the writing. It’s sad that it’s unusual to find a script with such well-rounded roles for women, but I think and hope things are starting to change.”

Day is determined to be part of this change. As well as being a writer she also recently directed her first short film. She plans to establish a production company for “female-led projects”. In terms of idols she mentions Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Sharon Horgan as examples of women doing brilliant work, and Emma Thompson as the person she would most like to emulate.

Like Thompson, she wants to use her growing fame for good. Alongside her creative work she is an ambassador for Stem4, a charity that supports teenage mental health. “We go round schools and talk to kids about mental health. I’m very proud of and passionate about this work. It’s a hugely underfunded and under-discussed area. If you can use your profile to help raise awareness of these issues I really think you should.”

I ask her what life would ideally look like in 10 years’ time, and she says with a laugh that it would resemble “Emma Stone at the end of La La Land”. But Day gives the impression of being less concerned with Hollywood glamour than with producing good work and effecting change in the industry. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest she is on track to do just that.

Rosie Day stars in Again at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 3 March.