UK-based Greta Scacchi, 54, is back treading the boards in Perth – where she lived for two years as a teenager –playing Irina Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull. And her flirtatious “love rival” on stage is her 22-year-old daughter Leila George.
Leila has more than a passing resemblance to her beautiful mother. (Her dad is Criminal Intent actor Vincent D’Onofrio.) Mother and daughter are elated they’re treading the boards together in Leila’s debut stage role after two years at The Lee Strasberg Institute in New York.
Mother and daughter chat to The Starfish.
How does it feel to be starring in a play together?
Leila: I am so excited at this opportunity to be on stage with mum, in my first job out of drama school. It’s a dream!
Greta: I was chuffed Leila would deign to come over and do a play with me! It’s all the more special for us because it’s in Perth, where I lived when I was 15 to 17. It was a rite of passage for me in many ways, growing up, acting with the University Dramatic Society, and building up a solid group of friends here, whom I’m still very close with.
Leila, is it a challenge for you to find your own path, with two famous actors as parents?
Leila: I’ve done a lot to find my own way; I even use a different surname to my parents. At the same time, I don’t want to shy away from being able to work with them. Not everyone gets to do that and I’m very lucky.
Do many people compare you to Greta?
Leila: Some days I look like her, other days I look like dad! I don’t generally mention who my parents are, but eventually people find out.
Where does the surname George come from?
Leila: It’s one of my middle names. My full name is Leila George Emilia Scacchi D’Onofrio.
How are the dynamics between you in the play?
Leila: I steal her boyfriend.
Greta: Not for long!
Ha ha, you two are clearly having fun together.
Leila: Mum and I are starting to feel more like really good friends, rather than just mother and daughter. We talk about anything, and now work as well!
Greta: She was six and a half when she said, ‘mum, can a girl be a director?’ She said, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ She’d decided that she could sit in a director’s chair and tell everyone what to do, including her mother and father.
Leila: So I moved to Sydney Film School in 2011 to study directing. But after a while I was thinking, ‘why am I not excited?’ I called dad in despair and he said, ‘what’s the thing you’re most scared of?’ and I said ‘acting.’ He said, ‘that’s what you have to do.’ Then I moved to New York to study at the Lee Strasberg, where dad teaches sometimes. Now when I think about the future as an actor, I’m so excited.
Will you both stay in Australia for a while after the play is over?
Greta: My son’s coming over to join us, and the three of us are going to go on a bit of a road trip. I think it will be a great experience. Driving across Australia gives you this idea of just how vast and desolate this country is. I remember hitchhiking to Adelaide when I was a teenager – you get an idea of what infinity is!
You’re clearly very fond of Australia?
Greta: Yes it’s where I found my identity, the first place where I really felt I belonged. In England, and Italy I felt like a foreigner. In Perth, in our white country where everyone is a foreigner of sorts, I felt I was just another immigrant!
Leila: That’s how I felt moving to Sydney as well. I felt the people were more like me. I got on with everyone a lot better. I was only there a year but the friendships I formed are very important to me.
Greta, do you worry much about Leila embarking on an actor’s career?
Greta: I try to keep my worrying all to myself!
No, Leila’s really matured in the past couple of years. I’m very pleased she’s immersed herself in her training with such gusto and conviction. I think some training is very helpful. As a result of her studies, Leila has really grown in confidence. And in the end, acting is about being confident to be yourself, being able to access your instincts.
What’s next for you Leila?
I’m moving to LA, there’s a specific teacher there I’d like to take classes with.
The Seagull (Black Swan Theatre Company) runs at the Heath Ledger Theatre until 30 August. We loved it!