Patricia Quinn

Patricia Quinn was born on 28 May 1944. She has the world's most famous lips, that open up The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) singing "Science Fiction, Double Feature". She was a Playboy bunny - one of the first of the London Playboy Club - for 3 months before going to drama school in Glasgow in 1963.
Quinn has appeared in numerous theatre productions, movies and TV shows, including Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and Doctor Who. Darren Rea spoke with her as The Rocky Horror Picture Show/Shock Treatment collection was released on DVD...

Darren Rea: Firstly, Happy Birthday for next weekend.

Patricia Quinn: Thank you, that's wonderful. I've never had a more publicised Birthday in my life - it's overwhelming. Thank god no one has asked me what age I'm going to be [laughs].

DR: How did you originally get involved in The Rocky Horror Show play?

PQ: We did the play in 1973, and they've just had a retrospect of the Royal Court, which celebrated 50 years this year [2006], so 33 years after I originally starred in the play, I was back at the Royal Court singing Science Fiction. We had a gala night, because we won a poll vote of the best thing to come out of the Royal Court. That was extraordinary to win that when you consider we were up against the likes of Samuel Beckett, John Osborne's and Tom Stoppard. So, Richard O'Brien won that. Yippee!

Rocky Horror began as a play and then two years later they came back with the film. I only had a few more lines in the film. I auditioned for the play and it was a singing audition and they wanted a sort of rock & roll song as the audition piece. I turned up singing a 1930's Jessie Matthews number. But that suited the part of the usherette singing Science Fiction. Richard played Science Fiction for me on the guitar, at the audition. And he said: "Can you just sing along with this a bit". I was very nervous, and I tried to. I thought they were rock & roll guys and I didn't know how to do all this.

Afterwards I went skipping down the road and I thought: "This is fantastic". It was one of the best song's I'd ever heard. I went home and told my agent I wanted to do it. And he said: "You haven't read the script yet". And I said: "I know, but I still want to do it." And he said: "It might be a song and four lines, you have to collect a script at the stage door of The Royal Court". One had to do that in those days, I'm not sure why - they didn't deliver them [laughs].

I collected my script and turned page after page and counted four lines, but I didn't care how big the part was, I wanted to sing that song. So that was it. I didn't read the whole script at all before I agreed to do it - I only read my own bit [laughs]. Like most actors do. You can get into a lot of trouble doing that, actually.

DR: Theatre doesn't always transfer to the big screen very well. Did you think that The Rocky Horror musical would work as a movie? And what did you think of the end result?

PQ: I was sort of watching me that night that we fist saw it. I had this outfit that I wore. I had my hair cut in a Clara Bow style and I had this great Clara Bow underwear slip, with stockings and garters - based on the outfit she wore in Red Hair (1928) - and so I went to the first night of The Rocky Horror dressed like that. We were in this tiny cinema in Leicester Square. But it was great I went to Leicester Square half undressed and made the front page the next day.

DR: Where do you feel most at home? Theatre, TV or cinema?

PQ: All of it. I love all of it really. The theatre's great - it's hard work doing eight show's a week. No, all of it.

DR: I suppose with theatre you can feed of the audience - you know instantly if you are doing a good job.

PQ: Yes, I know. It's been so long I've forgotten [laughs]. No, I've been working on a one woman show by Dorothy Parker [American writer and poet]. And I've been getting response alone and I'm loving it. I suddenly though: "I don't want to work with other actors I want to be all alone."

I did the The Vagina Monologues [by Eve Ensler] in the deepest depths of Deptford, for charity and that's when I first realised I could work on my own. I'd never had a feeling like that before in my life, because I suddenly though: "I can do this. I can control an audience".

I thought it was the best feeling I ever had - to be alone on the stage and making people laugh. So Jo Brand watch out [laughs].

DR: Of all the things you've done what would you say you are most proud of?

PQ: There are several things. I love I, Claudius [1976], but I'm very proud of playing Christabel Pankhurst in Shoulder to Shoulder [1974]. Someone recently reminded by that I was the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol [1977] with Michael Hordern. I like my Lady Macbeth - she's rather good.

I played her on The Prince's Choice CD which we did with the Prince of Wales. Robert [Patricia's late husband Sir Robert Stephens] played Macbeth, I played Lady Macbeth and the Prince played Henry IV with Robert as Falstaff. It had an amazing cast: John Gielgud, Glenda Jackson, Maggie Smith and Toby Stephens. It's an amazing compilation of Shakespeare.

Robert was amazing in that he had total recall. He knew Shylock, he knew Macbeth... he just knew all these plays. So, the morning we were going to record the plays, I said to him: "Do you think we could rehearse Macbeth?" And he said: "No! No! It's alright, I know it." I said: "I know you know it, but I haven't done it with you!" So he did it with me and it was wonderful to do that with him. He would have been a wonderful Macbeth - not every actor can play Macbeth.

I did Women Beware Women by [Thomas] Middleton, that's a marvellous play. So, I like epic stuff.

DR: Where you not worried that after Rocky Horror people wouldn't take you seriously as an actress and that you'd find it difficult to get work?

PQ: Well, I think that has happened. People don't know that, but I actually am a character actress - I can do anything [laughs].

DR: What would you like to be remembered for?

PQ: I don't know. Richard O'Brien would thank me for being who I was. Maybe that will do. I'd like to be remembered for that [laughs]... if you appreciate it.

DR: If you hadn't gone into acting do you think that you'd have taken up gymnastics professionally?

PQ: That's what I got prizes for at school. That's what I did - gymnastics and drama were my two main loves. Michael Cody is always very funny about that - he always says: "I bet you're a great little gymnast Pat". [laughs].

I've had a passion to act since I was a girl. I think mummy was behind it for a bit - I think I was her Shirley Temple for a bit, do you know what I mean? I was always at ballet school, ice skating, elocution, on and on. My mother pushed me [laughs].

DR: There's even been a play named after you: Patricia Quinn Saved My Life. How did you get involved with that?

PQ: That was so wonderful. A girl called Alison Carr wrote this play and it had to be sent to me for approval because it included my name in the title. I read the play and I though: "This is bloody good - very, very clever". It's very strange reading about yourself. At the very end it says: "And how is Patricia Quinn today? She is still fabulous". I said: "Put it on at once!" And they put it on and because there were three Patricia Quinns in it I could be in it too.

So I went up to Edinburgh and there was Patricia Quinn the Playboy bunny, Patricia Quinn (Magenta) and Patricia Quinn, Lady Stevens. So when I am in it, the one playing me as Lady Stevens goes off and I go on. So it was very surreal. And then Alison Carr though that it would be brilliant if the audience all dressed up. So this was like beyond, beyond Rocky Horror. The only trouble with it is that it was only half an hour long, which is sort of enough, but everyone wanted more. It was top of the fringe at Edinburgh. They said that it was not enough, but then Rocky was never enough.

I said to Richard O'Brien: "Why don't you write some songs for Patricia Quinn Saved My Life?" But he's such a mean old git he wouldn't do anything about it [laughs]. There's a little competition with him and me [laughs].

DR: What's the oddest think you've seen as far as the fans are concerned?

PQ: Oh... Er... I love the fans. Rocky Horror always makes everyone very happy. They are very gentle - do you know what I mean? They have a good time and they are very polite. I remember meeting a boy in New York who was dressed as me and sort of had breasts and things. I was a bit taken aback. I thought: "Now boys are dressing as me! I'm getting a bit freaked out here!" They're a great bunch of people. In fact I'm doing a convention in Manchester on my birthday.

DR: What are you up to at the moment?

PQ: I'm going down to the Charleston House [which was the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group] and I'm going to do a night called The Quentin Follies where I'm going to do my Dorothy Parker.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Eva Bojtos at New Media Maze

The Rocky Horror Picture Show/Shock Treatment DVD collection is available to buy from 20th Century Fox from 22 May 2006.

Order this collection for £18.74 (RRP: £24.99) by clicking here
Order the Lip Box collector's edition for £45.99 (RRP: £69.99) by clicking here

This interview was conducted on 22 May 2006

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