Rakie's new role

She's one of Wales's favourite actresses who loves her latest production - her new daughter Tansy. As she returns to work, Rakie Ayola muses with Karen Price about babies, the Bard and mixing with big movie stars

AS Rakie Ayola poses for photographs during a break in rehearsals, it's hard to believe that the actress gave birth to her first baby just three months ago.

But while she is relishing being mum to her daughter Tansy, she is also looking forward to getting back to what she knows best - appearing in another Shakespearean production.

From next week she will be playing Olivia in Twelfth Night at Bristol Old Vic.

Rakie has become something of a familiar face when it comes to the Bard's works - she has appeared in everything from A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest to The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth.

In fact, she met her actor husband Adam Smethurst the last time she appeared in a production of Twelfth Night four years ago.

"Shakespeare keeps coming my way. I love the fact that I get to play people who are much more articulate than I'll ever be," laughs Rakie, who grew up in Cardiff.

"There's a Tom Stoppard play at the Vic at the moment and yet no one ever asks me to do a Stoppard, a (Harold) Pinter or an (Alan) Ayckbourn.

"I either do Shakespeare or new plays, where I'm a girl living a really miserable life with razor blades in her pocket.

"I never get to play parts where I get to sit on sofas, drinking white wine and discussing the stock market."

Rakie met with Twelfth Night director David Farr just two weeks before giving birth to Tansy on July 16.

"I was huge!" she remembers.

"He offered me the job and told me to wait until after the baby was born to see how I felt before saying yes or no."

But after the safe delivery at a London hospital, Rakie was keen to appear in the production.

"It's only for eight weeks. If it exhausts me then I won't work again for a while."

Rakie is clearly a doting mum.

"Motherhood is everything everyone says it is. But I don't think I registered how inadequate I would feel in the early weeks. I just kept looking at her thinking, 'I don't know what to do to help you'."

The family has now temporarily relocated to Bristol for Rakie's stint at the Old Vic so she knows little Tansy isn't too far away when she's performing.

And she says she didn't get too upset about leaving her the first time she had to go to rehearsals.

"I was fine on the first day of rehearsal. I knew she was having a wonderful time with her dad.

"I was expecting to get to the corner of the street and want to come back. I didn't do that but I was phoning all the time during breaks to check they were OK."

Last time she was in Twelfth Night, Rakie played Viola, the woman who masquerades as a man only for Olivia to fall in love with her while she's in her male guise.

"Now as Olivia I'm seeing the relationship from the other side. Olivia runs the house, which is quite nice, so whatever I say goes," she laughs.

"The role of Viola didn't sit that well with me for some reason but Olivia makes more sense."

Although she may be renowned for her Shakespearean roles, Rakie is a versatile actress.

Among her other stage credits are the leading character in Dido, Queen of Carthage.

On TV she has appeared in Welsh soap Tiger Bay, EastEnders, Maisie Raine and the drama Sea Of Souls.

Earlier this year, while she was five months pregnant, Rakie travelled to Morocco to film some scenes for the forthcoming Hollywood movie Sahara, starring Penelope Cruz and Matthew McConaughey.

She played a pregnant Nigerian woman.

"It was great to go out to Morocco. The cast and crew took over this enormous golf complex but we were filming in a real shanty town.

"My character's house was a mud hut which someone actually lived in. So we went from the luxury of the complex to incredible poverty. It was really strange.

"It was a really good job to do but it made you think, 'God, I'm lucky this is not my life and I can walk away'."

Rakie had a couple of scenes with the star of the show, Hollywood actress Cruz, who actually split up with Tom Cruise while filming Sahara. She later got together with McConaughey.

"Oh that's a bit of showbiz gossip I didn't know," laughs Rakie.

So what was it like working with Cruz?

"She's beautiful but with most big film actors, they don't really invest a lot of energy into talking to other people unless they have to.

"But after a while she said, 'Are you really pregnant?' and after I told her I was we had a nice conversation. "She was actually quite sweet.

"I really like doing film. I've not done enough big films though to really know the difference between film and television.

"Sahara is a really big film but my scenes probably won't even make the final cut."

After the run of Twelfth Night finishes at the end of November, Rakie has no further work plans and she says she has no desire to star in any long-running series, like another soap opera.

"But that could change, especially when you start thinking how much children cost," she laughs.

"I watch lots of soaps and love watching them but I often think how frustrating it must be when they make a character into such an idiot.

"I think it would drive me mad to pick up a script and think, 'Who am I kissing now?'

"On the other hand, if ER came knocking on the door I would sign up for 10 years!

"I'm a big fan of American drama and love things like ER, The Sopranos, 10 Feet Under and Sex And The City."

With both her parents and her grandfather Jack Smethurst working as actors, there's every chance that Tansy could end up in the business.

"I wouldn't mind if she wanted to be an actor but my concern would be that she's good enough to make a living out of it," says Rakie.

"But if she said she was going to be an opera singer that would be my dream come true.

"I would love to breed my own Charlotte Church!"

2011

  • 'Motherhood leaves Rakie with nothing to Dredd from acting' (Western Mail)
  • 'Charities and parents condemn EastEnders’ baby swap plot' (Western Mail)
  • 2010

  • 'Vacancy for a matriarch as Peggy says goodbye to Albert Square' (Western Mail)
  • 2009

  • 'TV star speaks out over emotional meeting with mum' (South Wales Echo)
  • 'How I survived tough times' (Western Mail)
  • 'Holby City Star swaps uniform for glamour' (Western Mail)
  • 'From Holby City to high glamour' (South Wales Echo)
  • 'Rakie's a diva for new TV drama' (BBC)
  • 'My Almost Famous Family' (BBC)
  • 'New Year resolutions of leading figures in Wales' (Western Mail)
  • 2008

    2007

    2006

    2005

    2004

    2003

    2002

    2001

    2000

    1998

    1997

    1993

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