Lydia Wilson on Playing Kate Middleton and an Alien in the same Year

by Clementina Marini Clarelli

The term ‘catharsis’ is only used once in Aristotle’s Poetics, in a description of tragedy. “Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of a narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper catharisis, or purgation, of these emotions.”

Presumably, the philosopher meant to circle back on that, but as no copies of the second Poetics have survived, this is what we’ve got. For a word with such a nebulous pedigree, catharsis has certainly become a household term. Although schadenfreude—pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune—became a bon mot with the advent of binge watching and spoiler alerts, catharsis has a longer and richer history in the English-speaking world, having historically been reserved for the experience of the theater.

British actress Lydia Wilson, with an emotional and adventurous soul, bears the responsibility that all actors do—to exploit the cathartic powers of the stage to reveal that which cannot be expressed with mere words on a page.

Wilson—with degrees from Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art—most recently played beloved royal Kate Middleton in Mike Bartlett’s award-winning show King Charles III, and was acclaimed for her exceptionally convincing portrayal of the royal princess. Despite having appeared in only four films—including Richard Curtis’ tear-jerker About Time (2013)—Wilson is well on her way to becoming a household name: this year, she will appear in the upcoming film Star Trek Beyond, the anticipated third film in the Star Trek reboot.

We spoke with Wilson about the repercussions of her roles, the nature of her craft, and the paradox of solitude.

How do you feel when you are embodying a new character?

For me, when you’re trying to play a part, you get a sort of hit in your veins and you feel transported to somewhere else. I quite like in film that things get shot out of order, because it is kind of like being a detective—you have to plot out what stuff happened and what’s going to happen, whereas on stage you can let the journey unfold.

Did you experience any pressure in playing Kate Middleton?

I wasn’t aware of what an icon she was internationally. I kind of ignorantly walked into it and then realized halfway through that she meant lot to a lot of people.

How did that affect the way in which you approached the part?

In a way, it made a lot of things easier. I’d walk on stage and the audience would see me as her before I even opened my mouth. So that took a huge load off. Our job was to surprise the audience with something they didn’t anticipate in the character—that is where the drama lies—to try to surprise them in a way that shifts their expectations in a different direction. So it was quite a different task, but it was really pleasurable because the audience did a lot of the work for us.

How was that experience different from your experience on Star Trek Beyond?

Being an alien was something I’d never experienced, so that was pretty epic. It was like going to the moon because it was so far from home. I really want to write about it one day, because I really felt like an alien. I had four hours of makeup every day and I remember I was going through some stuff at the time, so I’d often have a little cry. You go through eight million mood swings when you’re just sitting still. And the guys doing the makeup were brilliant. It was quite therapeutic. I was very vulnerable.

What was your most recent adventure?

I went on this pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago, in Spain. It must be centuries old, and it used to be a Catholic Pilgrimage—I walked for two weeks in northern Spain just by myself, it was amazing. It was a real adventure because it had all the classical elements of the journey, and then it also acquires this kind of metaphorical significance. What I thought was going to be an adventure about solitude, actually ended up being about how community is really important.

Photographer: Alastair Strong.

Stylist: Lola Chatterton.

Hair: Carlos Ferraz for Carol Hayes Management using Oribe.

Makeup: Andjelka using Laura Mercier.

Photographer Assistant: Tom Skinner.

Styling Assistant: Rebecca Maskell.

Location: Raw Studio, London.