Rising Star Crystal Clarke on Appearing in the West End's A Woman of No Importance & Two Star Wars Movies

Rising Star Crystal Clarke on Appearing in the West End's A Woman of No Importance & Two Star Wars Movies
Crystal Clarke in "A Woman of No Importance"
(Photo: Marc Brenner)

New Jersey-born actresses not long out of drama school don’t often end up co-starring in the West End in Oscar Wilde revivals alongside the likes of Eve Best, Emma Fielding and Anne Reid. That is nonetheless the astonishing situation in which Crystal Clarke finds herself as the alumna of several of the recent Star Wars films prepares her London stage debut in director Dominic Dromgoole’s revival at the Vaudeville Theatre of Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, opening on October 16. Broadway.com spoke to the buoyant American performer about her current London good fortune and much more.

How much did you know about Wilde or this particular play beforehand?
I’d never seen [A Woman of No Importance] and hadn’t read it before. I knew Lady Windermere’s Fan and obviously The Importance of Being Earnest and other works of his like The Picture of Dorian Gray. We had a “high style” section of study when I was at drama school in Scotland, and they did Earnest the year before me; my year, it was [Farquhar’s] The Beaux’ Stratagem: I played Dorinda.

Were you surprised, as I certainly was first time around, to discover that Woman of No Importance actually features an American, Hester Worsley, among its characters?
Yes, that was a good surprise! When it said “American” on it, I was like, “Are you sure?” Then I read the play and thought, “This is awesome!” It’s great that Hester is not just a trophy American who comes on and is stereotyped and is there for no reason but one who is very useful and provides interesting commentary on everything that is going on around her.

Hester is often characterized as a puritan, but is that how you see her?
That’s definitely what she is but I also don’t think it’s what defines her completely. We hear that word and probably have our own opinions about someone who may be boring or think of [the term] as sex-based or whatever. But for her it’s actually quite a spiritual thing: it’s about looking around at the world and appreciating it and putting stock in the things we have and not just in money.

Are you becoming wittier yourself through inhabiting the witticism-filled landscape of Wilde?
You know, this does make you start playing with language, which I’m already quite into as a person. I enjoy things like drag culture, and being from northern New Jersey, I grew up with the black and Hispanic community and the playing with language that happens there. I’m sure people wouldn’t draw a comparison between that and what’s going on with Oscar Wilde but it’s definitely there!

How great is it for you as a performer of color to be inhabiting the world of Wilde?
It’s fantastic and not something I thought I’d get to do, but on the other hand the way the world is now and the way society is, I suppose in some ways it’s inevitable. If we don’t embrace the idea that people from different backgrounds can understand this [material] and bring something fresh to it, then we’re stuck with the same boring shit forever.

On the topic of language, how has it been working alongside someone as steeped in the theater as two-time Tony nominee Eve Best?
That’s the kind of thing I can’t even think about, otherwise I would freak myself out. The way Eve uses language is the absolute opposite of dry. There’s something intuitive about her that just comes from experience; I find it really beautiful to watch.

Can you explain how you ended up at drama school at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow, Scotland, where you graduated in 2014?
The long story is that my dad is from Guyana and my mom is from Trinidad, and they both moved [to the U.S.] when they were about my age. I grew up in the Essex County part of New Jersey where you quickly realize that your opportunity is very much tied in with the accident of where you were born or what color you are. As a result, it’s quite a socioeconomic-based thing and you can find yourself set up to fail through no fault of your own. 

What led you to look overseas?
I applied to NYU early decision and didn’t get it, which I knew was going to happen, and then one day I was at Paper Mill Playhouse watching Les Miz and it was the intermission after they had done “One Day More” and that’s when I thought, “Maybe I’ll just leave the f**king country” —and that’s what happened.

Was that a scary leap to make?
I really think I had that courage because of my mother and because of the support she gave me. I know not a lot of people have that, and if it’s at all inspirational and helpful, I’d like to be able to tell some of them that they can do much more than people sometimes let them do.

Was London the logical next move after Scotland?
Yes, though I honestly do miss home every day and would love to work in New York at some point. But the fact is I’ve started something here and have to go with it wherever it takes me.

How does it feel that your “something” includes getting cast in the two latest Star Wars films, including The Last Jedi, due out later this year?
Oh God, like I’ve said, I just can’t think about all that stuff, otherwise, I’ll freak myself out. They’ll have me drawn and quartered if I say much about The Last Jedi, but what I can say is that Rian [Johnson, the writer-director] is awesome and the loveliest man.

Haven’t you also done an Agatha Christie for British TV?
Yes, it’s called Ordeal By Innocence, and it’s with Bill Nighy and Anna Chancellor who play parents who have this group of adopted children, and basically the short of it is that our mother is murdered and we’re all suspects. It’s a good story but it’s possible no one’s going to recognize me in it because my hair is so different.

With that coming up and The Last Jedi and this play taking you through the end of the year, are you pinching yourself on a daily basis?
“Grateful” is the key word: I am a very, very grateful young woman.