Barcelona-born actress Helena de Crespo has taken her career in acting, theatre history and directing around the world and into the heart of indigenous cultures she met along the way. Now a resident in the United States, Helena is in Cambodia to raise funds for the Bassac Theatre Company with the one woman show Shirley Valentine. Helena spoke to 7Days about her early TV experience, Bassac Theatre, and the joys and fears of acting.
You were in the TV show The Adventures of Robin Hood in the ‘50s. What was the most memorable part of that stint?
We had finished filming, you know with the bows and arrows flying around, and then I saw it played somewhere. I had never watched it before. There I was, galloping on a beach on a horse, and I knew that I had never done that. But the person on the horse was me. They had got a stunt double exactly like me, it was so weird. Another time, I was in Hong Kong and it came up on the TV and there I was speaking Chinese. It was very strange, I thought, had I forgotten doing that?
Do you ever adopt traits from your characters?
That would be nice! I think when you are into a role they do cling around. I wish some of them did more than others. I remember when I was playing Hedvig in The Wild Duck and Hedvig goes blind, my eyes started to go defective for a while. But you leave it behind, it’s your work, you step away and you go home.
What advice would you give to young Cambodians wanting to get into theatre?
I always want to encourage everyone to do theatre, because even if they never become professionals they learn about themselves, they grow their self-esteem, and learn how to present themselves. They learn an art that encompasses everything. I totally believe everyone has talent but its how they use it and present it. If you’re an artist, don’t let that part of you die. Try and sustain it or maintain it in some way shape or form because you will suffer if you don’t. Do it for yourself.
What inspired you to help the Bassac Theatre Company?
I was coming back from visiting a temple in Siem Reap when I saw a portable theatre on the side of the road. All the actors where eating lunch outside, and I approached them with my interpreter and told them I was also an actor. In explaining to them what I did I learned their stories, how they had survived the Khmer Rouge, and then 10 years of civil war and through all this they kept trying to educate and train people about Bassac, which is indigenous to Cambodia. It is the oldest theater in the entire world and it was very nearly eradicated by Pol Pot. To me, as a theatre historian, director and artist, it was very important that the oldest form of theatre on the planet be kept alive. I wanted to share it with the world.
How do you feel before a performance?
It destroys you because you get so terrified, but it’s what makes me go. It’s what makes me tick. You want to die and you get heart palpitations, and you think as your standing in the wings, “Why the hell am I doing this to myself?” And then you step out and all you can think about is what you’ve rehearsed. And if the audience likes it, you’re in heaven.