It’s easy to draw comparisons between Sadie Frost and Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous burlesque star she is about to portray on stage in east London.
Both are petite brunettes who were introduced to showbusiness at young ages by their mothers, both enjoyed periods of titillating party girl fame and then reinvented themselves as they entered their 30s.
But scratch the surface and you find complexities in both woman that are unique.
“She had a gruesome childhood to some degree but she was a survivor,” Sadie said who stars as Gypsy in Britten In Brooklyn at Wilton’s Music Hall .
“When you watch footage of her she has this amazing sense of humour. It’s wonderful to watch that – her precision and strong sense of self.
“She travelled around with all her animals – she had hundreds of guinea pigs – and her son and was a beautiful character.”
Sadie says although there are a few similarities between the two, they are minimal.
“I was misquoted the other day as saying I could identify with her as I was a child star and I never said that. What meant was I could identify with her because I was brought up from an early age in the theatre.”
Sadie was born in Islington in 1965. Her father was a famous psychedelic artist and her mum actress Mary Davidson who ran The Sidewalk Theatre Company and was her father’s muse at a young age.
“I used to go on tour with her when I was a kid and sit in the wings,” said Sadie. “My sister and I would go around doing little walk on parts so I certainly have a lot to draw from.”
Unlike Gypsy, the Bram Stoker’s Dracula actress chose to go onto the stage and has no regrets about starting so young. She appeared in a Jelly Tots advertisement aged three and with Morecambe And Wise in 1970 at age five.
“I had a great childhood and saw lots of interesting things. Being brought up in a creative environment was great. It taught me how to be driven in a very competitive environment.
“To a certain degree you have to not care what people think about you and have a strong belief in yourself.”
In contrast Gypsy had fame thrust upon her. Born Rose Louise Hovick in 1911, she was forced onto the burlesque stage by her mother in the 1930s after sister June, who supported the family as a vaudeville performer, ran off to get married.
Sadie only has to flash minimal flesh in her portrayal but when asked if she has ever experienced an awkward moment equivalent to stripping on stage she laughed. “All the time. It’s the story of my life. Every day there are always those moments of ‘this is hard and difficult’.”
She already knew a lot about Gypsy, whose humorous striptease acts went on to make her a legend, one immortalised in memoirs, a film starring Natalie Wood and a musical currently being performed on the West End starring Imelda Staunton.
“I loved the film when I was a child and watched it about 20 times and I knew that she wasn’t just a mythical character.
“What’s amazing is when people do reinvent themselves how smart they can be. She is very determined, professional.”
It is the later part of Gypsy’s life that is captured in Britten In Brooklyn. Set just before the Second World War it shows the 30-something sharing a bohemian flat with exiled British composer Benjamin Britten, poet WH Auden and writer Carson McCullers, turning her hand to writing novels and political activism. Britten is played by Ryan Sampson, best known for playing slave Grumio in Plebs.
Sadie said: “It’s a beautifully written play and an amazing time in history. You have these diverse characters thrown together in this house and Gypsy is a real live wire and sparky character so it will be challenging.
“It is a real ensemble piece with lots of interaction with the other actors and very long scenes. Gypsy runs around, so it is like a workout every day.”
Although she said her children, Finlay, Rafferty, Iris and Rudy, were the best thing in her life, she admitted that having them did slow down her career and meant she missed out on having a bohemian flatshare like Gypsy’s.
“It would be good to go back in time and share a place with some of my girlfriends and all live together with no responsibilities and have a lovely time. I never got to do that properly.”
But the yoga devotee, whose biggest inspiration is her mother (“She exercises every day she is creative and lovely”), said her wild, headline grabbing days are long behind her.
First married at 22 to Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet, she and second husband Jude Law, partied away the 90s as part of the Primrose Hill compromising f best mate Kate Moss, heiress Davinia Taylor and the Gallagher brothers.
“Hedonism can be wonderful but it can also be dangerous,” said the 51-year-old.
“Some people can’t handle it. It is very intense and a lot of people get burnt.
“Now I concentrate on my work, my children, my boyfriend [Darren Strowger] and a handful of friends. All that stuff I have done in younger years and I’m not interested in it now. I’m interested in the simple things.”
These days the mother-of-five lives the quiet life in north London and is more involved behind the camera as part of production company Blonde To Black Pictures which she set up with partner Emma Conley four years ago.
“Fun doesn’t always achieve things,” said Sadie who authored clean living book Nourish in 2014. “You have to get that balance of fun and doing what you say you are going to do and not just talking about it. It’s so easy to have distractions.”
Wednesday, August 31- September 17, 7.30pm, from £19, Wilton’s Music Hall
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