Interview: Hanako Footman, ‘People will walk away with a strong desire to talk it out’

by Jim Keaveney

Theresa Rebeck’s new play Mad House, currently previewing at Ambassadors Theatre, sees a family reunion turn darkly funny.

In rural Pennsylvania, Michael (David Harbour) has returned to his childhood home to look after his dying father, Daniel (Bill Pullman). His siblings soon arrive, determined to work out how much money Dad actually has left and how they’re getting their hands on it. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, features Hanako Footman alongside Harbour, who is back with Series 4 of Netflix’s Stranger Things, and Pullman.

Ahead of opening night we caught up with Footman to talk about the play, the family battlefield, and channeling her imagination into acting.

Q&A with Hanako Footman

Hi Hanako, thanks for taking time out from preparations for Mad House to talk to us about the play. What can you tell us about the production and your role as Devon?

My pleasure! Well in Theresa Rebeck’s words – Devon is a fun-loving exhibitionist! She’s there to have a good time. We spend a lot of time with Michael and Daniel’s dysfunctional dynamic, so she and Skylar are a welcome release.

You’ll be playing alongside David Harbour and Bill Pullman – how has it been working with them?

It’s been a dream. Not just working with them, but the entire cast. Being in a room with them every day has truly been a privilege.

Stephen Wight, Hanako Footman and David Harbour in rehearsals for Mad House. Photo: Jenny Anderson

Ambassadors Theatre is quite intimate by West End standards. How much does that influence what you’re doing in the play?

A smaller space allows us to pull the audience in. Already there is a real intimacy to the play; watching what goes on behind closed doors, the ugly battlefield that can be family! And so the smaller space will help tell our story, and hopefully make the audience feel uncomfortably close to the truth!

How do you think audiences will react to Mad House?

It’s definitely a provocative play. I know people will walk away with a strong desire to talk it out, either way.

Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you become an actor?

I always wanted to be an actor. When I was a child I had a pretty wild imagination, and at some point, I realised I could channel that through acting. But I had terrible stage fright which I eventually overcame. When I was eighteen I did an open call casting for a film and got down to the last round. From there I got an agent, went to LAMDA and proceeded to work on and off! It’s not the easiest route, there are real ups and downs. Mostly rejection! But it is so worth it.

David Harbour and Hanako Footman in Mad House. Photo: Marc Brenner.

You’ve acted across theatre, television and film – how much does your approach to each medium change and do you have a preference?

My approach tends to change from role to role, rather than according to the medium. I’ve played real-life characters and fictional, and I’d say that’s where the real difference is. One is mostly research, the other imaginative. But in the end it’s always a wonderful mix of the both.

Finally, how would you describe Mad House to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

A wild ride dealing with grief, madness and family. All the good stuff. Please come and join us! We’d love to have you at the Mad House!

Jim Keaveney is the lead critic at The Understudy. He tweets occasionally from @understudyjim