“Not that it is possible to “inflict” cancer on another human being, but I’ve never been able to say “I’d never wish what I’ve been through on anyone.”
Emily is the author of American Amazon, and answered my Interview Meme a little while ago. She’s 25, and a brilliant writer, actress & teacher. We met when she auditioned for my production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in Spring 2007. We were in this bizarrely named basement in Exeter College, Oxford. I was in a bad temper with my producer for booking said basement, convinced that nobody would be able to find the auditions. In fact, I ended up meeting two of my favourite people that day – Karina (Helena), and Emily, whom I cast as Cobweb / First Fairy.
I always end up casting actors I think I’m going to like, but who intimidate me as well. Emily came through the door like a hurricane – I don’t know if she was in character or just pissed off – and did the audition incredibly fast. She was very thin, very mobile, with amazing eyes. She and my Puck played opposite each other so well that their rehearsals were the easiest part of the process: constant insight & fun, with much directorial amazement at somehow getting two such talented people to turn out for me.
Ten months ago, Emily was diagnosed with Grade II breast cancer. She’s had chemo, a mastectomy in August, and is now back in the US & on hormone therapy for 5 years. This is not the most interesting thing about her, or the only reason you should read her blog. But it informs some of the questions I ask her, and some of the answers she gives. I asked her five questions — on cancer, mothers, poetry, lust and fame (one very weird dinner party) & she was kind enough to answer. The first Q&A is below:
1. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever imagined inflicting on another human being?
Not that it is possible to “inflict” cancer on another human being, but I’ve never been able to say “I’d never wish what I’ve been through on anyone.” I’m not a good enough person for that. Because honestly–I would. In moments of extreme self-pity and bitterness I have thought “better you than me.” Not necessarily toward people I know, but toward pretty twentysomething girls on the street who seem so carefree and put together; toward stupid, senseless women who take their breasts out on television.
The most concrete, formulated wish for cancer-transference I had was in a Pret a Manger in the Hammersmith Piccadilly line tube station; I was waiting for an appointment at Charing Cross hospital, feeling sick and terrified, and I watched a woman scream at and smack her two-year-old child. I felt something so irrevocably wrong and unjust had happened in the world that I was the one with cancer, and she was the one with the child. It was also the moment at which I most truly and profoundly doubted the existence of God.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.