After becoming disillusioned with the music industry, Lily Allen reinvents herself as a stage actress


Desiree Ibekwe

Lily Allen didn’t know why she had agreed to be interviewed for this piece. Sitting in a London cafe one recent morning, the British singer said she had stopped earlier for a moment of reflection. “I asked, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I wonder why I put myself in these situations and leave myself open to criticism.”

She said the answer might be narcissism or her resignation to the impositions made on those living in the public eye. “This has been my life since I was about 18,” she said.

Ever since Allen burst onto the pop music scene in the mid-2000s with reggae-infused tracks like “Smile,” his relationship with the press has been strained. In his lyrics, in interviews and on social media, Allen has always spoken his mind without mincing words. For years she was a fixture in the British tabloids. In 2009, she obtained a court order prohibiting paparazzi from following her around London.

“It’s not a very nice feeling,” she said of that kind of attention. “Especially when you’re still in your early 20s and trying to understand your place in the world.”

Today Lily Allen lives in New York, where she goes largely unnoticed. She has returned to London because she has left music behind, at least for the time being, and is instead pursuing acting.

She is currently playing the lead role in a West End revival of “The Pillowman” (2003) by Martin McDonagh, author and screenwriter of “The Banshees of Inisherin”. The play will run until September 2 at the Duke of York’s Theater.

Speaking of this professional transition, she commented, “I still dabble in the human experience, but I don’t have to expose myself as much” as I do in her songs, many of which are highly personal.

Lily Allen’s mother is a film producer and her father is an actor, but as a teenager she fell under the lure of music. At age 19, in 2005, she was signed to the Regal/Parlophone label and built a following on MySpace, a then-emerging social media platform. According to Michael Cragg, author of a recent book on British pop music, the music scene at the time “was kind of swamped by ‘The X Factor’ and TV talent shows.” The consensus, he said, “was that pop music needed an injection of new life.”

In party dresses, big gold jewelry and sneakers, Lily Allen was a new kind of British pop star. In her London brogue, she sang her own lyrics, fun and provocative, about messed up relationships, sex and self-loathing. “A young woman singing and performing in that way was very exciting,” said Cragg.

Allen’s first two albums—”Alright, Still” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You”—were commercial and critical successes, but the creation and promotion of the third, “Sheezus,” in 2014, was more complicated. In interviews, Lilly Allen has spoken of going through an identity crisis at the time, trying to be a pop star while raising her young daughters.

In 2018, her follow-up, “No Shame” — a low-key album in which she addressed her divorce and feelings of isolation — was nominated for a Mercury Prize, but Allen has since become disillusioned with the music business, she said. “It’s so competitive, it’s so based on money and success and digital numbers. I’m not interested in doing any of that.”

Around the same time, she changed her relationship with alcohol and drugs. “The period between when I was 18 and four or five years ago is fuzzy in my mind because I was literally high or drunk all the time,” she said. “I was using fame too, and fame itself is an addiction: you get addicted to the attention, the paparazzi and the chaos.”

His four-year sobriety anniversary coincided with the date of our interview, and it looked like the chaos had calmed down. Three years ago, Allen married 48-year-old “Stranger Things” actor David Harbour. She said her life in New York with him and their two daughters from her previous marriage “is pretty laid back”.

So when she was approached to appear in the West End play “2:22 A Ghost Story,” her first reaction was to say, “No, I’m not an actress and I live in New York, so thanks, but no.” But Harbor convinced her to accept the invitation, and the work earned Allen a nomination for the Olivier awards, the British equivalent of the Tonys.

In “The Pillowman” she plays Katurian, a writer living in a totalitarian state who is interrogated about a series of child murders that remind authorities of their fictional stories. Like much of McDonagh’s work, the play is as dark as it is comic.

Allen said he saw a connection between McDonagh’s “dark, sick humor” and the lyrics she used to write. In rehearsals, she said, “I would say things that would normally shock people.” “Then I looked at Martin and he was smiling.”

It is the first time that the role of Katurian has been played by a woman, and the casting of Lily Allen in the role lends a different weight to the scenes in which Katurian is interrogated, as she is verbally and physically assaulted by two detectives.

“The play is about patriarchal brutality,” commented the production’s director, Matthew Dunster. “I said to Martin, ‘The audience is going to have a very hard time watching this – this fragile woman being treated so brutally early in the play,’ and Martin replied, ‘Isn’t that what it’s about?'”

Dunster also directed Allen in this “2:22 A Ghost Story” and said he saw her grow as an actress. “It was exciting for me to watch her take control of her own process,” he said.

When “The Pillowman” season ends, Lily Allen plans to return to New York. She said that her priority will be to see her daughters through high school, but that she has also applied for acting courses.

She said that one day she hopes to land leading roles in film and television. But for now, she’s leaving herself open “to whatever opportunities may come along.”

Source: Folha

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