Sunday, July 03, 2005

Dionysus in her soul, indeed

Cheers to the anoymous tipper in the post below, and here's to the health of the Old Vic-Telegraph partnership! In the wine section of the latter today, there's an interview with Jennifer Ehle about her father's seminal book on the subject, sculling coloured warm soda, Dirty Vodka Martinis, getting terribly drunk on badly corked wines, and, erm, eructation. Among other things.

Registration is needed and worthwhile even if, like yours truly, you don't know your Pinot Noir from your Prosecco and think Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an obscure French poet.

When Ehle first got married, she and her husband used to make their own cocktails. "The trouble is that motherhood has taken its toll. I don't feel like drinking so often and, when I last looked, the cocktail shakers were in my son's toy box being used as drums and rocket boosters."

[edit: registration-free link here]

Ah what the hey, here's the whole thing. It's too good to lose if the Telegraph article goes offline.

Jennifer Ehle, star of the Old Vic's The Philadelphia Story, has to drink fake Champagne on stage, but in reality she prefers Prosecco, says Jonathan Ray

It cannot be much fun being obliged to pretend that you are drinking Champagne by knocking back glasses of tepid, caramel-coloured soda water - every night and twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But such is the lot of Jennifer Ehle, who is making a welcome return to the London stage as Tracy Lord, in the Old Vic's production of The Philadelphia Story.

In the play, Champagne is almost Tracy's undoing. We are told that she hasn't touched the stuff (Pommery) since disgracing herself by climbing naked on to the roof and wailing like a banshee at the moon. However, on the eve of her second marriage, she over-imbibes once again and has a highly inappropriate embrace with a journalist who is covering the wedding, before slipping away to join him for a spot of midnight skinny-dipping.

"Warm, coloured soda water is no substitute for Champagne, let me tell you," says Ehle with a laugh. "It really isn't nice at all. And because I'm required to drink it pretty rapidly and in some quantity, the worst thing is trying so hard not to burp. Not very ladylike, I know, but I usually manage to wait until it's someone else's line."

Away from the stage, despite her fondness for Champagne, Ehle's drink of choice is that delightful Italian sparkler, Prosecco. "A friend brought me a bottle some time ago and I've been wedded to it ever since," she says. "I don't find it as heady as Champagne, simply light and fun, and I just like the way it makes me feel. My husband [the American writer Michael Ryan] and I go to the same Italian restaurant every Sunday on my night off and we always split a bottle. Sometimes, even two."

Ehle was brought up in North Carolina by wine-loving parents - the novelist John Ehle and the actress Rosemary Harris - and there was always plenty of wine in the house.

"My father wrote a book in the early 1970s called The Wines and Cheeses of England and France with Notes on Irish Whiskey," she says. "It became quite a seminal book and people still write to him about it. He also opened a store selling wine-making equipment and I seem to remember that we even had some vines in our garden from which he made all of two bottles of wine."

When not drinking Prosecco or coloured soda water, Ehle sticks to red wine, having gone off white wines since becoming a mother (she has a two-year-old son). She always buys by grape variety rather than by region and enjoys trying something new. "Some time ago, I read the script of the wine-tasting road movie Sideways," she says. "Afterwards, I thought that I really ought to try some Pinot Noirs. The trouble is that I didn't like any of them. Is that awful of me? I've just always preferred Cabernet Sauvignons or Châteauneuf-du-Pape."

Ehle is disarmingly modest, not only about her success as an actress, which has seen her pick up a Tony Award (for The Real Thing on Broadway) and a Bafta (for Pride and Prejudice), but also about her skills as a wine expert. One thing she does pride herself on is being able to identify a wine that is corked.

"I once got terribly, terribly drunk on wine, vermouth and goodness knows what other liquors," she says with a grimace. "The wine was badly corked, not that I cared at the time, but that musty taste and smell has stayed with me and now I can spot a corked wine at 100 paces."

In The Philadelphia Story, wicked Uncle Willie, played by Nicholas Le Prevost, is asked to make a restorative cocktail to help relieve poor Tracy's hangover and her feelings of bitter remorse. "The only sane remark I've heard this morning," he says. "I know a formula that is said to pop the pennies off the eyelids of dead Irishmen." It is a great line, brilliantly delivered.

"Oh yes, I've always enjoyed cocktails," says Ehle. "I got quite a taste for them while doing Design for Living and The Real Thing in New York. Un, Deux, Trois in the Theatre District does excellent Dirty Vodka Martinis and the Margaritas at Santa Fe, off Columbus Avenue, are exquisite."

When Ehle first got married, she and her husband used to make their own cocktails. "The trouble is that motherhood has taken its toll. I don't feel like drinking so often and, when I last looked, the cocktail shakers were in my son's toy box being used as drums and rocket boosters."

Sadly for us, when The Philadelphia Story ends in September, Ehle will be heading home to upstate New York. She plans to investigate the new local wineries in what is fast becoming an exciting wine region. At the very least, she will need something to wash away the taste of that soda water.

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