Rosalind Eleazar remembers lying in bed after leaving drama school and feeling depressed that the phone hadn’t rung. She was 27 when she graduated, having gone to university and tried her hand at other careers. “It was a month after leaving Lamda and I just plummeted. I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be the most excruciating career change.’”
Eleazar couldn’t have been more wrong. She was still under the bedsheets when she had a call and was offered a part opposite Monica Dolan in Plaques and Tangles at the Royal Court, London.
That was in 2015, and since then she hasn’t been out of work, appearing across stage (alongside Matthew Broderick in The Starry Messenger, and in Ian Rickson’s celebrated Uncle Vanya) and screen, including Armando Iannucci’s award-winning The Personal History of David Copperfield as Agnes Wickfield.
She has kept working though the pandemic, mainly doing voiceovers, and 2021 has brought some joyous surprises, both in her personal and professional life. She was moving in with her boyfriend, Gabriele Lo Giudice (an actor she met at Lamda), when he proposed to her as the carpets were being carried in. (She said yes.) She also won the 2020 Clarence Derwent award for her performance as Yelena in Uncle Vanya, and is among the cast of a starry new Apple TV+ drama series, Slow Horses, alongside Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jonathan Pryce.
“I am quite overwhelmed by how my career has gone and obviously very, very grateful,” she says.
Eleazar is of white British and Ghanaian heritage and was raised by her mother who often travelled for work. As a result, Eleazar became a boarder at Gordonstoun after winning an academic scholarship. While she was there, she shied away from pursuing a career in acting, despite her talent and passion for drama. Instead, she studied Spanish and Chinese at Nottingham University, went to Ghana and worked for a film and TV company. It was only after a friend urged her to apply to drama school that she did so, albeit secretly. “I was afraid to pursue something I loved so much. It was so sacred to me.”
She never believed she would end up playing leading ladies, though:. “I thought that wouldn’t happen due to the colour of my skin,” she says. “I am aware of colourism and of being mixed race. That’s maybe why I have had an easier ride and many varied roles.”
She has learned to speak out about issues that matter in the industry, she says. “When I started, people didn’t seem to know what the hell to do with my hair. You felt like a bit of an inconvenience if you piped up too much, but the issue was a basic one. Now I will ask, ‘Is there someone who is a professional in afro hair?’”
When she was invited to audition for The Personal History of David Copperfield, she was unsure how she would be cast, given the dearth of diversity in period dramas. But working with Iannucci confirmed to her that it was every bit as possible on television – which has traditionally resisted colour-blind casting – as on stage. “What I loved about the whole process was that it was never, ‘We are going to do this [diverse] thing.’ None of the parts were designated to people from any particular ethnic background.”
When the film launched at the Toronto film festival, Iannucci was asked about its cast and he said something that stuck with her: “Why should I not be able to draw from 100% of the acting community as opposed to [only white actors]? I wanted the best person for the role.”
That film, she thinks, was a game changer, paving the way for hit shows such as Bridgerton. “At the end of the day, it’s fiction and it works if an actor can embody the essence of a character.”
Though she loves working on screen, theatre is where her heart lies. “I do love TV and film, and David Copperfield was one of the happiest moments of my life, but being on stage is the most exhilarating, scary and unique experience.”
She is writing her first screenplay, based on a transformative two-hour car journey with her late Ghanaian father, and she feels a growing passion for writing alongside acting.
What is the part she would ultimately like to play? “I would love to play Cleopatra in time. But I quite like seeing what’s around the corner. Like a boat seeing what waves come its way.”
From the CV
2020: 15 Heroines, Jermyn Street theatre, London
2020: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter theatre, London
2019: The Starry Messenger, Wyndham’s theatre, London
2019: Deep Water, TV
2019: The Personal History of David Copperfield, film
2017-18: Harlots, TV
2017: Howards End, TV
2016: National Treasure, TV
2016: NW, TV
2015: Plaques and Tangles, Royal Court theatre, London