by Kathy Henderson
Currently: Playing the title role in the American premiere of My Name Is Rachel Corrie as a 23-year-old American protester who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003.
Age: 36. “I don’t mind revealing it—hopefully it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s communicated when I’m out there [onstage playing Rachel]. Who cares?”
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Guare Am I? Feeling “in limbo” after high school, Dodds enrolled in a nearby community college where she was cast as Bananas in John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves. “The part was completely wrong—she’s Italian and 40 and I was about 20, but doing that play was it for me.” Next stop: Juilliard, where, as luck would have it, Dodds performed in a new Guare play and became friends with the playwright. “It all came full circle,” she says now.
An American Abroad: Reversing the trend of British actors seeking fame and fortune in the U.S., Dodds went to London in 1997 to star in the Ben Elton play Popcorn and never left: “I met my husband [Oliver Pearce, a fashion and advertising photographer], got married and have stayed ever since.” Their five-year-old daughter, Isabella, just started school, complete with a charming British accent. “The London theater community has been very gracious to me,” says Dodds, who has also starred in several British TV series. “And when you have a child, you immediately get connected to a lot of mums and normal people so you don’t become too self-obsessed.”
Kissing Madonna: Over the years, Dodds’ co-stars have included Drew Barrymore (Ever After), Don Cheadle (TV’s The Rat Pack, in which she played Mrs. Sammy Davis Jr.), Morgan Freeman (the upcoming feature film The Contract) and Madonna (the 2002 play Up for Grabs in the West End). “It was kind of like being at a rock concert,” she says of sharing the stage with the pop superstar. “The theater was full of Madonna fans with lighters and posters, screaming and yelling.” Like Britney Spears, Dodds shared an onstage lip lock with Ms. M. “She’s a good kisser actually,” the actress says with a laugh. “And she’s a brilliant performer. She doesn’t let her fans down.”
A Life-Changing Role: As Rachel Corrie, Dodds faces the daunting task of delivering a 50-page script drawn entirely from her character’s diaries, letters and e-mails. “I’m not the kind of person who ever thought, ‘Oh, a one-woman show—bring it on!'” she says. “The play began as a workshop when Rachel’s family sent [writer/director] Alan Rickman 185 pages of material that she had written from the time she was 12 until she died. The editing process [by Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner] took about six months, and I learned it by osmosis. Just by reading and re-reading, I got familiar with the material before I ever had to think about acting it.”
Rachel’s Story: “What drew me initially was the strength of her writing,” Dodds says of Corrie, who muses about doomed love affairs and analyzes her parents while preparing to move to Rafah, Gaza, to aid Palestinian settlers. “She was a poet and a rebel and a romantic and an idealist—very brave and compassionate and driven. She was not a saint and never wanted to be; she was just finding her way and asking big questions: ‘What am I doing with my life? What does it all mean?’ It’s her story that I was interested in, not the politics.”
Off-Broadway or Bust: Dodds had to wait a year to bring her acclaimed performance to New York after the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled its planned production of Rachel Corrie last fall. “We thought there might be more controversy [surrounding the play] in America than in London, but the cancellation was a shock to everyone,” she says. “I think Americans are ready to hear Rachel’s story, told in her voice. The place she went [Gaza] could have been anywhere in the world. Ultimately, it’s her humanity that people identify with, and that’s what makes the play work.”