Interview by Laura Barnett 

Portrait of the artist: Tara Fitzgerald, actor

'At my first audition, they asked me things like: How are you? It didn't seem hard enough'
  
  

What got you started?

An uncle I loved got me into Fred Astaire when I was young. We had a scratchy old album of the Top Hat musical. I'd pretend I could tap-dance and my uncle would say: "Go, Tara, go!"

What was your big breakthrough?

My first job: a film called Hear My Song. I was still at Drama Centre, an intense, method-based school in London, and after three years of that, I couldn't believe the audition. It involved things like people saying: "Hello, how are you?" It didn't seem hard enough.

Are women in theatre and film under excessive pressure to look good?

Everybody's under pressure to look good – men and women. People want to see beauty, something above the ordinary. Think of what the Hollywood greats put themselves through: corsetry, having teeth pulled, fiddling with their hairlines. The problem today comes when women in the industry pretend they aren't dieting or taking exercise to look the way they do. It's destructive for other women.

What does success mean to you?

If you measure success by money, then your achievements are easy to calculate.

But if you're a creative person and you measure your achievements by how you feel about yourself, I can't believe you ever feel successful. I just don't think the artistic temperament allows it.

What's the biggest myth about actors?

That we "rest". Actors are never resting. Even if you're not working, you're looking for the next job.

What are you reading at the moment?

What Women Want, a book by Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale, the person I'm currently playing. She said women shouldn't reach for equality, we should reach for happiness. It shows nothing much has changed in 100 years.

Where do you find inspiration?

Art galleries. I love the Royal Academy; I just saw the Hockney show: it was awesome to see paintings on that scale.

Complete this sentence: At heart, I'm just a frustrated …

Architect.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Actors sometimes say they can't do something because their character would never do that. The director Suri Krishnamma once told me he found that strange. "Most mornings," he said, "I have a cup of tea – but occasionally I have coffee." It reminded me that we're all capable of anything, really.

IN SHORT

Born: Sussex, 1967.

Career: Film and TV includes Hear My Song, Brassed Off and The Body Farm. Theatre includes Broken Glass, The Misanthrope and Farewell to the Theatre, at the Hampstead theatre, London NW3 (020-7722 9301), 1 March to 7 April.

High point: "Right now."

Low point: "Not working for two years in my early 30s."