AMY MANSON is talking about her first professional theatre role in Luigi Pirandello's masterpiece of meta-theatre, Six Characters In Search Of An Author. "It's just so great to come home," enthuses the 22-year-old Aberdeenshire-born actress during a rehearsal break at Edinburgh's Lyceum.
Not so long ago she was another fresh-faced acting college graduate struggling in London, someone who had only been to this theatre once before and had never even heard of Pirandello. Now she is going to be on stage playing a lead role in the National Theatre of Scotland's most anticipated production of the season.
"It's such an honour to be working for the National Theatre, and for my first acting job in Scotland too," she says, every bit the youthful actress as she tells me she's a pescetarian and requests soya milk with her latte. "It feels like my starting point to get back up here. I want to keep in touch more."
Like 2006's Mary Stuart, this version of Six Characters is by David Harrower, and is a joint production between NTS, the Lyceum and the Citizens'. Looking in on director Mark Thomson's rehearsals, the story of six characters who barge in on a company rehearsing a play and demand that their story be staged looks set to be every bit as intense and absurd as you would hope.
After studying at the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Manson left early to make a horror film in Romania called Pumpkinhead IV. She has also been in another horror feature, Blood Monkey, not that she wants to be labelled a blood and gore aficionado. "No, don't say that!" she wails in protest. "In Blood Monkey we're students on an expedition in the Borneo jungle looking for this new species. We all get killed off one by one.
"I'm the last to go," she adds proudly.
This is her first interview, though you wouldn't know it as she is super-confident. "The first director I worked with said I ask as many questions as Stanley Kubrick," she says. "I just want to know everything about everything."
Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, Manson didn't have much opportunity to pursue her passion for acting. "Aberdeen didn't give me much in terms of pushing me into acting. Then I moved to London when I was 17 and it made me appreciate what I was leaving behind."
As a teenager, she attended a local drama group and, as soon as she turned 17, strutted off to London. "I was a bit defiant," she admits. "I remember my mum saying to one of my ex-boyfriends that she didn't know why I was bothered with acting, that I would never do it. That's what kept me going for a while, the feeling that I could and would."
Watching the cast rehearse the final scene for Six Characters, Manson is very persuasive as the feisty stepdaughter forced into prostitution to support her family, breaking down on demand with seeming ease. "She's aggressive, all pent-up hostility and stubbornness," Manson says. "But I've also discovered a weaker side to her, about her lost youth, that I'm trying to delve into."
Come March we will also see Manson in the last two episodes of the current series of Torchwood. "It's 1901 and I'm one of two women who are the founders of Torchwood," she explains. "I'm the good cop. We enlist John (Barrowman] and get him to work for us."
Though she says her heart lies in the theatre – she makes quite a few grand, rather melodramatic statements – she had a blast working with Barrowman. "He was lovely, really good fun. He would learn his lines just before a take and swan around the set with his dogs."
Working with Mark Thomson and alongside great Scottish actors such as Una McLean on Six Characters has been enlightening for Manson. "Mark is so compelling," she says. "It really feels like his eyes are piercing me, and that makes me want to give that back in the performance. When I auditioned for the role, he asked me whether I'm set in my ways. I just said I want to be brave and be pushed as far as I can go." v
• Six Characters In Search Of An Author is at the Lyceum, Edinburgh (0131-248 4848), from Friday until March 8, and the Citizens', Glasgow (0141-429 0022), from March 12-29 www.nationaltheatrescotland.com