My schooldays

Where did you go to school?

St Mary’s Primary School in Largs, a Catholic primary school. Then Largs Academy, the local mixed-religion comprehensive.

Did you like it?

I loved primary school, but wasn’t very keen on the religious aspect of it, and didn’t like having to go to church on Sunday. (My father was Catholic and my mum was Presbyterian, but it was never a big deal and they let us do our own thing.) On Monday morning, we were questioned about whether we’d been; I kind of went so that I wouldn’t have to find an excuse to give on Monday morning. I definitely got some Catholic traits in that school. I remember having to stand for half an hour with the whole class saying the rosary in a heatwave one summer with Miss Meakin. I resented all that.

Did you get into trouble?

My reports tended to say "friendly, well-behaved". I don’t think I was rebellious. If anything, I was maybe prone to be a bit timid. I became more of a rebel in secondary when I went to smokers’ corner. I was naughtier by the age of 14. I was caught bunking off with my cousin, so chose lines rather than a sore hand. She went for the belt.

I stayed until sixth year, but was quite lazy and uninterested and didn’t do very much.

What subjects were you good at?

I loved English and art, but I have a kind of dyslexia with numbers and used to get into a real state when there were speed tests given. Nerves would make me so uptight and panicky that it stopped me from learning. That was always the worst memory. If anything, I felt quite annoyed in English because it wasn’t considered very cool to enjoy plays. We’d read a play, and I’d be sitting at the back of the class thinking, "Why can’t you all just be a bit better?", but I didn’t want to show off. It must have been my acting spirit coming out.

Did you have a favourite teacher?

I met Miss O’Toole, my primary 4 teacher, in Woolworth’s when This Life had just got very popular, and she said to me: ‘Well, I just think you’re wonderful in that show!’ And I said: ‘But Miss O’Toole, I’m a very naughty girl ...’, and she replied: ‘Oh, you’re great!’ She was over 70, and very religious. I loved her because at school, even if you were doing arithmetic with her, she used to make you colour in the squares around the paper, which was always a bit artistic, and she never got cross.

At secondary, I liked my biology teacher, Mr Scott, and my geography teacher, Mr Brunei, because they were nice people, although I wasn’t particularly good at their subjects. Mrs Lees taught English and I liked her. I always think that I’m inspired to learn by a teacher. If I find somebody boring, I just close off. I suppose I could have had more time for people I found dull.

What did you want to do?

As a tiny wee girl I wanted to be a movie star and used to make my dad act out scenes with me. I also wanted to be a make-up artist. A careers officer made me fill in a form. It came back with the words "dental hygienist or librarian". Now, I’m playing a really feisty career woman at the Citizens’ Theatre: I’m not scraping teeth or stacking books. These people should really dig deeper to find out what children like doing.

College or university?

I applied to Queen Margaret and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama but didn’t get in, so I did a foundation course at the Edinburgh Acting School; applied again and didn’t get in again; did a second year at Edinburgh, applied to RSAMD again and got in third time. Auditioning for drama school was a tough, nerve-racking day. I was very shy, so my nerves got in the way of me getting in more than anything. It ended up that I studied acting for five years, which was … thorough.

What do you wish you had learned at school but were not taught?

We didn’t have drama at school, and I remember saying to my parents: ‘Look, I’m really interested in drama.’ The only thing I could have done was go to Glasgow for the youth classes at RSAMD. I tried that but found it excruciating because I was much too shy. So they got me a young, quite hippyish and brilliant tutor called Heather Pepplar. I did Shakespeare with her every Thursday night and she helped me with my audition speeches.

What is the single most important lesson you have learned outside formal education?

Follow your bliss (I think that’s Joseph Campbell). My nephew is 16. He loves the environment and nature. If you have passion, try to follow the thing you love most - however silly you think it is; however tiny. I’ve learned most through working and acting, because it teaches me about life. To earn money from something you love can only make you a happier person. I’m still so excited by being an actress as I get older, therefore it helps me to be happy.

• Daniela Nardini appears in Caryl Churchill’s Career Girls at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, from tomorrow