Hometown: Hampton Court, “just outside of London, where Henry VIII lived. Not coincidentally, that is the name of my dog.”
Current role: Leaving no eyes dry in her Broadway debut as Laura, a 1930s housewife turned star-crossed lover, in Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Brief Encounter.
The Family Business: “There really was no hope,” Yelland says of her seemingly fated vocation. Her father, David Yelland, is a well-respected British actor and her mother teaches English and drama. “They tried really hard to get me into financial consulting,” she jokes, “but I wanted to follow the same path.” Yelland found her stage legs at Cambridge University where, after dabbling in directing, “I realized that I wanted to be an actress, straight up.” Not that she considered a successful career her birthright: “Being brought up in this business, you know that when it’s amazing, it’s amazing, but it’s not something that just happens; people work really hard to get where they are.” And work she did, until a lucky break in a low-budget London show. “I did a piece with some friends based on women’s literature. It was…fine,” she remembers with a smile. “We did it in a gallery at lunchtimes, my agent came to see it and he’s been my agent ever since.”
Cornering the Market: As her career took off, Yelland noticed a pattern in the plum roles she was snagging. “People seem to cast me as very intense, unhappy women, which is a bit sad,” says the actress, who counts Nora in A Doll’s House and Vivie Warren in Mrs. Warren’s Profession among her favorite parts. “But they always have a breakthrough and end up being stronger for their journey, so I guess it’s all right.” Does Yelland have her next tragic heroine in mind? “My favorite play is Death of a Salesman,” she says, “but sadly—or not, really!—I’ve got a few years yet until I can play Linda Loman.”
One of the Kneehigh Gang: Until Mrs Loman comes knocking, Yelland is delighted to be taken out of her comfort zone by Kneehigh Theatre Company, which created Brief Encounter under the hand of artistic director Emma Rice. Rice has combined elements like film, music and puppets to adapt the Noel Coward classic, and Yelland was ready for the challenge when she joined the show two years ago. “I think this is one of the few times Kneehigh has branched out and used other people,” she says, “but now we’re like a family. It sounds like a cliché, but clichés are true, right? You forget about those rainy, cold matinees where we were playing to 60 people in Cardiff, because suddenly we’re all here on Broadway.”
Bowled Over by Brief Encounter: Those rainy matinees wereworth it, Yelland says, to play Coward's romantic heroine. “I love being Laura,” she says. “I get to be very filmic and still and intense, but also have those moments where you see how much she’s in love, like when she and Alec hang from the chandeliers.” Laura and Alec fall in love at first sight in a train station, but both are married and the social mores of 1930s England conspire to keep them apart. “To go through this journey every night, from this static contentment to the huge excitement of meeting Alec to the impossibility of their love,” says Yelland, “it sweeps me away.” Being swept away doesn’t sound so bad when you consider she’s falling for Brief Encounter’s debonair leading man, Broadway.com Fresh Face Tristan Sturrock, eight times a week. “Oh yes, that’s horrible, simply horrible,”Yelland says with a laugh, “but I suppose somebody has to do it!”
Love Imitates Art: Yelland’s own love story has taken her to Washington, D.C., which she now calls home. Two years ago she met an American Navy officer named Michael, who works in the White House, and the two wed in August. Is her military man a theater lover? “My husband has seen the show 63 times during the course of the two years,” Yelland says. “It was a joke at our wedding, just in case anyone was doubtful of his commitment to me.” The show isn’t the only part of Brief Encounter to enter the couple's life. “When we first said goodbye to each other, I left on a train and he waved goodbye to me at the station. Little did we know that would be repeated 60 million times on stage over the next few years.”