Meet Edinburgh actress Sara Stewart, Batman’s mum

Sara Stewart back home in Edinburgh at the King's Theatre. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Sara Stewart back home in Edinburgh at the King's Theatre. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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EXPLORING Gotham City’s sprawling metropolis, Sara Stewart became aware she was being followed.

“It was one of those moments that, when you stop, they stop. Then when you turn around, they dive into an alleyway,” recalls the actress, who was filming Batman Begins at the time.

The young Bruce Wayne mourns his parents Thomas and Sara Sterwart's Martha in Batman Begins. Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

The young Bruce Wayne mourns his parents Thomas and Sara Sterwart's Martha in Batman Begins. Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Sara, who played Martha Wayne in the film, continues, “They’d built Gotham City inside a hanger. It was so big, you got about in golf buggies, but at one point, I asked if I could just walk around.

“I was wandering down these fully functioning streets with proper yellow taxis, tenements with lights on... it was mental. Then I heard footsteps behind me. I turned and found security were tailing me to ensure I didn’t damage or steal anything. It was just surreal.”

Famously gunned down in a Gotham City alley at the start of the film, the Edinburgh born and raised 50-year-old adds, “It was an extraordinary experience, the scale of it like nothing I had done before or have since.

“Batman’s mum...” she reflects with a laugh, “the gift that just keeps giving. It’s bonkers. How did I end up being Martha Wayne?”

This week, Sara finds herself back ‘home’ playing another Martha, the lead in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, at The King’s.

“The role is the King Leer for actresses in terms of emotional output and has always been top of my bucket-list roles to play,” she says. “It’s hilarious, such a witty, vicious, dark script.”

The role brings her back to the theatre in which she made her professional debut, appearing in panto with Stanley Baxter.

Sara, whose TV credits include Drop The Dead Donkey, Sugar Rush, The Night Manager, and Doctor Foster, reveals she is delighted to find herself in the very dressing room inhabited by Baxter on that first job.

“I was 10 when I worked with Stanley on Jack and the Beanstalk and now I’m in his dressing room, it’s lovely to have come full circle,” she smiles.

“A bunch of us from ballet school had several numbers, we were kept busy, being gnomes and village children.

“Stanley was the first person I was ever star-struck by. He walked into the rehearsal room and just had this presence and charisma. I think I was too shy to even talk to him.”

Born in Simpson’s Memorial Hospital to American parents, Sara’s dad was Head of English at Liberton High, her mother, a social worker.

“My mum and dad came to Edinburgh in 1963. It was such an oddity at that time there was even a feature in the paper about Americans coming to live in Scotland, with a picture of us as a family, me a babe in arms.”

Disenchanted with post-McCarthy America, they had come to the Capital on a romantic whim she says. Once here, they fell in with an artistic set, ensuring that from an early age Sara had an interest in theatre.

“There was a point as a teenager when I suddenly decided I wanted to be a make-up artist instead,” she laughs, “That didn’t last long.”

It was also as a teenager that she joined Edinburgh Youth Theatre, where her contemporaries included Garbage front woman Shirley Manson and actress and singer/songwriter Rebecca Pidgeon, her best friends at the time.

Even so, it wasn’t always an easy time she recalls, and her time with EYT offered her an escape.

“It was alright, but retrospectively, when you describe things, they sound bloody awful.

“My mother was not a happy person. She was a depressive, an alcoholic, and a working social worker in Edinburgh... a hard job

“I was always looking for light relief because things were a bit grim at home.

“My mum was so serious about everything. She would never let us believe there was a Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy.

“She would say, ‘I will never lie to you. I will always tell you the truth.’

“It took me a while to realise that truth is only perception. You can kind of choose your truth. Who cares if you believe in fairies? Everyone needs a little bit in magic.

“So I think she drove me into seeking the lighter side of life.”

That lighter side, included becoming a punk, a phase during which she found herself and Rebecca Pidgeon dancing with Billy Connolly.

“My first ever pinch me moment was working on the film Mrs Brown with Billy,” she says.

“I was playing the Princess Royal so they afforded me a sort of royal status. I’d be staying in castles with Judi Dench and Billy while the rest of the cast would be down the hill in a hotel.

“I couldn’t work it out, it wasn’t such a big part, but I was on cloud nine because Billy is just himself all time; accessible, fun and open.

“We’d sit around a roaring fire in the evening listening to his stories.

“During filming I told him Rebecca and I had danced with him at the Fringe Club in the early-80s - he had turned up at Teviot House and we all danced together.

“Anyway, the next time I saw him was at the National TV Awards last year.

“I was in Doctor Foster [Sara played Susie Parks] which won Best Drama and Billy was there for a special recognition award.

“He arrived, saw me, pointed at me, and I leapt out of my seat. I said, ‘Oh my God Billy, do you remember me?’”

“He said, ‘Of course I remember you. I met your friend Rebecca in LA. We danced together at the Fringe Club, and you both used to be punks... well you wouldn’t know it to look at you now.’

“And I said, ‘You just need to look a little more closely Billy’,” she laughs.

But being back in Edinburgh, has its bittersweet moments too for Sara.

“I miss my mum when I come back,” she says, “she died when I was 24, and it’s weird not being able to go home. I don’t have a home to go to here now, haven’t had for 26 years.”

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf runs at The King’s until Saturday.