Lilian Schiffer knows all about the trappings of fame, having grown up with a mother whose TV work made her a household name in Germany.

The Fulham based actress plays Tom Cruise's ex in These Are Your Lives (TAYL), a humorous look at the celebrity life cycle, for which the Top Gun star unwittingly provided the script.

She had an early insight into the pros and cons of the fame game as her mother Michaela May was a cult TV star in their native Germany.

But she believes the micro-management of the public persona, on which her latest play focuses its long-range lens, is far from the preserve of VIPs.

"We all act differently depending on whether we're with friends, family, lovers or ex-lovers. We're always putting on a mask and that's especially the case with things like Facebook and Twitter," she says.

Although the play is ostensibly about Tom Cruise, with a verbatim script cobbled together from various interviews he has given, it could be about any one of us.

Schiffer herself may play his lover and later ex-lover but she insists she is not trying to impersonate Katie Holmes or Nicole Kidman.

Indeed, her character's name is simply FOUR, suggesting she is an interchangeable cog in the celebrity machine.

Lilian Schiffer in rehearsals for These Are Your Lives, at The Yard Theatre (photo by Rob Logan)

As the action takes place in a chat studio, I immediately assume the play centres around Cruise's infamous on-air meltdown, in which even the usually composed Oprah Winfrey looked ruffled as he leapt onto the sofa live on air. I am quickly corrected.

"Everyone assumes that but it's not about one incident. It's about where the persona of the celebrity ends - how much is PR and how much is you," she says.

"Tom Cruise isn't just a great actor. He's masterful at being very kind and charming without revealing very much about himself."

Naturally the play has got Schiffer thinking how she would cope with celebrity on a global scale, having already had a taster thanks to her upbringing.

"I think I'm jaded because my mum's an actress and I grew up a bit in the public eye, seeing pictures of my mum and me in the papers," she says.

"Everyone likes attention but I got very upset when wrong things were written and people made up stuff we hadn't said. It makes you careful about what you say.

"I'm quite a private person and I'd like my work to speak for me. I'd be scared of having a high-profile relationship because there's so much pressure to be what the public expects you to be."

It dawns on me there's something a bit meta about a journalist probing an actress regarding her home life when said actress is in a play exploring how actors manipulate their public image.

So before things slide into some Being John Malkovich-style other dimension, I steer the subject matter to those bits of dialogue for which Cruise wasn't responsible.

"The improvised scenes are my favourite part because it changes every night depending on the audience's reaction," says Schiffer.

"I love the way it moves from those scenes to the scripted ones in which even the movement and gestures are tightly choreographed, and as a viewer you're never quite sure which is which."

* These Are Your Lives, written and directed by Alexander Rennie, is at The Yard Theatre, in Hackney Wick, from today (Tuesday, September 9) until October 4. Tickets, priced £10-12.50, are available at