IT is only very occasionally that a man in a bright red cardigan appears to ease the journalistic process. While listening intently to Irina Brook's explanation of how she felt about having to take to the stage as Helena in her own production of All's Well That Ends Well for Oxford Stage, another part of my brain was wondering how to steer the conversation round to her personal history. Enter bearded man in bright red cardigan at pedestrian crossing immediately in front of the Belsize Park cafe we are seated outside.

Irina Brook, daughter of theatre director Peter Brook, hides her face behind a hand. The man is Paul Mayersberg, screenwriter to Nic Roeg for The Man Who Fell To Earth and Eureka and also responsible for one of Brook's early movies, variously known as Heroine or Captive, in which she co-starred with Oliver Reed. Suffice to say that Brook is rather more proud of her first stab at Shakespeare.

But Mayersberg's coincident passing does provide the excuse to hark back to her big screen career of 10 years ago when she also featured in Charlie Gormley's Glasgow film The Girl in the Picture alongside John Gordon Sinclair.

''That film was disappointing,'' she recalls. ''The script could have been a lot better. But I had a whole different personality then. When I was 20 I wanted to be a movie star and that seems extraordinary now.'' It is not that Brook is reluctant to talk about her past. She does so with the candour of one who at 33 has had a very full and much talked about life, and is no stranger to the gossip columns.

Her liaison with Sinclair, then at the height of his post-Gregory's Girl fame, has been followed by an engagement to actor Brian Cox, and a recently-ended marriage to Comedy Store player Neil Mullarkey. At 18 she had followed wild man of rock 'n' roll Iggy Pop from Paris, where she had been brought up and schooled, to New York where they lived together in a hotel. Wild nights of sex and drugs, I speculate. ''I remember cosy evenings making vegetable stir-fries,'' Brook demurs.

But it is the films she means when Brook says: ''I made a lot of rash decisions. In the theatre people seem to be able to forget about the bad things you've done. With film people hold it against you.

''But I've paid my dues in fringe productions now. I've been frustrated and disgruntled. The more detached and analytical you are, the less you can throw yourself into things.''

Brook is convinced that, despite the obvious dangers in constant comparison with the acclaimed work of her father, direction is what she was meant to do.

''I wasn't satisfied with what I was and that made it difficult for me to be with anyone. Now I am more calm and settled and together. I've found my own right direction and it has changed me a lot.''

So when Rachel Pickup was taken ill, it was an ''eyeopener'' for Brook to have to replace her in the lead role in All's Well.

''I didn't get the excitement and thrill I thought I might. It did nothing for me. It was an old flame that had gone, it was not just waiting to be fanned. The irony is I am probably a better actress now than I ever was. I am fearless now - it takes away the mystery being a director. As an actor one makes more difficulties than are really there.''

Brook's favourite Shakespeares are Declan Donnellan's all-male As You Like It, Deborah Warner's Titus Andronicus, and Tim Supple's recent Comedy of Errors, but there is little surprise that her multi-cultural All's Well has been compared to the work of her father.

She says: ''I've grown up believing that theatre is multicultural. Shakespeare has endured because he is universal and you diminish it by having only one type of person. There is a huge pleasure in seeing a black Welsh actor performing with a Pakistani actor. It's much better than one of those typical old RSC codger type scenes.''

Her father's daughter indeed. ''We are very close and I speak to him weekly if not daily,'' she says, but there is no sense of

her being intimidated by the reputation of the man whose ground-breaking 1970 Shakespeare show is a landmark on the British stage.

''If I'd been asked to do Midsummer Night's Dream, I'd have had a go,'' she says.

n All's Well That Ends Well is at the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, from tonight until