From the interview archives.
Season 2 of The A Word premieres soon in which you play the mother of an autistic boy. The show has been well praised for how it tackles the subject matter, what do you think it is about the series that resonates so well with its viewers?
It has a different feel to a lot of what’s on television -it’s not especially plot heavy, it focusses more on the nuances of relationships and family and character. I think probably people respond to that.. I think it feels quite real. And despite tackling quite difficult things, it’s full of warmth.
In what way would you say you’re similar to your character, Alison?
I don’t know that I am particularly! Certainly in series 1 I sometimes struggled to relate to the way she responded to things, but that’s the wonderful thing about being an actor -you get to really put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You get to feel their perspective from the inside. I admired her tenacity, and how little stock she put in what other people think of her. I’ve definitely taken inspiration from that! She’s become much more adaptive as the story has progressed, she listens better.. I’ve found that much easier to play!
What do you hope that people take away from the series as a whole after watching?
That life isn’t easy, but there’s love. That though we are all different, we’re also the same. We all need to be heard.
Is there another subject matter that you would like to see receive more time on film and TV in this way?
I guess I don’t really think of The A Word as a show about autism -to me it’s a show about communication and figuring it out. I kind of think of ‘subject matters’ as just ways of exploring being human. For me that’s what drama is for. I’d love more drama that explores violence against women but as a genuine exploration of being human, rather than as a cheap plot device in cop dramas. Three Girls did this on BBC earlier this year, with an all female team, and it felt seismic.The series picks up 2 years after Season 1’s finale.
How have those two years changed Alison, if at all?
She has learned ALOT. She spent most of series 1 in denial, or trying to fight Joe’s autism, as if she could bully it away. She’s learned to embrace it, and that means she is fully embracing him. She’s worked hard to learn how to communicate with him, she’s much more present for her daughter too -she has just opened I suppose, dropped the defences so she can be fully present. But in some ways that also leaves her very vulnerable, and open to being very hurt.
You’ve spoken largely about the issue of objectification with regards to actresses and how you don’t believe it’s necessary for success, and you are very much proof of that. Why do you feel this is such an important message to deliver?
Because it is. Being an actress shouldn’t mean you’re a slave to the whims of male writers or directors, any more than being a male actor does. It’s changing, but it’s still an important message because we’re still asking this question. As if our own agency over our own bodies is a debatable point. The choice should be with US.
What would you say to the young actress out there today anxiously awaiting her audition and nervous about what her director or producer might ask her to do? How do you handle that kind of conflict whilst still being a professional true to your craft?
I mean.. Why would their professionalism or commitment to their craft be in question? I’d encourage young women not to feel that other people’s behaviour is THEIR responsibility. My advice to young actresses before an audition would be to focus on the work, and that if someone asks something inappropriate along the way, you politely and professionally tell them it doesn’t feel appropriate. Because you are a polite professional, and it’s not your behaviour that’s the problem. If they don’t immediately dial back and apologize, and focus on the work, then I think it’s both professional and true to your craft to tell them to go fuck themselves before you take your leave. There is no time like right now for women to speak up, and no justification for thinking someone else’s bad behaviour is a reflection of OUR professionalism.
Who is your favourite actress to watch right now and why?
I have so many.. I can’t pick one! I love Frances McDormand, I love how fierce and uncompromising she is with telling the truth, how willing she is to be ‘unpleasing’, and the incredible soul in her work, I love Viola Davis for the emotional depths she reaches and how compassionately she approaches character. I’ve always loved Meryl Streep -that same thing, the immersion in character. But there are so many -I love watching other women’s work. And the way people surprise you when they are finally given a proper role to run with. I love that. I love watching people fly.
What kind of actors in general did you grow up admiring? Out of them, which would you most have liked the opportunity to work with?
I’m not sure I did particularly admire actors growing up.. As I got older though, Samantha Morton was someone who I really admired, and who made me want to act, Peter Mullan, actors in Ken Loach’s films who WERE the characters they played. And directors -Lynne Ramsay, Ken Loach.
What is the most important thing your career has taught you?
That it’s a marathon not a sprint. There are points along the way in a marathon where you feel like you’re flying, and other points where you think you might die.
What is 1 thing you would change about the film industry or the way people view the industry if you could?
I’m definitely not a fan of how heavily male and white and privileged it is. I’d like there to be less of that and more of everything that is not that- I genuinely think that would take care of every other issue!
What is the most difficult part about being on set and how do you manage the accompanying stress?
I think the most difficult thing is when people are stressed, when it gets shouty, and you all start making mistakes because of the pressure or trying to rush. I have been known to ask people to just chill out and take a breath! But I do I think as an actor you need to learn to separate what belongs to you and what doesn’t, and protect your peace because everything shows on camera. I go outside or off to the side if the set feels stressy. Or I make a joke about the stress. Or I try to make eye contact with people so we remember we’re all in it together. Or I just go quiet and breathe, like try to be in the eye of the storm. Whatever it takes so so I’m still ready when they call action. But I love being on set. I bloody love it. It’s a privilege.
What has been your favourite character you have played so far and what was it about them that you enjoyed so much?
That’s so hard! I love and defend them all so deeply when I’m playing them, and afterwards it’s hard to remember.
What is 1 item you never leave your home without?
Keys so I can get back in?
One place in the world you haven’t visited yet but would like to?