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BAFTA Film Sessions 2022: Supporting Actress

7 March 2022

Wendy Mitchell in conversation with Catriona Balfe, Ariana DeBose, Aunjanue Ellis and Ann Dowd

Wendy Mitchell: Good afternoon everyone. My name is Wendy Mitchell and I'm a film journalist. I'd love to welcome you to this 2022 BAFTA Film Session. This is a hybrid series of fourteen sessions celebrating the nominees from this year's EE British Academy Film Awards and we are so delighted on this Sunday afternoon, to be joined by some of the brilliant Best Supporting Actress nominees. I'll just mention a few housekeeping notes before we start: Please do join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #EEBAFTAs. There will be plenty of opportunity for you to ask questions towards the last half of our session here today. If you're watching on YouTube or Facebook, please add your questions to the chat. If you are with us on Zoom, you can do that with the Q&A function. I'm very happy to say that closed captions are available if you click the CC button on your screens. I'm very thrilled that we also have a BSL interpretation on offer today, thanks to Katie and Joe for that.

Ruth Negga for Passing and Jessie Buckley for The Last Daughter weren't able to join us today, but they did send everybody their best regards and now let's get to the amazing four women who are here. 

I am so excited, what an amazing group of very singular talents. We have Catriona Balfe from Belfast, Ann Dowd from Mass, Aunjanue Ellis from King Richard and Ariana Debose from West Side Story. Wow, thank you all so much for being here, even on a weekend. I'm going to just take it in turn and ask you each a little bit about the work you've done on these films. 

So Catriona, I'd love to start with you. And so essentially you're playing a fictionalized version of Kenneth Branagh's mother. So does that put extra pressure? You've got his childhood memories and you're trying to deliver for him as you know, a filmmaker as well as the son. So how did you even approach that? 

Catriona Balfe: Yeah, well, I think going into it, of course you put all that pressure on yourself and you know there's always the initial excitement when you get a job and then the absolute terror sort of sets in. But you know, it became very apparent, so I think the first sort of conversations I had with Ken, he was just more interested, sort of asking me about my family or about my experiences with growing up sort of on the border and he wanted us to sort of bring our own lives to these roles and he really wasn't looking for an impersonation of his parents, which was, you know, the greatest thing that you could have been told and you know, I think this story was just—I think we've seen so many stories from the north of Ireland that have always looked at it from a very political lens and very paramilitary lens. 

And you know these are, these are important films, but they're also sometimes the only viewpoint you get of that, and so this was just such a beautiful role to actually show the women of Northern Ireland. 

You know, it's something that I've done when I—the research was just watching so many interviews with these women and what they went through and how powerless they felt because this just arrived on their doorstep and they never asked for it and…

It was just such a beautiful gift really to be able to get to, you know, give voice to them and to sort of show what it is that they went through. 

WM: You mentioned a bit there that yes, you grew up in rural Ireland in the ‘80s and I think was it your father was a policeman. How could you bring in your own knowledge and memories and family history? Did you start to think about your own family history in a different way?

CB: Yeah, well I grew up right on the border so we were about six miles from the border. 

Uhm, so you know it's funny when I started doing this research and everything it really takes you back to a time that you know you don't really, it's not something that I was actively looking at or it's not something that I'd really revisited ever. Uhm, you know, but all of those memories about crossing border checkpoints, you know, British Army with machine guns, bomb scares in our town, bombs happening in towns that were only like fifteen, thirty minutes away. You know, when I was Jude's age, there were huge bombs in Enniskillen and Omagh and you know these are things that you don't at the time it's just such a fabric of your life and it's in the backdrop, always constantly. I mean, you know, you know, in England or whatever, it was constantly on the news all through the ‘80s. You know this was something that was just there, it was omnipresent and you never really know how you absorbed that as a child. And it was, you know, reading this script, you know, I did start looking at it I don't know in a different way when you sort of think about yourself at that age and how that framed your worldview or how that framed your kind of sense of security and all of those things. So it it was, you know, I remember the first few times when I was watching all of these, you know, and this is, you know pop goes Northern Ireland and all of these things or the kind of news footage from those actual days, and you know, I was just bereft. More just the just the tragedy of what we let happen to our small little country, you know how many lives were destroyed, it just dumb. 

Yeah, so that was kind of a lot of it, but then also, you know there's such joy in this film. 

It also makes you think about, you know, I'm from a really big family. My mum's from a huge family, my dad from a huge family and it makes, you know, it sort of also brings you back to all of those like family  gatherings and you know the beauty of all of that. So yeah, it was a bit of both of those things. 

WM: And I think I've read that you said you might also want to direct one day?

Is there anything you've learned from, especially this film with Kenneth Branagh that you could use when you do direct? 

CB: Oh my God, so much you know Ken is one of the most respectful people on set. 

You know, the way he treats his entire crew, how important his crew is. You know he's somebody that works with people over and over again and that kind of loyalty is just so beautiful. But yeah, you know he and he's also he's so encouraging, like we've spoken quite a lot about it and he's, you know, the first person to be like ‘of course, go do it and you should do it’ and you know now that I've opened my big mouth and said it I bloody well have to. It's definitely, you know, I just feel as and I don't know if everybody else here feels this way, but you know sometimes we're so limited by who we are and what we get to play, and I don't think any of us, you know, stepped into this business to just be able to tell one story. 

And I'm just so interested in telling stories from, you know, all over the place and that represents so many people and uhm, yeah so I, I just feel that you know I love acting, it's my passion but I also feel sometimes limited by it and I just yeah, I think hopefully the next step is behind the camera too. 

WM: Right, we can't wait to see that. Ariana, I would love to come to you next. I saw you nodding your head that you know there's only certain stories you get approached to to take part in and I'm wondering what's it like when you even hear that there's going to be a new West Side Story, and did you immediately think: I'm Anita! Or were you a little more hesitant? 

Ariana DeBose: Oh, I was very hesitant. I mean my initial reaction was that's going to be cool and that's going to be a great movie 'cause he makes beautiful films and then I was like I'm definitely not getting that job so good luck to whoever does. I mean those on screen, I mean, Rita doesn't look like me, the great Rita Moreno. And that felt very limiting how we portray Latinas in the industry to me has felt very limiting for a very long time. So I didn't really see space in the world for me. In fact, I've spoken on this recently, like when I first moved to New York, I moved when I was nineteen and I was told by several different casting directors that I was ethnically ambiguous, but I could not audition for Hispanic roles 'cause I was too black for that. 

WM: Oh God. 

ADB: I was like, oh, Yikes, well that's fun, thanks, guys. Uh, so only now am I really getting to explore this, not only this part of myself, but like what does this look like on screen and how do we represent like Afro Latinas as part of Latinidad on screen. So that's what was really exciting, but uhm yeah, I was hesitant. Also, I'm not famous and—

WM: You are now!

ADB: I'm weird and getting weirder every day guys, so we're just rolling with it, but I was very aware that unless you had 500,000 followers or were already famous or pop star, you weren't getting cast in musicals. 

So I was actually really shocked when Cindy Tolan our casting director called and was like no please come in and she had to ask me four times, which I now remember and I feel bad about that. Uhm, I was on Broadway at the time, so I was just trying to show up and do my actual job. 

WM: But what an astounding film and performance and it gave me such joy seeing it on a huge screen in the cinema. Did you get a chance to talk to Rita Moreno about, obviously you talked to her, but did you talk to her about the sort of legacy of this role and you know how Latinas are being portrayed differently in this version, thankfully. 

ADB: You know we actually did not speak about the character at large. My interactions with Rita--she is larger than life and like the consummate storyteller. 

My favorite days on set like story time with Rita Moreno and she just spoke about her experiences in the industry and that in and of itself was incredibly informative. You know, you definitely get this sense that she's seen a lot, she's been through a lot. I'm still astounded that after she won an Oscar, like the work dried up, there were no scripts. I was like oof, Yikes so do you want, the fame is actually the question do you want that kind of recognition? Or do you wanna just keep expanding your career and keep working in a different way? And I was really inspired by her stories about expansion in our industry 'cause she didn't, she continued to make films but she really did move into television and different types of television. So you make a way when there's not a way, and that's why she means so much to so many Latinos. 

WM: She's amazing. Steven Spielberg, 

I mean just the name sounds so larger than life, but what's he actually, like day-to-day to work with?

AD: You know, I was pleasantly surprised. I watched this Spielberg documentary, I don't know if anyone else has, I believe it was on Amazon Prime. But I thought I was walking into work with someone who was going to be like cool cool so when you smoke a cigarette, it's like this and that's it. I was really ready to be told what to do and I don't like that very much. And instead, I was really surprised… He's a big kid, he's very curious, and he’s constantly asking questions of his actors. And then he also likes Pop Tarts and cheeseburgers, and Coca Colas with chocolate milk at the bottom. Not chocolate milk, chocolate syrup. It's weird. 

WM: We're doing, you know I'm an American import to the UK, I'm going to have to explain what Pop tarts are, you know, to BAFTA. No, I'm not going to, but they're delicious everyone and they’re—

CB: We have them!

WM: Pure junk food. OK good, I'm glad to. 

Hear that Spielberg is eating junk food yeah. 

ADB: Oh absolutely, the biggest thing about him is his name. You know, he's actually really human and normal, which is refreshing I think.

WM: That's wonderful to hear. Aunjanue, I would like to come to you next to talk a little bit more about King Richard. You know how do you begin to play this role? I mean did you meet the family? Did you meet or Serena herself or did you watch tapes? Or did you just sort of go into a mental preparation? 

Aunjanue Ellis: Uhm, well at first I want to say to BAFTA thank you for this nomination. I mean talk about a surprise on whatever morning that I, or evening that I found that out. So thank you very much and I also want to tell everybody on this panel that you know, I have creative crushes on you all so. 

Ann Dowd: Oh, that's so lovely. 

CB: Ditto.

ADB: Ditto indeed. 

AE: So, so check this out. I did not get to meet, Miss Oracene and I talked to her briefly, we were trying to arrange her possibly coming to set but she wasn't able to come. But what I did have were these recordings that my gem of a director Reinaldo Marcus Green and Will Smith and Zach Baylin, our writer, they sat down with Miss Oracene and just talked to her and really, they just let the recorder play and she just got to talk about her life, which is a very rare thing. And essentially I just listened to those recordings over and over and over again. They were my music in the morning and my lullaby at night and yeah, that was that was a clay that I used to build the character of Miss Oracene.

WM: And you mentioned Reinaldo, great director of this film, what was he like to collaborate with? What was his sort of style of getting the best of you and the other actors? 

AE: Reinaldo is also a big kid and what's great about that is that there's no cynicism, none whatsoever. No, ‘I've been here before, done that,’ you know, none of that. 

He was as big a cheerleader as he was in January of 2020 until our last day, December the 11th, 2020, and you know everything that came in between in 2020, like he was able to, you know, rise above all of that, and I call him the actor whisperer. Uhm, he just brought joy to the set every, every day. I love him, I think he's wonderful. 

WM: I think you can feel some of that. 

You know with the with the cast and one scene I have to ask about is this scene in the kitchen where Oracene has her say and we are there waiting for it and she does it and how did you prepare for that specific scene? How did you and Will talk about that scene? 

AE: Well, we didn't talk about it. Yeah, and what we did was, is that we shot we shot for a little while in the beginning of 2020 and then we stopped shooting and we came back and continued in September 2020. That scene was not ready when we were first shooting. It needed that time, it needed that time, needed the time for us to get the words right. I think I needed a little time to get a little better in what I was trying to do. 

But yeah it was really, really important to me for a couple of reasons: One is, you know there are going to be so many more stories told about Venus and Serena because they are these, they're these kind of Greek characters, you know, right? Jacobian, Shakespearean, August Wilson. Like they're the reservoir that great writers will always go to, to tell a great story, these two sisters who were excellent at what they did, competing against each other. I mean, you know, it's easy, it's wonderful, everybody, every writer will want to go to that. But how many times are you going to have a story where the story concentrates on their mother and so 

when I found out the truth of Miss Oracene, which is that she was their coach, their mother, but she was their coach. For me, it was so important that I be her voice. Because I wanted the world, not just Richard Williams in that scene, but I wanted the world to know who she was and I wanted her to have her say while she was alive. So that's why I brought, that’s what I brought to it. And then you know Will brought Richard Williams and it was what it was. 

WM: It's an amazing scene. Thank you for explaining how it came to be. And now I'm going to turn to Ann Dowd. I can't believe we left Ann hanging this whole time, but I get a tiny sense of what it's like to act with Ann because she is so present here, even on Zoom she is listening to every word she is nodding, and I love this. Thank you Ann for being here. 

AD: Thank you.

WM: why did you think it was an important film to make, Mass?

AD: First off all I’m kind of stunned by the beauty of these human beings that have just spoken, I'm very grateful because when I think of the struggles, as if being an actor isn't to struggle enough, but to also face exclusion because of one’s culture which is the story of our country. And what Catriona has gone through. I grew up privileged, I grew up a white kid in a loving home. We were taught that all people are equal, but that's nice you know? And we all believed it because it is the truth, but it is not the fact of our country. So I'm just kind of knocked out by what I just heard and I offer my respect and love and for whatever it's worth, the apologies of what you have all struggled with because sorry, it's just, yeah. Anyway the film Mass, I guess I'm a little more selfish meaning I was not considering the significance of the film. I don't dare go there, it's too big a thought. I just read it and I knew that I would do it. And I also prayed that I could land, find the way to that level of grief and remain in a way that would respect that character and the human beings who suffer not just the loss of a child, but grief and rage and guilt and sadness and don't know a way forward to some level of healing. So that's where I started. 

WM: And I've spoken to you before Ann about some of your preparation, which I think you've read Sue Klebold's book, and how did something like that help you prepare in some ways?

AD: She was, if you will, a friend. Meaning, how could any human being live, a mother who's lost her child, whose child has ruined the lives of so many and taken the lives of so many. And also a son that she loved was in such despair that he took his life and the life of others and she missed it. So it's not so much that I took guidance from her, it was just tremendous comfort to have someone who understood, and that's how that book, which I don't know how she even wrote it, helped me. 

WM: And it's remarkable. This film is so assured this is Fran Kranz's debut feature as a director. What was Fran like to work with and how did he help bring this film alive with the four of you?

AD: Fran is a remarkable person. He's an actor, very good thing right off the bat. Desmond Tutu, the reconciliation project, is something he studied in college and was very struck by the concern that he did not know if he could be that person who could forgive. And that stayed with him through his years after school, and then having a young child and hearing the story of a mother who lost her child in this school shooting, he had to pull over the side of the road, and then from then on dedicated his reading and his time to coming to understand each human being that comes in contact with this crisis, for lack of a better way to say it. so we met for two and a half days to rehearse. And, uh, we went over text, which is a very helpful thing to do of course. We understood what we were doing there and any bumps we had. He worked with us very collaborative, which is, as these actresses have mentioned, when the director is open and willing and wants to know from actors that he trusts, which is the way, what way forward works. And then, at the time I was very worried about my youngest. I say this in confidence, which is absurd as we're here on a public… My boy is an African American child who was my foster son very early and then we were able to finally adopt him after six homes in the first seven years of his life. And his life began to spin when he hit twelve, thirteen, fourteen, which is when we began and I was terrified that I felt I was not able to mother him in the way that he needed. And I shared these concerns with these actors who I had never met and in those two and a half days. What we all came to realize is that we could trust one another that we loved one another that we were safe with one another. The kindness and the goodness and the talent of these human beings gave us the courage to move forward, meaning we knew we all--we all knew what we were doing, meaning what we were signing on for. And nobody had to talk about it, Meaning, you know, we just knew and being in in my sixties we've all worked in the theater, we had our sea legs. 

We know what it means to stay at the table

even though you want to get right up and walk off because it's too uncomfortable or it's too, whatever it may be. We knew we could stay at the table. Fran kept it very private. He was not in the room while shooting and we don't even remember where the camera was. 

WM: Wow, it was just the four of you. 

In that room, yeah?

AD: And the camera. And everything in the room was sequential, which is brilliant and so helpful. And anything before or after we shot first in the first four days and then eight days. So he just kept a steady open hand and it was one of those very blessed experiences where we knew Spirit was present, support was present, the kinds of things you can't put your hands on in name. 

The actors in front of us all we had to do was stay there and I hope that doesn't sound ridiculous, but that's kind of how it worked. 

WM: But I can imagine even just staying there for a day, that's an emotional place to be and the film you know is very, it's really beautiful and congratulations. 

AD: Thank you, we did a lot of laughing too. All of us might understand that in between takes and between setups I mean these are very funny actors. There were times we would laugh till we were weeping, and then we knew when it was time to just drop back in, you know? As Martha would put it—dear Martha, nobody had to be called by their character name, you know, let's just get on with it and do the job and they are family to me so thank you, thank you for listening. 

WM: Thank you, thank you for sharing that with us. You know some of you have mentioned this in various guises in those answers, but I'm wondering how you see women’s roles changing? Is it getting better? Is it getting better for women of colour? Is it getting better to see middle aged women on screen or women with a different accent? Or, uhm, Ariana, could I ask you that first, 'cause it sounds like you've been on the front lines there with people telling you what your ethnicity is and if it's good or not, you know. 

AD: Well, I mean from my perspective, you know I haven't been in this industry for nearly as long as these wonderful, wonderful women. But I feel like there's still a lot of work to do. That's not to say we haven't taken steps forward. In my opinion, I mean my casting alone for yes, a movie musical, but finally getting an Afro Latina who is a part of the main event who's not a side piece. Like that was terrible use of words, but you know what I mean? Uhm, that's a win. That's a win. And it's a great role that is, you know, dynamic, it's not one note, you know, Anita, she runs the gamut of emotion, and those are the types of roles that I think all women want to play: Dynamic women, women who you know, it's not just about being a strong woman like there are nuances to strength. Like for a while, I don't know how you feel about this Aunjanue, but for a while, you know a black woman I was like I don't know that I enjoyed the word strong right now and how do you feel about that? 

AE: Good question. I think it's another way of… I think it's another kind of limitation, actually. I think it's another kind of limitation, but you go ahead. You go ahead. 

ADB: No, no, no, I just I'm like for me I won't like, I don't apologize for where I am 'cause like I fully own like my journey of it like I'm still learning and you know life experiences they come but for where I'm at I do feel like we're taking steps in the right direction. I'm someone who, speaking of limitations I don't like them. I don't like labels, I don't like boxes, I don't really enjoy them. I'm interested in how people identify for themselves. Like how do you feel about yourself? What are you feeling? But yeah, I don't know. 

I don't know, I that's not really a great answer to your question, but—

WM: No, that that I think is really helpful, yeah. But Aunjanue, would you say you're getting more interesting roles at this point in your career? Are you happy with what's crossing your desk? 

AE: I mean, I, I think it--I don't want to speak for anybody, you know, I can only speak for myself, but I think when I speak for myself,

I think that there are a lot of, I don't know, I'd call them voices that I've heard that I'm a witness to, I think that's a good way to say that. I'm a witness to other voices, so I feel confident about that. I think that there's a lot of, there are a lot of great roles in television. But I think film leaves a lot to be desired, and I think I'm really understating that. I think that I think it's actually shameful how film fails women in their portrayals. We have so many movies that are about heroic male figures even now 2022. And women are relegated to being plot devices in those heroic figure movies, heroic male figure movies. And that unfortunately still remains the same. And I don't see the needle moving very much in that direction. 

Television is wonderful, has made extreme, it has made wonderful advances in that. In that way we have great limited series we have like series and limited series where you can see a woman have a full life, you know, over a course of eight episodes or even sixteen episodes we see that I mean, there's, God, there's more to be done, but we see that. But in film it's very scarce. It's very scarce. 

I mean, I just want to say this. I mean listen, we have the Bechdel test, right? We have, like, literally something that qualifies this and these films fail it over and over and over again. It's unbelievable to me. 

WM: Well yeah, let's get better. Let's pass that Bechdel test with every film. And if you need to Google it, it’s B-E-C-H-D-E-L, anybody, it's women talking about something other than a man in a film.

Ann, I’ve loved to see your sort of later career renaissance. You know something like Compliance, Handmaid's Tale, like we were saying with TV. Are you seeing great, you know it doesn't have to be strong roles, but are you seeing meaty roles for you're a woman in your sixties as you just said? Are you seeing yourself on screen? 

AD: Well, I just want to say in response to these fantastic thoughts, you know, no woman on this earth, not to even mention women of color 'cause I don't even know I don't can't speak to that but second class citizen is what we know from the day one. And it's like really, you know, OK, that's your point of view? Feck off. Forgive me. 

Is that an acceptable way to say it in Britain? Just feck off. I remember being told 'cause I didn't have looks, you’re not pretty, this and that, that you know when you're in your thirties. I remember thinking wow go away from me. Go now because everybody here I don't care what, actor, journalist, whatever we are we know in our core who we are. And if people think there isn't room for us feck off. Sorry but that. And aging is underrated because perspective. 

Uh to Aunjanue’s point, she said it articulately and brilliantly. We're going to keep fighting in performances like Ariana, Aunjanue, Catriona. Are you kidding? That can't be ignored. No chance of it. More writers, that the fact that more women are writing--women are the strongest creatures on Earth, I'm sorry to be losing my mind here, but come on now, nobody is going to stop women, forget it. And so the writers, creative minds, collective energy together saying, excuse me, you don't want to pay attention, you want it to be about male heroes, fine… You do your boring thing forgive me, respect to men, good for you, hey, knock yourselves out, enjoy your life. But we have things to do too that are equally important and I just the chatter from everybody else… Go away, you know, go talk to somebody who doesn't have any purpose in their lives, God, God bless them. 

But you know, uh, yeah, I was damn happy to get Compliance, I was thrilled it was an independent picture. We did it in ten days, thirteen days, I had no idea where it was going because again I don't have that expanded vision. If someone said to me, could you direct this film, I'd say I'm very sorry, my mind doesn't go there. I don't know how to do… My scope is kind of, I don't know what, but then something happened with Compliance, lucky me, yes, thank you very much. Just the notion of keeping your eye on your life and what you want and saying ‘I will find it.’ Now again, how dare I say that to women of colour? Because that that experience to the exponential is about, has been about exclusion. Well people get out of the way. You've got these women and this talent, and that's going some place. I know we're not there, I get it, but come on now, strength. Sorry, that may make no sense at all, but… 

WM: No, don't be sorry for that.  I love it. It's a rallying cry I think for us. I wanted to give a little shout out or a leg up to the next generation and while I was thinking of this… I worked at a magazine in 2001 that wrote about Aunjanue as a new talent for Lovely and Amazing. Love that film. And that's taken twenty years to this amazing role you're in now, so can you each tell me, is there someone in the next generation or a new talent that you're makes you excited for the future of this business and that could be somebody you've worked with or somebody you've just seen on the screen. 

Catriona, could I ask you? 

CB: Yeah, you know there's an actress who has now become a writer and a director that I worked with on a TV show that I worked on. She was in our second season, Rosie Day, and she's just had a play that she wrote and she stars in that's been on the stage in London. And she's directing stuff and she's like twenty-six maybe? And you're kind of looking at her going like ‘how the hell do you do all of this?’ She's written a book already. I just like I'm super impressed by a lot of the younger actresses that I see. I mean, I didn't start in this business until I was in my thirties and I feel like I'm still such a novice and when I see these young, you know, just they just get up and they do, and they just create so much and they're such creators of their own destiny. And I'm just, yeah, always just so impressed by them. 

So Rosie Day.

WM: Great name, everybody look her up. Ariana, is there somebody in that next generation you'd like to mention? 

ADB: She's not really next generation and in fact she's—

WM: Rising talent

ADB: Well she’s been around a minute, she's just entering a different sphere. Her name is Adrienne Warren. She actually played Tina in the Tina Turner musical in London on the West End and she was just in Women of the Movement for ABC, she played the mother of Emmett Till. And we've been friends for a long time, but I shout her out and I say her name because she's always been really inspiring to me. Like behind the scenes she's so active in asking really tough questions. She's way smarter than I am and she's, I don't know, she's a producer, she's a collaborator in the true sense. She hasn't like taken to writing just yet, but like the way that she gets in there and influences text I find really inspiring. She kind of reminds me of you, Aunjanue, like she's strong but like in a way that it can be heard, like I can hear you so clearly, and Adrienne has that and I'm really excited to see how she'll influence and inspire the business. So yeah, she was just in Woman King with Viola Davis and Lashana Lynch, so I'm excited to see what they created for them. 

WM: Wow, that's a cast and a half right there. Ann, is there somebody you would like to mention?

AD: Oh dear, I'm one of those old aunt types. I'm sorry to say it, but I am and so I don't know any one person. I would say to the younger generation, put your phones down, put your computers away, learn to live with, live with the silence. Because that is where your information comes from. Stay focused, quiet, humble, grateful. Keep your love story alive and keep the nonsense out of your ears and out of your eyes. If you feel like going without your makeup, do so please. You know, just find your truth, find your courage. Find out who the hell you are and know there is a place for you.

WM: Everything Anna is saying today I want on a T shirt, my goodness, I love it. 

AD: I know it's so obnoxious, and I apologise.

WM: It's not. I love it. There's some great advice. Put down the phone. Don't wear your makeup if you don't feel like it, great. 

AD: I feel so scared for those young people. 

Goodness sakes with that. Come on now anyway. 

ADB: But there's a lot going on in the world, it's a wild time to be a young person. Like everything you said has real merit in my opinion. 

WM: And Aunjanue, is there a newer talent or somebody that's lesser known that you would like to champion for the future? 

AE: I'm going to be real selfish here. Very, very selfish. 

AD: Good girl. 

AE: Very, very selfish right now and say Demi Singleton, Saniyya Sydney, Mikayla Bartholomew, Layla Crawford and Daniele Lawson. If you don't recognize their names, they’re my daughters in King Richard. Uhm, but also I would like to say her name is Raven Jackson, she is a writer, director, uhm Raven Jackson, Raven Jackson, Raven Jackson. I'm so excited about what this woman this young woman is gonna do. And this is, I'm also being selfish because I want to be in it. Whatever it is, I wanna be in it. 

WM: You've earned it now. Great, great people to keep an eye out for. There is a lot of good questions coming in from the audience as we knew there would be. I want to start with one question which is, oh let's see which one to start with, and well, this one follows on nicely. This is from a woman who has a huge passion for film: 

What advice do you give to young women wanting to work in this industry and she says thank you for your dedication to your work also. But yeah, Catriona, do you have any advice for a young woman trying to break through in this industry? 

CB: You know, I think the biggest thing that has become one of the things that has opened the doors for so many people is creating stuff for yourself. You know, I think you know to speak to sort of what we were talking about earlier. Part of the reason we're not seeing the roles is, was it in 2018, out of the top 100 grossing films, there were eighteen female directors. Last year there were four. Uhm, you know if men are the ones who are writing the stories, making the stories, giving green light to the stories, then that's why we're not seeing beautiful, fully formed wide spectrum of what it is to be a woman and a man. I think to the young people coming up, write it, make it and you know the doors are so open now. We've got streaming on so many different platforms we have to, you know we have to sort of bypass those old guards because you know, as we've seen from how many decades they're not doing it. So I think the thing is that you have to do it.

AE: I want to piggyback on that, uh, Catriona and I just want to say I can't wait to see, I can't wait to see your directorial debut, and I want to say to you, you got a whole lot of people who are gonna hold you accountable. 

CB: No, that's the problem. 

AE:  I know what it's like to open your big mouth and say, yeah, you know blah blah. 

Blah blah anyway so…

CB: That's funny, thank you Aunjanue. I'll be calling you. 

AE: Listen, hey, I'm serious, but I do want to say this and I'm saying this because I am in this process of I've written something and put it out in the world. What it's gonna take:

Yes, we should write our own things, we absolutely should write our own things, a whole bunch of people writing their own things. But what we need are courageous producers. And not just men. Courageous women produces because sometimes it's women producers who are telling women no. It's not enough that we have the position, we have to change it. We have to change it. We can't replace, I said we can't replace domination with more domination. We have to make room for each other, yeah. So I just want to present that, I want to challenge women producers to when we write these things to have the courage to produce them and put them out in the world. 

WM: Great.

AD: Yeah like that. Are we continuing with this question or moving on?

WM: If you have another point to add, I would love to hear it. 

AD: Well, given that I do not possess the talents of these women who are writing and directing, which I I don't think I've ever completed a journal on one day, and I'm not joking, I just shut right down. To actors who are in their rooms wondering, will I ever have a chance? Uh, you know, I remember getting to New York without an agent and I used to stammer in, rehearse in auditions from sheer fright. I don't know how I ever got a job. But if you do your monologues in your bedroom every day, if you sing your song and make sure you can be heard, let yourself know I'm an actor. There is a place for me in this world. I remember standing on the streets in front of Broadway houses with my arms open and saying: I'm here. Thank you very, very much. I won't be in the audience. I'll be on the stage and thank you for having me. People wanted laugh, I mean, I'm surprised I didn't call 911. I don't care. But the point is get out there if you're an actor, I agree with these women. Write your stories. Hell yes, have the courage to produce them, push, but also look in the papers what's available. What theater work can you do? Just get it out there? Stay focused and positive because there is a place for you. OK, that's enough. 

WM: Great advice. There is a question that must be so important, two people have asked the same question, so we have to ask it. This is one for Ariana, it's about did you see Anita through an Afro Latina perspective? Is that something you discussed with Spielberg and with Tony Kushner? Or is that something you brought to it? Or is that wasn't so much in your thought?

ADB: Oh no, it was always very much in the forefront of my process, I mean I went in the room and the last thing I said to Steven was ‘if you're going to take me, as like a serious candidate for this role, you have to acknowledge that she would be Afro Latina. It doesn't work any other way if you're not gonna do that, then just don't hire me.’

AD: That is brave, yeah. 

ADB: I know, I don't know I ate my Wheaties or like just my pops that morning. 

AD: Wow, wow. 

ADB: But I just, I don't know. It's how I saw her even in the sides, like Tony Kushner wrote, these very expanded sides and that was very clear to me that's how I saw this woman. She was unapologetically black, Afro Latina, and it's a lived experience that, quite frankly lives in the grey and it didn't have a voice and I saw a way through and honestly, if you're going to make West Side Story, the point is to infuse new energy into it and offer any perspective, and that's the way that I saw her for me, so yeah, that's what I did. 

WM: And a specific question, but I'm interested to hear this 'cause I know it's a topic that's come up in the UK industry recently with Aunjanue and Ariana, did you ever have to deal with hair and make up stylists who haven't worked with black hair before or you feel like they're not an expert? I hope that has changed. There was a call recently in the UK for the industry to develop more people who have experience with working with all hair. 

Seems like a no brainer, but Aunjanue, is that something you've had to deal with? 

AE: How long have I been acting? A long time, I've been acting a long time. It's always an issue, you know it was an issue, but I'm very firm. I'm very firm. I'm very firm. I say if you want my hair done, this is who I need to do it. Ad I will do my own hair and I have done my own hair because I have experienced walking into a hair and make up trailer and just been invisible and I just refuse, I'm too old. I refuse to go through that another day of my life so yeah. 

ADB: Thank you, I mean it's number one everyone should just understand how to do all the different types of hair.

WM: Yeah, it's just a requirement for the job I think yeah. 

ADB: Uh, I you know I'm in this facet of the industry. I've only made a few films and I've only worked on a few television shows. And I've been lucky to have good experiences and I'm very grateful for that, but I've also been, you know borne witness to a lot of not positive experiences. All you can really do is say what you need to say to get to a place where you can go out and do the work and you know, I don't step on set anymore if I don't feel confident behind how I look around portraying this character. So I think you find your way through it, but again. I don't know. It's hard for me to speak on that one 'cause it's like it's still problematic, it's and it's good to find your people. I'm a person that like I'm blessed to have opportunities where I can take my people that I feel comfortable with you know how to do my hair with me. And then also, if you see something, say something, advocate. I always try to look out for other women of color. All the women on any set like if you, if someone's hair looks a little just… Can we make sure they look lovely, otherwise what are we doing? 

WM: Thank you. 

AE: I just want to say this real quick, I'm so sorry. It goes back to this other whole idea of like who you hired too because the reality is I get. I have text on my phone right now from black hair and makeup people who are saying can you, can you call this person and ask them would they, will they hire me? 

And what happens? A lot of times  unfortunately, even in stories that are about black people, the producers will hire, they will hire white hair and make up heads of the department and they won't hire, they won't hire black women and black men to be heads of these departments and that that that's the continuing practice in the industry and it has to stop.

WM: Thank you, well said. Just not good enough, Catriona totally different kind of question. Somebody is asking if you had been in Ma’s situation, do you think you would have stayed or would you have gone? 

CB: Uhm, I mean that's a tough one to answer, uhm? I don't know. I mean, watching what's happening in Ukraine right now. You see, you know, you're hearing it on the news so many women who are making that decision right now and their husbands have to stay behind, their sons have to stay behind. Uhm, there are some women who are staying and they don't want to leave. 

I don't know, it's a really, really tough one. 

You know right now I have a six and a half month old. I would probably do whatever I can to keep him safe, but I also I don't know. Yeah, I don't know what you do in those situations. It's impossible it's an impossible choice, because if you leave, you know, this is the problem with refugees fleeing any conflict. If you leave, do you ever get back, you know? Are the people who've left Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan, are they ever getting back? Are they ever going to have any of the possessions they ever had, the people they loved, any of those things? It's a horrible, horrible situation. 

WM: Yeah, but it's something we're, I think we're all thinking about every hour we look at the news right now, so thank you for sharing that. Another question, somebody asking, I think it's a good one, What is the, and the question asker says you don’t have to name names, so I think that's good, but what's the best advice a director has given you or the worst advice? So I think if this is the best advice you might want to name the name. If it's the worst advice, we don't have to name and shame? But has there been a moment where somebody you were just like Oh no, this person doesn't get it or something that really lifted, lifted? Ann, do you have a moment? 

AD: OK, I'm going to pretend this is comedy hour because I did a soap opera once really early on. This is silly. I mean, I'm just saying it right now, silly and it was terrifying because everything moves so quickly and everybody has a zillion lines and there's twenty-two cameras. I remember I played a doctor and a woman comes over with her daughter who's wearing a prom dress blood from head to toe. I mean to say the kid should be, you know, in emergency. And the woman said to me, ‘Doctor, can you help me what's wrong with my daughter?’ sorry for the accent and my line was ‘Well, it's just a sprained left ankle. ‘And I remember thinking, what will I do? And this is my early days meaning to say I had no, I didn't, all you do is bow you know. I didn't know what else to do so I said I beg your pardon and the guy looks at me, director: ‘What?’ ‘Thank you so much,’ I said ‘about the, um, the what's wrong with the daughter, the blood situation?’ I was trying to find words that made sense. I said, ‘is it that I don't see the blood?’ And so he looks at the bloody girl and he says ‘yeah, you don't see it.’ And then he walks away and then he turns back and he says. ‘And if you're looking for your motivation, it's your paycheck.’ And I said, ‘OK, all righty, let's get through this day and go on home.’ 

Since then, it's only been uphill.

ADB: Oh my God.

WM: That is priceless, but not, you know. 

AD: You know, hey, it's great, you learn early, get your act together no pun intended, you know, wow. ‘So honey, it is a left sprain and guess what else here is you're bleeding from head to toe.’

WM: I hate whoever is going to have to follow an, but does anybody else have a piece of good advice or bad advice you got? 

AE: I'm sorry I can't stop laughing so I can't bear. 

ADB: I can’t even think I got nothing. Ann that was good. 

WM: We’ve got a question for Aunjanue, which is somebody asking when you met Miss Oracene later, what was it like to actually to finally meet her and did she appreciate the film?

AE: I met Miss Oracene when we were doing a movie. I'm not laughing at meeting Miss Oracene, I’m still laughing at Miss Dowd. So I met her when we were doing the press last fall couple months ago and she's a lovely, lovely, lovely woman. And she just said, you know, good job. She's a woman of few words and my heart, just went, I was grateful. I was happy.

WM: But sometimes the good job means way more than yeah…

AE: Oh listen. Listen, let me tell you that was that was everything to me. 

AD: Umm, I can imagine. 

AE: Yeah, 'cause she meant it. She meant it you know, I mean I just I mean. Miss Catriona is Kenneth’s mother still alive? 

CB: No, she's not. He said that he probably couldn't have told that story if they were still alive, they were still here. 

AE: Right, I just imagined think about that her life, the intimate relationship she had with her husband is for the world to see. Like how that the exposure of it, I just I can't imagine so I was glad she was pleased. 

AD: Yeah, can I just jump in where I probably don't belong. I always wanted to. 

Meet that woman Aunjanue because I was so astonished at what those daughters had done, and that they knew who they were, aside from tennis players. They had a sense of my place in the world and I used to watch the their mother’s expression, which was always to me very dignified, very solid, self-possessed. And my mother, who doesn't have a shy bone in her body for some reason, went up to her. She was present at some sort of event and just complimented her and her daughters and she very gently just nodded her head. Mother to mother. I don't know, it meant the world to my mother and it just said so much. Of course I don't know her, but it said so much about who she was, just the strength the humility, whatever it is that makes a human being strong. That's it. 

AE: Yeah, I mean Miss Oracene she is a woman of action, you know and she had no interest in the limelight. That was for, that was for her husband. You know hers was to take care of her family and to design the tennis play of Serena Williams. That's what she did. 

WM: We've got another great question here, which is about some of the work with your amazing co-stars and I wanted to start with Ariana asking how you and Rachel Zegler you know, obviously, I'm sure there's rehearsals and things like that, but did you do anything beyond that? Were there late night Skypes? Were there dinners or how did you two work together not just officially, but unofficially?

ADB: Uh, you know Rachel and I just sort of had like an instant chemistry. Yeah, she was eighteen when she made that movie, you know. Yeah, she's eighteen, she's young, she's you know she's an old soul, but she was eighteen and that was a lot to take on. So I was sort of immediately protective, but I didn't want to be a twenty-eight year old Mama bear so I gave her her space. But we didn't have to do a lot of talking. We just had like an energy, chemistry. There was a warmth there. She's very funny, bubbly, awkward, sort of like I don't know me so, but it wasn't a stretch. And we just had a good time. We didn't do a lot of talking about material. Which I—it’s not that I was adamant about it but I just felt with these characters, they had very two very different points of view. And I was hopeful that we could just explore it and again I wanted her to come and just feel confident about what she was doing, and chatting and chatting and react and pulling apart, I don't know if that's gonna serve her or I so we didn't do a lot of chatting about it, we just did it. 

WM: It works! Catriona. You know you took one for the team, you had to work with Jamie Dornan. 

CB: Horrible!

ADB: Jeez, ugh.

WM: Could this, you know from the first moment we see you, we believe you as a couple. So how do you get to that kind of shorthand with another actor?

CB: You know it's funny, Jamie and I had only ever met once, very briefly at TIFF in passing. Sort of like ‘your Irish, you’re Irish, you must know each other’ and we were like we don't but we've had quite a similar sort of career life. You know, we both sort of did a bit in the fashion world. And then we came to acting and I don't know like from the moment, sort of like what Ariana was saying from the moment we met we just had a real shorthand with each other and a real, you know, Jamie is like the most down to Earth, most lovely, lovely person you're ever going to meet and you know he doesn't come in with any ego. He doesn't come in with any posturing. He's very open. Uhm, and one of the you know, Ken did this great thing where he got us all in a room first of all, Ciaran, Judi, Jamie, and myself, and we shared for about three hours just asking about our lives, our childhoods, our parents, our grandparents, and I think when you know people or when you find out you know those intimate things about people from the very get go it really puts you on a very, very intimate level with each other very quickly and then the next thing we did was we had a dance rehearsal and not like Ariana. 

AD: Ha ha ha. 

CB: I don't dance, so neither really does Jamie, so you know that was also a really good bonding experience or exercise, because the two of us hobbling around a car park in like thirty degree weather in the height of summer was a sight to behold so. 

Uhm, yeah, you know, sometimes you just get really lucky and I was so lucky to have just been brought into a beautiful cast like that and someone like Jamie is just so talented and open and it was, it was just luck I think. Not just luck, but it's wonderful. 

WM: There's a question that I think might be a lovely way to end. Somebody is asking what is a film you go back to and back to, that brings you joy just as a viewer? And for some people it might be West Side Story, though actually there was somebody even in the audience today who's seen it five times in the cinema already. 

ADB: Really, that’s awesome.

WM: That's his film of joy, and I know I'm putting you all on the spot. But is there a film that, I mean, I can't flip past Dirty Dancing, 

personally when it's on TV but Aunjanue, do you have a better film than that?

AE: God, I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me first. Jesus, can you come back to me please? 

WM: I'll come back it's so. Hard.

AD: I got one. 'cause I I'm so undereducated regarding film. Last of the Mohicans moved me deeply and every time I see it it gets you. 

WM: Yeah, I love a film like that. Yeah we need that emotion that pure emotion. Catriona, do you have one? 

CB: Oh God, I was hoping you didn't ask me either. Uhm, I mean. I think like I have, you know especially when you're sick, right? 

There's these movies that you sort of go back to, and usually it's something like Funny Face or Breakfast at Tiffany's. Something like that. I don't know these old, sort of, the world is very beautiful in Technicolor and, I don't know. 

WM: Those are good ones. I like those. Ariana?

ADB: I mean I love The Bandwagon. 

I was talking about The Bandwagon last night, Catriona. Just like good old fashioned, you know, Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse moment? It's interesting. I don't know I do, I gravitate towards old movie musicals. It's not that I can necessarily see myself in them, but in my imagination I'm doing exactly what they're doing, and it's fun and fabulous. 

WM: But you're the one here who could actually do what they're doing, so yeah, that’s lovely. Aunjanue, can I come back? 

AE: You know, I go to different movies for different for different reasons. You know, I, I'm a student so a film. So like I'm always looking at Fellini. You know what I mean? 

Just like 'cause just how to do it. And Rossellini, you know, just how to do it. I love him, Italian film makers. And then the thing that the stuff that gets my heart is just seeing anything that Ruby Dee is in, anything that she has ever done. And you know, back in the day, every Thanksgiving me and my sister and my mother would watch The Color Purple so you know it depends on what day you're asking me. So on Sunday that's my answer and then yeah. 

WM: That's great, that's given everybody here a Sunday evening viewing tip or ten.

Thank you so much. It has been such a delight talking to you all. Congratulations on these films on the work. Congratulations on the nominations. Thank you so much for spending part of your Sunday with us and thanks to the team at BAFTA for organizing us, getting us all together. Thanks to the audience for so many great questions, so engaged I feel you sorry we didn't get to all of them. Of course you can check out and the BAFTA social media channels for more information on the 2022 BAFTA film Sessions, which continue. 

And of course, I'm wishing you all good luck on Sunday and everybody else can tune into the 2022 EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday March 13th 7:00 PM on BBC One hosted by Rebel Wilson, who, I love, that is going to be such a treat celebrating movies with somebody like Rebel Wilson as well. Just a huge thanks from me to everybody who joined us and especially to these amazing creative forces. Thank you for your work. 

AD: Thank you, thank you pleasure. 

AE: You guys take care. 

ADB: Thank you everybody. 

AD: Yes, please take care. Love to all of you.