Rachael Sigee in conversation with Cathy Tyson, Jessica Plummer, Emily Mortimer and Celine Buckens
Rachael Sigee: I'm Rachael Sigee, and welcome to the BAFTA Television Sessions: Supporting Actress, celebrating the nominees from this year's Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and the nominees and winners from the British Academy Craft Awards. The Television Sessions are part of BAFTA’s Learning, Inclusion and Talent programme, helping to creatively inspire and engage the industry, budding talent and fans alike. So some housekeeping before we start, join the conversation on social using hashtag #VirginMediaBAFTAs and #BAFTATV. If you have a question, please use the Q&A function if you're joining us on zoom, and if you're a member of the press please can you state your name and publication alongside your question. Closed captioning is available now which you can turn on at the bottom of your screen via the CC button. There's also a live transcript which you can follow in a separate window and the link to that is in the chat. And we also have our interpreters this evening, Vicky and Katie, who will be sharing duties.
So tonight we're celebrating this year Supporting Actress nominees as they offer insight into their process and share their experience of bringing these powerful characters to screen. They will also be offering you, the audience, the chance to ask your own questions. Joining us, we have Emily Mortimer for The Pursuit of Love, Jessica Plummer for The Girl Before, Celine Buckens for Showtrial and Cathy Tyson for Help. Unfortunately not able to join us tonight are Tahirah Sharif for The Tower and Leah Harvey for Foundation. So welcome everyone. It's so fantastic to have you with us this evening, very excited to talk to you. We’ve got four very different roles here: We've got the former English teacher suffering from dementia in a care home in crisis during the pandemic; a young woman dealing with a terrible trauma who's moved into an extremely unusual house with its own intriguing history; a privileged student who may or may not have committed murder and a flighty 1940s serial dater with a trail of discarded men in her wake. So some very deserving nominees here and I think if it's all right, we'll start with how you first got involved with these particular projects and what drew you to these characters. And I wondered if, Cathy, you'd like to start us off? Help, Help was such an important show last year. Tell us how you became a part of it.
Cathy Tyson: Hello, Rachel. Thank you for asking me. And as with everything, it's an audition and this one was on Zoom and then I got a recall. So I read the script and then did the Zoom and my agent was really keen on this as well. And I di-- it was when we started doing these Zoom auditions, you know. And we improvised as well. Mark had a reader in that we did some improvisation with and she was actually in--she got a part in Help as well. And then we discussed, you know, the age of the character, and I said “Mark, you know, I don't want to be taking work away from an older actress.” I want to be acting, hopefully, if I've got the energy until I'm about 80, would you believe that, you know? But he said “no I want to work with you” Because I had that on my conscience a bit, I tried to talk myself out of the job, which is crazy, isn't it? But I have--you know, I know what the situation is for women over a certain age in the business. So he said, “no, I really want to work with you” and I have to give all credit to the makeup artist as well. So that was how that was, you know, talked about and the alcohol related… It's alcohol related dementia she had and the part was not written as a you know, as specifically a black person, but I just thought, OK, she was a teacher in the seventies and eighties in Liverpool and I remember what it was like then and there was no such thing as, you know, decolonizing the curriculum or getting black books on the curriculum. And I thought she may have had quite a lonely time of it back then in the eighties and that may have contributed to some of her distress. You know, and I knew a school, a sink school called Paddington Comp that nobody wanted to send their children to. Anyway, so we talked about getting black writers and poets because as a black teacher, she would know probably something from the black cannon. So they were in in agreement, Jack Thorne was in agreement with that, and we looked around for writers. We discussed Derek Walcott, we couldn't get that poem, as well as including the other poems that were in there. So John Agard kindly said we could use his one of his for nothing. So it was wonderful because they developed as time went on and I, you know, we’ll talk about process later, but that's how.
RS: Oh, thank you so much, Cathy. It sounds like you brought a lot to the role beyond what was in the initial script, which I definitely want to talk about more later.
CT: Thank you.
RS: And Jessica, how about you, how did you get involved with The Girl Before? What drew you to playing Emma? Oh, I think you might be on mute.
Jessica Plummer: Knew I was going to do that. Yeah, similarly to Cathy, I also had a Zoom audition. It was actually one of the first Zoom auditions that I had done with a director before. And yeah, I mean everything that could have potentially went wrong, went wrong. Like I was so nervous I completely blanked out on the first take, the second take the doorbell rang like three times, the third take my daughter fell off the trampoline in the other room… Like audition from hell. Bless Amy Jackson, I would imagine she probably deleted all of those and sent like the sixth one in. And yeah, like had a recall, that whole process, got all of the episodes and yeah, just sat down and read all of them back to back, instantly fell in love with, you know, not just my character but the whole story. The fact that there was like the time difference between my character is called Emma and Gugu’s character who plays Jane, but like seeing all the similarities but the differences and the relationships, the different types of relationships that they have with the same people and yeah. I mean it was it was based off of a book of the same title written by JP Delaney, which I hadn't read but like I did my research and like, you know, it's a bestseller. And yeah, I mean, I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of it. I almost kind of, yeah, wasn't sure if I would get it 'cause, I thought this would just be an absolute dream come true and it was 'cause yeah, obviously I got it and here we are.
RS: Very, very good job too that you got it because you're brilliant in the role. Celine, Showtrial a bit like The Girl Before has a bit of a twisty narrative going on, there’s some flashing backwards and forwards. Were you--did you also audition on Zoom?
Celine Buckens: Yeah, yeah. Originally I did a self-tape and it was a self-tape in lockdown so I actually got a friend to record the other lines instead of doing it solo because I was living alone and it was a weird way to audition and then the recall was on Zoom, which I think is my only Zoom audition. I don't think I've had any others. They’re fucking—they’re really weird. Yeah, yeah, anyway. Then the character immediately appealed to me because she sort of builds up to like immediately you hate her, like immediately. Like you're just like ugh. And then you break--and then the challenge and what intrigued me was breaking that down. And you know obviously a snap judgement is most of the time not 100% reliable, obviously we're more complex than that as human beings. So I think it's actually quite rare as a woman to get the opportunity to play characters who, you know, aren't fully good or fully bad. Maybe, maybe things are changing, but I think that you know that complexity is something that I was really drawn to.
RS: And yeah, I think things are definitely changing and probably partly because people like Emily are not just acting in the show that they're nominated for, but also writing and directing. So Emily, I take it there was a slightly different route for you to this role because you were writing originally? Were you always planning on appearing in the show?
Emily Mortimer: Well, yeah. I mean, I basically just gave myself the part! I didn't make myself audition and I felt like you know this may never happen again. You know, I've written this thing and then I found myself directing it. I didn't write it intending it to direct it because I had never directed anything before. But it happened that that door opened for me, in no small part thanks to Lily James, who was the person that suggested that. And so suddenly I was directing this show, and I thought, well, yeah, this may never happen again. And I think it's so hard to get jobs as an actor. And I thought I'm damned if I'm not going to give myself a part because I've written this, I might as well. And I did. And I gave myself this part of The Bolter partly just because, in a way, she sort of--partly because it was doable. You know, I could, it was manageable. It was just a couple of days each episode that I was--and they were very contained scenes, but also in a way, 'cause she sort of symbolized what I loved about the book and about the material is that that she really is a woman… Well, I think partly what Nancy Mitford does in this book is she really interrogates what it is to be a mother and I think it's been up until really recently, a big taboo in our culture to, you know, you can't really be a bad mother on screen or in fiction without being a horrible, detestable person up until very recently. I think Maggie Gyllenhaal did a lot for the cause of bad mothering with her film recently, but I was really drawn to this. The Pursuit of Love is littered with bad mothers and they're all really likable and I think the whole the history of the universe has been littered with bad fathers who have been heroic and, you know, starting with Odysseus on and people still sing songs about Odysseus, you know. So anyway, I felt like this character is a heroine in a way, even though she's totally shameless, she's totally kind of selfish and has no guilt and is a pretty, pretty lame mother. But to be celebrated as a kind of a life force. And I love the way that the book did that and so this character sort of symbolized the essence of what I felt was important about the book.
But having given myself this job I got really cold feet and I kept trying to fire myself as we were getting closer and closer to shooting it. I was just like, who the hell do I think I am? I just cannot do this. Like this is just way too weird and greedy and I can't be in this thing and write and be directing it. And I just had terrible visions of myself running around with a sort of wig on, a ridiculous wig like trying to run to the monitor and direct myself, I was just like no! And I kept trying to fire myself, about three times I went to the producers and I was like, you've got to set me free. Please. Can I not? Can I not be The Bolter, I just can't do it and they wouldn't let me and then really it was really hard actually. It was really hard being both in the scene and directing in the scene and I felt like I just didn't show up for anyone on those days. I was just like, I just looked like I sort of had 1000 mile stare. But anyway, but at the same time I did, I'm, you know, incredibly grateful to them for not letting me fire myself and I did ultimately, the whole spirit of the show in some way was sort of, I hope, channeling through The Bolter as I was doing those scenes. But yeah, at the time, I was just like, Oh my God, this is so embarrassing. Everyone must think I'm just so weird.
RS: Well I think I speak for everyone that I'm very glad that you didn't sack yourself from that role. And I would happily watch a spinoff Bolter. Maybe we can get that in motion! Obviously you were directing yourself on this on this project, but I'm interested to know how the rest of the nominees, what the sort of creative collaborative process was like on set with your respective directors.
Jessica, The Girl Before has these two women at the centre, both of whom are dealing with trauma. Was it important that you had a female director at the helm of the show?
JP: Not that I realized it before we started, but yes, like absolutely Lisa Brühlmann was our director and she was incredibly hands on you know. Before we had even met face to face, we had done numerous Zoom meetings and really got to know each other. And I feel like I just felt like she was fantastic at, you know, directing everything and piecing altogether. But also I felt like she really trusted me to bring my own version of Emma to life. Yeah, there is the book, but I purposely didn't wanna read the book. I'm the type of person that if they read something, I'm like, OK, well, that's that. It said her favorite color is purple, so it's purple. So I kind of just wanted to give myself that freedom and yeah, working with Lisa and just, you know, like we spoke about my own personal life and things that, you know, not directly the same, but situations that could just like unlock certain things and yeah, like the trust was huge and she, you know, I also work with a therapist who was a professional in the field in which Emma’s trauma was, and that was a fantastic help. I felt incredibly supported from everyone but I mean, yeah, Lisa is just electric. She created an atmosphere on set where I think everybody felt super safe and yeah, like we just had a lot of fun. Like we explored loads.
RS: And Cathy, picking up on that, Help obviously dealt with some very traumatic subject matter. What was the atmosphere like on your set? How was your director handling this very urgent piece of work that you were producing that spoke to a specific moment in time?
CT: I think, Mark, well Mark is a thinker. And he’d have a book with him, and there was no--it was a bit like a sketch pad, and he'd refer to that. And I just got the sense of him, he was quietly concentrating a lot. He's a mild mannered man, Mark, a thinker, and I got the sense that even though a lot of it I think was handheld, he’d done a lot of preparation. We were working in a disused care home so still with the background of the lock down in us, you know, so there's separate rooms, you know, separate being driven from London to Liverpool separately and--excuse me--it just felt from him and as well as the other people that worked on this, particularly the costume people and the makeup, the meticulousness with which they worked, it was great to watch them. And I mean, I didn't wear wonderful costumes. I mean they were, you know, not glamorous costumes, but I could tell the kind of precision that people were… I just felt really considered, that character considered. I had some conversations with Mark. He always felt available and I also, you know, I didn't, obviously, you know, he had a lot to do, but I could always, you know, I had his telephone number. I needed to speak to him and I did speak to him and I also watched certain things on YouTube because they put a husband in for the character. And I just thought it would be interesting to.. Ah that was what was interesting, yes Vicky McClure’s series on dementia. I think I watched that, and Stephen Graham mentioned that. So I watched that and I listened to a podcast by the BBC 'cause I needed, I wanted to learn about it. And I wanted to learn about what life would be like for a person, what a person with dementia possibly goes through. And that was quite fascinating, because what did occur to me is, and I think all good work can do this for you it can teach you, is that it isn't that people with dementia should be ostracized, but the world needs to change to adapt to them, and even since things like, you know, when you walk into a room, don't come in abruptly and noise can be affected, noise can affect you as well. And you know how you're approaching people, approach slowly, so I just thought ‘OK and if my character ever sees somebody coming quickly at her, I can act think about oh, but that's a bit too much to handle because that's too sudden’. So YouTube you know is a great resource, the Internet, the Library, you know, I did that bit, but Vicky McClure’s series I think there were four episodes, was very helpful as well because I haven't had dementia in my family. So you know, when you don't, it doesn't touch you personally, you actually don't necessarily have to learn about it so it was good to open the world on that. And then also it was alcohol related dementia so it was differentiating between a few of them, learning what different things do and hers wasn't an aggressive form. And I think there is one where you can be quite aggressive verbally. So it was a privilege to learn all that.
RS: And you mentioned, Kathy, that the hair and makeup and how important that was for playing an older person. How did you approach, I don't know, adjusting your speech patterns and your movements to be playing an older person?
CT: That's where Mark, he watched me. So I always felt observed, but not in an intrusive way. But if the delivery was a little bit too--'cause I had, he was very kind in that I had a lot of energy and it was to take that back. I kind of relied on him a bit 'cause I thought he's watching me and if I get it wrong then I get it wrong. You know, if I stray off a bit, you know, movement, of course move moving slower. But I think it was just a thing of what I like to do is think about stuff, keep the concentration. You know, that that helps me physically, as well, to be in character. You know, so that helped and just to physically remember to go a bit slower and observe the older people who were on set. Because they were a lot more, the supporting artists were a lot more energetic because they didn't have alcohol related dementia, but it was still good to see how mobile or immobile you can get when you get older and so you know, that helped.
RS: And Celine, on the hair and makeup note, obviously I know, you know, I wanna talk about your nails. In Showtrial, Talitha has these lime green acid green fingernails that tap around every scene as she's irritating various people and you've got this scarf that's central to the plot. How did you go about constructing this very character?
CB: So the green nails, it was kind of like kind of lucky and a weird coincidence. I actually had them when I auditioned because I’d had them for a short film that I did where I was wearing like baby pink, and the director thought lime green nails would go really well with that and then lock down hit and I couldn’t get them off properly. And so I auditioned with them, but the scarf was supposed to be green and all that. So that was just really fortuitous that I had those nails and Zara our director was like ‘Oh my God, that is just perfect’. But yeah, but what did become a part of the storyline is—and I sort of thought it had a nice metaphorical aspect to it is the nails because you need to get them taken off properly with acetone. If you get, if you get arrested like unexpectedly with those nails on and then you end up being on remand and all of that, then there is no way to get them off. And so we had nails that would grow as the shoot, as, that told the story as to where, like Talitha was in the timeline and would get really grotty by the time that she's in the episode, is it episode three or four when she's in prison?, that they're all bitten. But anyway—
RS: Sounds like that sounds like a continuity dream or nightmare!
CB: Yeah, sort of somewhere between a dream and a nightmare! But I just wanted to also refer back to Jessica's point about a female director. And I mean our characters are so different but Talitha also has this background of abuse and I feel like there's something to be said. I mean, of course, like 5050 crews are great because of the whole social element and the feminist element, but also because when we're telling these stories, the shorthand that there is between women is a time saver and it does--I feel like with characters like that I find it very helpful that the director was a woman because those conversations were so much easier to have because of the shorthand that we have growing up as women. I don't know if you agree, but your answer made me think of that.
RS: Well, on that note, Emily, you've obviously got lots of experience of being directed. What did you want to bring to the table as an actor turned director? How did you get the best out of people based on your own experiences?
EM: Oh God, that's a good question. I don't know. I mean, I feel that I fell in love with acting and what it is to be an actor from observing people do it when I was doing the show in a way that I had always had such a sort of, you know, and uneasy, not uneasy relationship with acting, but kind of it's strange being an actor. It's sort of like, it's so dumb. It's something you feel so strongly and it's so--you can't not do it, but it's so painful and sometimes you're questioning whether, you know, what the point of it is and all these things. And when I watched people acting on the set, on my set, I was just so taken by how beautiful it is. I'm gonna sound pretentious and annoying probably but like, I really felt like I could, I mean… First of all the single most difficult job that anyone is doing on a set at any given moment, as the camera is rolling, is acting. Like that is really hard. It's really hard to do it well, and when you see people doing it well, you're kind of just gob smacked. And I’ stand there watching Lily and Emily and Andrew Scott and Assaad and just think God this is, you know, just to be able to be kind of relaxed enough in the moment to be prepared enough. To be prepared enough and focused enough, and also relaxed enough at the same time, to be able to talk to the person that you're in the scene with and be there, it's just like kind of breathtaking. So I felt like God it really is such an extraordinarily special thing that these people are doing and i think that just kind of feeling that giving them my enthusiasm for what they were doing. I think also I have felt being directed by directors as an actor that the ones I feel that it’s really worked is you understand the world they’re creating, the world you’re in. All they have to do, they don’t have to tell you how to act in the scene, they just have to tell you what the world is that they’re making and then you know how to act in the scene. So that was all it was just like—helping everyone help me tell the story and just kind of try to infuse everyone with my enthusiasm for the story, and I guess that’s what happened but I don’t know. You’d have to ask them if I did it successfully but I did really love doing it and I was so taken by watching people act.
RS: Jessica I want to pick up on what we were talking about with this traumatic subject matter. The Girl Before gets very dark in particular on the topic of toxic relationships which is something you’re familiar with because of your part on Eastenders. How do you approach a story like that? How do you kind of take care of yourself in the moment as well when you’re performing such kind of, such difficult material?
JP: Yeah. Research, conversations. As I said I worked with a therapist prior to shooting which was incredibly helpful to be able to try and like understand you know, because not only was my character going through these things, it was like she was going through them in secret. So there was that layer behind a layer of her kind of, her masked character that I needed to figure out separately. And yeah, again like similarly to what I did on Eastenders working with charities and things like that. My main thing with a character like that, like the thing that drives me, is I want to be able to do it in a way in which if there’s an audience member watching who is able to relate to what my character is going through, sees truth in it. I want to be able to represent women in these situations in a way that feels true. So that was incredibly important. And just in terms of looking after myself, I just… One of the things I actually did to prep, other than read the script a million times, it was a tool if you like that I got from an acting coach called Giles Foreman and basically read the script loads of times and kind of assigned my character theme tunes to her emotions, and then id go through all the scenes and go ‘OK cool how does she feel right now in this scene? How does she feel in this scene? Is she happy here is she sad here?’ And I would learn my lines to the song which was sad or the song which was happy. And then before we would, like when we’d be on set before we’d do the scene I’d listen to the song. And it was a way for me to instantly access those emotions because the song would trigger it all because you know because of the prep work assigned to it. And as soon as the scene was done it was like Cut, back to me, back to Jess, you know, asking for a toilet break or a snack and yeah. That I think was super, super helpful. I know sometimes it’s helpful to maybe stay in character a little bit longer but with a storyline like that that is so emotionally kind of demanding, it was yeah, I would’ve been incredibly tired had I stayed in it I think. Kind of switching off, chilling out, having a bath, yeah, at the end of the day.
RS: Yeah, I imagine it would be very intense and quite draining to try to keep that up between takes.
JP: So many coffees.
RS: Celine, Talitha is such a complex character and as you said she’s often quite obnoxious, at least when we first meet her. And so much of the plot hinges on her likeability or her unlikability. What did you make of her and do you think characters need to be likeable or viewers need to like them?
CB: No I don’t. I think it’s a bit of a trap to think… I don’t know, I think they’ve got to be intriguing. You’ve got to want to spend time with them, but I think likeability is too subjective. I think with likeability we’re chasing this thing—people like people for different reasons. Like sometimes your best friend has a friend that you’re like how?! I don’t get on with that person. It’s too difficult to chase, I think. So the only thing that I was, that was important for me in preparing her was honesty and within the genre that it’s operating how much we’re giving when, and how much that keeps the audience guessing but always anchoring that in a place of honesty. For example, a lot of the obnoxiousness we see at the beginning because of the way she dresses and because of the way she sounds and because of the way she wears her jacket that’s so irritating, we just assume that she’s basically this posh bitch. But then actually, you, I consulted Iz Burton, an independent sexual violence advisor, who followed women who experienced sexual violence and assault through court cases and acting out is one of the sort of two main ways that women who have been abused in their childhood behave. And so you know there is a different story behind why she is the way that she is. I found it so interesting how a lot of the reviews were written after the first episode and a lot of the media fell into that same trap of being like because of who she is and because of who her father is she behaves like X. And actually there is a why explanation. It’s a long winded answer but yeah, basically no I don’t think characters need to be likeable because I don’t think that—I just don’t think that we all like the same things.
RS: It wasn’t long winded at all. I think it’s a question that warrants long answers! I’d love to ask the other nominees what they think about that because I think it’s something that especially with female characters has often cropped up in the past. I wonder what you think about your characters’ likeability, do you ever find yourself defending your characters?
EM: I was just going to say I so related to what Celine was saying and I felt similarly with The Bolter that a lot of the sort of behaviour of someone like that which is kind of, you know, dismissed as sort of ‘oh she’s this larger than life eccentric selfish person,’ and then you get into the kind of psychology of it and what’s really going on and you realise that somebody who has to—In those days the only way you could live a life that’s exciting was through men. You couldn’t have an independently exciting life or interesting life really as a woman, especially as an uneducated woman. There were starting to be a few women who could have had tertiary education but somebody like The Bolter wouldn’t have had that. Her only real option for any kind of interesting life was through the man that she would marry. And if you happen to marry a man that wasn’t that interesting, your only option was to leave them and marry another one! And if you want at all of an adventurous life, you have to go from man to man to man to have it. In order to do that and get away with it without being shamed or made to sort of, you know, literally being shamed and pilloried as a slut, you had to put on this coat of armour. Literally bangles and turbans and eyeliner and be defiant in your kind of ‘no I’m not… yeah I’m not a conventional woman but screw you, this is who I am.’ That was the only way of becoming in a way, a roundabout way, accepted. So I just think—there’s always a reason for bad behaviour or ‘bad behaviour,’ that’s again what I loved about Nancy Mitford’s novel and that character. My father’s a criminal defence barrister and he would say things, his education to me as well as a writer was you can be a good person and kill someone and you can be an awful person and never get a parking ticket your whole life. That’s true! And that’s why good writing and well-written characters are not just one thing. What does it mean even to be good? What does that even mean? I think it’s really awesome that with all of these characters that these brilliant actresses are playing that there’s—it’s interrogating, every single one of them is interrogating what it is to be good in a way that’s really cool.
CT: I also think, following on from what you were saying, and you’ve been so articulate Rachel, but I was just thinking about as in life--I don’t like Vladimir Putin, but i want to know why he behaves like that, I’m intrigued. Of course I’m not focusing my whole day on him but there are things, podcasts that are delving into his life, so I guess that’s what it’s like with characters as well. I might not like you but I’m intrigued as to why, why? Why and how can we stop this, as well. I think at the end of my why is a how can this not happen again, kind of thing. How can we improve on this? I’m just thinking I’m an actress, I am a black person, and I think in the eighties and nineties there was this thing of if you were a black actress you dare not go near a high class prostitute or play a criminal because we as black artists had the added thing of trying to issue in change, societal change. Not just this is a character I fancy playing, it’s like our characters we played did have an impact on other people’s lives as well. There was that dilemma of OK we must play business women now, successful middle class business women that haven’t been anywhere near the darker side of life. And you know I don’t want to go down that route either, that bland route. I want variety as possibly every other actor on here wants as well. I don’t turn down parts now because somebody says to me… I mean after—you know I played Simone in Mona Lisa and I also played in Band of Gold which was a different class of sex worker, and then I had the opportunity to work with Howard Davis in The Ice Man Cometh and I said no for that because even though the play really interested me I had to make a decision about that. And it’s a political decision as well, it’s not just a creative decision, but I think things feel a bit different now. It depends what the other, what Jessica’s experience is but I think there’s a wider variety of parts for young black actors now. What do you think, Jess?
JP: Yeah absolutely. I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like in your experience, having to consider what it would mean to represent being a black woman on TV. I feel like yeah, I’ve not necessarily had to consider that so I guess it would mean that things are changing on camera, which is amazing. I think just in general, this whole conversation I just yeah, I feel like my own personal career I do quite often play roles that are quite likeable and I am desperate to play—I don’t know if I can swear but be a B-I-T-C-H. I really want to play someone bad and gritty and Talitha, I loved her from the start. There was not—I wanted to be her friend, I kid you not I was like I want to get my nails painted green. I think 100% being likeable just to add on to what everyone has said, it isn’t important. Almost in a way I guess if an audience member doesn’t like you, you’re doing your job. There’s a reason. As Emily said, there’s always layers, no human is one dimensional. It’s just realness you want to see, whatever—
CT: What I thought was amazing about your programme is you had two mixed race women. I don’t think that would have happened when I was younger, there wouldn’t have been space for two mixed race women. That was a joy for me to watch, the difference and the progress in that. I don’t think that would have happened, but maybe the audience about there can prove me wrong, maybe there was one.
RS: I mean there’s definitely been progress in the sense that the characters for which you’re all nominated there’s real light and shade there in all of them. Before we head into the Q&A I’ve got a quickfire in the spirit of BAFTA celebrating fantastic television I’d like to ask each of you which TV show you always come back to that brings you joy. Celine?
CB: I think it’s probably Extras.
RS: Great, cool. Emily?
EM: Oh my God. Argh. There are so many! This is not the right answer but Bake Off! Anything that’s to do with cooking, ever since I was a little girl I used to watch Delia Smith when I was a little girl and want to be Delia Smith. So that’s what brings me joy is cookery programmes, but that’s not the right answer! I’ll think of another one.
RS: There’s no wrong answer here! Cathy, what would you pick?
CT: Off the top of my head is Alan Partridge. I don’t know about joy, but laughter. I know I can go there when I watch anything to do with Alan Partridge I’m laughing an awful lot. That’s one of the things.
RS: And Jessica?
JP: You know what the first thing that came to mind, and I don’t want to overthink it because I’m really indecisive, was Curb Your Enthusiasm. Yeah.
EM: That’s brilliant. Can I have that one too? I’m so embarrassed about my choice!
JP: And I’ll take British Bake Off, we can share!
RS: We are going to head into the Q&A, we’ve got lots here. First of all, given that we’ve been discussing research, Celine is it true you turned into a bit of a law geek for Showtrial?
CB: I don’t know if I’d go that far! I read The Secret Barrister which I really highly recommend to everyone. It’s just, it really blew my mind quite how close to the brink of collapse the legal system is, it’s just so underfunded. If Talitha is innocent then her life has been pretty much ruined by this case because of the attention she’s had in the media and all that, and she’s got the money to fight the case and all that. Although Cleo is a Legal Aid lawyer, her father does end up paying for the case to be fought with all resources. I didn’t become a law geek but I did start following all the sort of Twitter legal celebs and read The Secret Barrister. It really gets my blood going when I think about how it shouldn’t be—it’s almost like this marginal issue but it’s not because any of us could end up in the situation where we need the justice system to work properly. And it is a good system it’s just not well oiled and there’s no other answer than it needs the money.
RS: And a question for Emily here. You’ve got experience of working in TV in the states and in the UK. Which do you prefer?
EM: God, I mean I think it just depends on the production really. It depends on what the thing is. I guess really the only experience I had—I’m trying to think what my television experience here is apart from The Newsroom. The Newsroom was such an extreme experience that it’s sort of unlike anything, it’s like going to outer space and doing a television show. It was so mad having to learn that much. I can remember I had a trailer for the entire three seasons and on the last day of the last episode I sat down in my trailer and sat on the sofa, laid down on the sofa actually. And I remember thinking wow I’ve never seen my trailer from this position, this is the first time! Because I was literally pacing, I never sat down because I was pacing trying to learn my lines for three years straight. I could only sit down on the last day of the last episode. I used to walk from my trailer to the studio terrified of moving my head in case the words spilled out of my ear because I was just cramming! I think that was Aaron Sorkin madness that would have been equally mad wherever it was filmed.
RS: Cathy this is a good question given I know you were so impressed with Emily directing. With your acting experience, would you ever consider directing?
CT: I’ve just done it and I’m about to do my second one, but I’ve only done a short.
EM: That’s so cool!
CT: Like Emily it was a bit accidental that I directed it. I was in it as well like Emily. I mean it’s so inspiring she’s done this series. So that is what I do now, as well! My first short is about to do the festival circuit, it’s about Lilian Bader, the first black woman in the RAF. And it was extraordinary and people were so supportive and then the second one we’re getting that together. Thanks for asking Rachel, that’s been quite an experience. We were talking about wanting to create more roles for women, my company’s called Brown Girl Films and that was intentional to remind myself why I wanted to do this as well. That was a terrible plug wasn’t it? I’m sorry, I’ve got to fess myself there. I’ve fessed myself up anyway. I try to encourage other actors or actresses, especially actresses. Because I don’t know why drama schools aren’t saying ‘OK you’re an actress, you possibly are going to go down the route of director so think about that.’ I just think actors need more confidence to be able to think of themselves in that role.
EM: I really just agree. If anyone here is listening and is an actor and feels that they would like to try directing I think that all actors—if you’re a good actor you’re a good storyteller, it’s the same job. It really is. If you can act, you can write, you can direct, you can do any of it because it’s knowing how to shape a scene, knowing when the important moment in the scene is, knowing when to not hang it all out there, to keep a bit in reserve. All these choices you’re making as an actor are choices you’re making as a director and a writer. And so anyone who has any interest in it should just try it.
CT: And also the Director of Photography helps you because on the technical side I didn’t know anything but then again, because actors do self tapes now Emily and Celine and Jessica, we’ve got the lights, the camera, the action… We’re looking at ourselves. I took it from that, the fact we’re looking at ourselves because we’re self-taping I’m not as scared of the equipment. Also my DoP helped me storyboard, he taught me. I was surrounded by people that wanted to help me, it was wonderful. You’re not on your own, you don’t have to go and do a three-year degree in cinematography although you can do that as well!
CB: Can I ask, Emily and Cathy, the next thing you direct, will you be in it?
CT: Not me, not the next one.
EM: Never again!
CT: Not me, because I want to get the experience of what it’s like to be 100% out. But I’ll be gagging to act because it’s as natural as breathing to me to act, I like it. But I thought step back and it’s something very, very satisfying to be able to give another woman a good part, to be able to create more work for people is very, very satisfying. Thanks for asking, Celine.
RS: We have a question from Susan Jane Oredina. We’ve talked lots about preparing for roles, but she’s asked about your favourite part of the process when you’re preparing. Maybe we can go to Jessica first?
JP: My favourite part of a process of preparing. Ooh, erm, I do like doing the music thing, picking a soundtrack. I have a background in the music industry and music is up there with my love of acting. That is one part that I do really enjoy. I think just like the first time you read the finished draft, although they’re never finished are they, of a series or a film. The first time it comes to the end and you’re like ‘yeah wow I’m gonna be a part of this.’ Then it’s like ‘oh I’ve got to go do it now.’ But yeah the first time reading the finished material of what you’re going to be a part of. Even the small things like giving my character a favourite colour and a favourite meal, which probably doesn’t come in useful when I’m on set at all but all the small little things.
RS: And Emily for you, was it immersing yourself in the world of the Mitfords? That sounds like an enjoyable way to spend your time!
EM: Yes that was, I’d done so much research by just being, just doing what I was doing that that wasn’t a problem with the part. I’d immersed myself in the world. But I think costume fittings for me are always, the first costume fittings are always so exciting especially if you’re working with—we had such an incredible costume designer, Sinéad Kidao, on The Pursuit of Love, but you know, when you go and you talk to a costume designer if they’re good about your character for the first time and you see what they have chosen for the character and you know, you find you know what you’re drawn to. You could think ‘help I don’t know who I am yet,’ but you’ll see a pair of shoes and it’s like oh that’s it, and you’ll see another pair won’t be it and you’ll be able to say ‘no I don’t think she’d wear that.’ And you realise you know more about her than you think you did and that sort of starts to kind of crystalise in the costume fitting often, and that can be a really exciting moment.
RS: So the BAFTA Sessions are all about encouraging new talent and I know that there’s always budding filmmakers and actors in the audience. Erica James has asked for non-represented actresses, do you have any advice on how to obtain an agent and find work? What would be your advice to actresses looking to make their first steps if they don’t have representation yet?
EM: I would say try and make stuff. Make stuff, like Cathy was saying we’re all filmmakers, we can be, just make something on your phone. A proof of concept or put on a play with your friends, do anything you can put in front of people and show them. And also just keep, just make stuff. You’ll find that you’ll get together with other people who are like minded and they’ll know somebody and someone will have some—just getting out there and doing it and there are so many ways of doing that now that there didn’t used to be. To feel that you can do stuff and do it. I don’t know. I know that’s kind of—
CT: Great answer, Emily. More women doing stuff. Writing stuff as well, creating more female parts. Yeah. Trusting the imagination. If you have an idea, that’s enough. You’ve thought about it, you don’t have to get approval for an idea. If you believe in it, then that will be enough. i also know I’m not going to please—I’ve had to learn to deal with well some people don’t like my film, I think, or they’re not all bells and whistles around it, but you know I’m not really seeking approval, I just want to seek some time on a film set and do it. There’s different—because I’m trying to create something from the ground, whether somebody likes what I do or not I’m not too bruised by their response at the moment because I’m more involved in well let’s get this thing off the ground. Always, too, if you’ve got that passion to try and keep it, that is there for you and the light may dim a bit, it may burn a bit but as long as you’ve got that pilot light of desire for the work go for that. Even if it’s small sometimes. Agents, Spotlight. There are agents out there, keep trying and don’t be disheartened. If you get a few agents, talk to them for about an hour each time, find out if it fits. Spend time looking for them. There’s other ways as well as Emily said, we’ve got the cameras now, we’re self-taping now, it’s part of our world.
CB: And you can find other women through Facebook groups and Instagram. If you don’t have friends who do that you can—social media has made it so much easier if you don’t have that network of people.
JP: I was literally going to say that, like social media these days it’s your friend. Use the platform in every which way. And also as well, to add on to what Cathy and Emily were saying about just doing things, you don’t always necessarily even need an agent. There’s websites you can sign up to online that have open castings that you can go down to. Also just like doing it, whether that be by yourself or with friends, but there’s potentially community things happening in your area depending where you’re based. The Internet is your friend! Also acting workshops. I live in London so I know personally that there are quite a few in London for people to just you know, just work their brain. Even as a professional actor, between jobs I might have an audition come up and it’s been a couple of months since my last thing and I’m like ‘oh my God can I even act any more? How do I do this?’ So just like keep working your brain and just like, you know, even just for fun printing off some lines and doing them and recording them and uploading it on to your Instagram or TikTok or whatever your thing is. The Internet is your friend.
RS: It is our friend and it’s been our friend this evening. We’ve come to the end of our time but that seems like a really good place to finish with so much great advice from our fantastic panel. The next event in the series is taking place online tomorrow, it is Female Performance in a Comedy Programme starting at 7pm UK time, and the speakers include the brilliant Rose Matafeo, Sophie Willan, Aimee Lou Wood and Anjana Vasan. You can sign up to watch at bafta.org and it will also be streamed live on our BAFTA Guru YouTube channel where you can also find the rest of the sessions series across TV, film and games. So would just like to say thank you so much to our audience for being so engaged this evening, and all our nominees for being so generous in sharing your experiences with these roles. And most of all, a big good luck for Sunday night! You can tune into the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards on Sunday 8th May on BBC One. So thank you very much for tuning in, thanks to our panel, and good luck for Sunday. Have a lovely evening. Bye bye.
CB: Thank you.
CT: Thank you.