Transcript from the BAFTA TV Sessions: Actors in Conversation: Leading Actress, Monday 27th July 2020
Briony Hanson: Good afternoon everybody, a very, very warm welcome. My name is Bryony Hansen. I’m here to welcome you to Actors in Conversation: Leading Actress. This is part of BAFTA Television: The Sessions, which is a virtual series to celebrate some of the nominees and nominated programmes from this year’s Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and from the British Academy Television Craft Awards. These virtual events are part of BAFTA’s Learning work to share expertise from TV, film and games with audiences far and wide. In one sense it’s disappointing we’re not all sitting in the same room, but on the other look how many of us there are and how great that we’re able to share the conversations we’re about to have with as wide a group as we’re about to. You can check out bafta.org and BAFTA’s social channels for more activity over the next few weeks.
I’ve got a couple of things to say before we get going. The first is a thanks to our supporters TCL the electronics brand who have enabled these sessions to take place, and I’ve also got a tiny bit of housekeeping to get through before we get started. The first thing is to say that this event is being streamed on YouTube and Facebook and you’ll be able to rewatch it if you’ve joined us on Zoom you can rewatch it there afterwards. We’d love you to join the conversation, you can use #BAFTATVSessions that’s #BAFTATVSessions. Most importantly, we really want you to ask your questions and you can send them in via the Q&A on Zoom or the Q&A function on YouTube and Facebook. Finally before we get going, should you require it we have live closed captioning available, which you can turn on at the bottom of your screen where it says ‘CC.’ Turn it on now and you’ll have live recording of everything we’re saying.
So without further ado and with the magic of the internet, if I say these names they’re going to pop up on screen and you’ll be able to see our wonderful nominees. So
first please join us in welcoming Suranne Jones. Suranne you can—oh there you go!
Suranne Jones: I did it!
BH: So good to see you Suranne, thank you for joining us. Obviously Suranne is nominated for Anne Lister, her performance in Gentleman Jack, a historical romp through the life of the landowner and industrialist Anne Lister, who of course had a whole other side to her in that she had a very big plan to take a wife, and all of that was well documented in a series of coded diaries, more of which we’ll hear about shortly. Welcome Suranne, thank you so much for joining us. Next let’s see if we can get to see Glenda Jackson, the legendary Glenda Jackson, who is nominated for her performance as Maud in the incredible one-off drama Elizabeth is Missing. Hopefully we’ll be able to see Glenda in a moment. Maud is an elderly woman who lives with dementia and while she is struggling with that she pieces together a double mystery. Now I can’t quite see Glenda yet but I know she’s here, so I’ll let you get to grips with your camera in a second and introduce our third nominee, and I hope she won’t mind if I introduce her as being reigning champion of this category, she’s of course Jodie Comer. Jodie if we can see you.
Jodie Comer: Hey!
BH: Jodie is on screen now and in this category for her performance as Villanelle in Killing Eve. Of course Villanelle is the hero, the heroine of the black comedy spy thriller, she plays a psychopathic assassin who’s in a cat and mouse chase with an intelligence officer. Of course, Jodie won the award for her performance in season one of Killing Eve last year and she’s now up for season two, even though all of this audience will be well ahead of everything and we’re all on season three.
Glenda how wonderful to see you! Thank you so much for joining.
Glenda Jackson: Thank you, it’s so wonderful to be with all of you.
BH: It’s great to see you all! We are hoping to be joined at some point by Samantha Moreton, who of course is nominated for her incredible role as Kirsty in I am Kirsty. It looks like we’re having some technical issues so we’re going to have to wait and hopefully she will pop up on screen in a short while. Meanwhile we have an enormous amount to get through. All four of the performances and particularly the three you’re looking at right now, they’re incredibly powerful performances and playing incredibly powerful women on screen. Some of these look like they might have been quite fun to play, and some really challenging, so let’s find out if that was the case. We’re going to start in a really obvious place which is what attracted you in the first place with these particular shows and these particular characters. I’m going to start with Glenda because you’ve been off our screens for what is it, twenty-seven years as a performer? Why was this the role to bring you back? Why did you want to come back and be Maud?
GJ: Because it deals with something that all Western democratic societies are facing, even with the Covid epidemic, and that is we are as a people living longer and diseases which—I mean I go back a long way, but certainly in my childhood no one I knew suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia but those are the big ones now—and as a society we have to look this in the eye and in this strange kind of way I think—I tremble to say anything positive about Covid, but what I think is positive is the need for us as a nation to take on the necessity for social care because it is just out there waiting for us like a great big black hole if we don’t do anything about it, and one of the good things that’s happened lately is this is going up the political ladder. One of the things I’ve found most touching when the film came out, it’s based on an extremely good book, the young woman who wrote it it’s essentially her experience with her grandmother, were the number of people who came up and said a member of their family had suffered with one of these two diseases. That I found intensely moving, actually, because usually you don’t get that but for this story which is of national importance, well it’s more than national, but certainly national importance, it was a privilege to have a part in it.
BH: Had you previously just turned down and told everyone you weren’t doing television and this was one of the first projects that came about? Or had you been attracted all along and this was the one that grabbed you?
GJ: No I was out of the business for more than twenty years, but I’ll never forget those years I couldn’t find a job even if I crawled on my hands and knees to get one. So if someone sends you a script and you like the script you’re an idiot if you say no, but I have read the book and it did make a major impression on me, but also when I was privileged to be a Member of Parliament, when I would go to old people’s homes and see people of that nature who were suffering from these terrible diseases and the agony of their families in many instances when their mother, father didn’t recognise them anymore and that really makes a profound impression on you. I was very excited to do it.
BH: Suranne, your character Anne is based on a real person. Did you know about her before you took this on?
SJ: I’ve known Sally Wainwright for a long time, we’ve worked together quite a lot, and I remember her telling me about this amazing place Shibden Hall that she knew about when she was growing up and this amazing woman Anne Lister and that she’d written a script. She’s been writing versions of this script for twenty years nearly and trying to get it across in the way she wanted to but I think before it was made with me now it felt like a niche programme and people wanted to push it to one side, and people wouldn’t be interested in a lesbian landowner who dressed the way Anne dressed and that was the story, they wanted something else as that story. So I knew about her from Sally but I—my very first agency was in Halifax so I kind of knew about Shibden Hall as well, but it wasn’t until my agent said Sally had written this script and it’s about Anne Lister, and I’d seen the Maxine Peake one before ours and thought it was brilliant and thought the woman was brilliant, but when I read Sally’s scripts it had such a modern feel to it and it was the way that Sally writes, you know it’s a Sally Wainwright script but it was all based on the diaries. Then when I started to read the diaries and reading the entries and letters was mind-blowing, so I immediately wanted to do it. I auditioned a couple of times for it and got it.
BH: Thank goodness. Jodie you’ve been back several times to play Villanelle. What was it to pull you in in the first instance, and what is it that makes you keep going back to her?
JC: Well in the first instance it was Phoebe. I think this was maybe a year after Fleabag had initially been on screen and I was completely blown away by Fleabag. I got sent the first episode and I remember seeing Phoebe’s name and I was like alright whatever this is going to be is going to be gold dust surely. I just remember reading the first script and it feeling very fresh and nothing like I’d ever really read before, so initially that was—it was one of them if I don’t get this I can’t watch it. Usually I’m quite good at letting things go but I was like no I’m not gonna be able to let this one go. Obviously now as a continuation of that it’s we never anticipated the first season being as big as it was and the fanbase are hugely passionate and spread the word and the show became much bigger than we ever thought, so now it’s about carrying on that legacy and keeping it going and being
fresh and interesting and doing these characters justice really.
BH: To talk a little bit more about going from Phoebe in series one, I know she didn’t write it exclusively but largely it was Phoebe’s words, to moving to different writers, how much do you think about the character progressing and how much can you, how much does she still feel like the original character Phoebe wrote?
JC: It’s a multitude of things really, I think what I really enjoy now is finding a confidence within myself of going I feel as though I know her more than anyone now because I’ve played her for so long. To find that confidence in yourself is actually a lot of fun, and you’re right, you know, with having new writers, it changes the energy, it changes the dynamic and makes it a really—it’s a real collaboration and it’s all about conversation I think. What I’ve learnt through each season is being honest about what you loved and what maybe didn’t feel as natural or didn’t feel right—you know I feel very lucky to be able to have these conversations. Sid Gentle and the production team are always wanting my opinions and my feelings, so you feel really valued in that space, you know?
BH: Suranne is that the same for you? Sally is such a particular writer, she’s got such a particular style that we know so well, did you feel confident or how confident did you feel putting your own mark onto her words.
SJ: In the initial meeting Sally said ‘I don’t know who’s going to play this because they need to be this, this, this, this and this and this and this and this, and I don’t know who’s going to do it. Would you like to read that scene?’ I was like ‘ok!’ I mean the pressure was quite something but I think, and she’d seen a lot of people but I think what Sally and me had was just this love for Anne Lister and this deep passion of wanting to dive into every aspect of her and get as much as we possibly could. We fell in love with each other, we fell in love with Anne Lister. She took me to Shifton and we walked and we talked and we stomped around the grounds and then Sally started to write with me in mind and we worked so closely on all the diaries until it became apparent we couldn’t get through all that stuff and we had to concentrate on what we were doing in season one, and then we were sat in her kitchen going through some stuff and she said I want you to exec next year because I feel like we’re in this together and they invited me to do that this year which is amazing, so we work really closely, and being on the production team from the beginning this year has been amazing. Like Jodie said, you feel very privileged when—because when you’re a young baby actor you don’t get that privilege, you don’t get asked—or you do and then they say ‘oh great,’ but you don’t feel like you’ve been listened to. It’s amazing to be part of something because you’re carrying it as well so it’s really important you’re happy on set, or as happy as you can be with all the other decisions going on. Yeah I do, I feel like I’m really part of that team moving forward now but yeah it’s certainly a privilege and I know that.#
BH: Glenda do you still feel that? The others are more or less on equal footings with the collaborators they worked with, but you have years of experience and your writers and directors, while they are established figures in the industry, are sort of running in your wake.
GJ: They don’t know that!
BH: How much did you sort of feel able to, or how much do you put your own stamp onto their words? How fixed was Andrea’s script?
GJ: Well let me go to my basic rule, you have to see the world through the character’s eyes, you can’t be judgemental, you can’t like or dislike, you have to see the world through them. The other rule is everyone is responsible for the whole show, however large, however small and be it a play, be it film, be it TV. So the things that my two preceding actresses were speaking of, that community, that closeness and sense of closeness, that working together, is vitally important and that was something that we had in spades when we did Elizabeth is Missing. We had a marvellous cast, a marvellous crew, it was really amazing to do it. There were days when I thought I’d contracted one if not both diseases, but that’s part and parcel of the work we do.
BH: You started to talk before about the relationship of dementia and that’s why you were interested. What did you do in the way of research, or how much do you let the writer get on and do that research and how much do you get involved in the backstory of your character?
GJ: Well obviously the book itself, Elizabeth is Missing is the report of a granddaughter seeing her grandmother going through this. Also the producers on the film introduced me to doctors who actually worked—well certainly one who works in this field, I believe she’s Chair of the Dementia Society. One of the things I found curious reading this script was a woman who had been, you know, kind of the ideal wife, mother, never caused any trouble, never had any rows, in the throes of the illness becomes on occasion absolutely furious. I asked the doctor ‘where does that come from, where does that, you know, corrupting energy in a way come from?’, and she said something I found immensely helpful, that it’s frustration. And that I could understand, do you know what I mean? We all feel frustrated but in that sense where you’re feeling something which the individual is but they don’t know what it is or where it’s come from, that was an added light to be able to see what’s going on. But it is something as I said, that we are living longer not only in this country but all Western democratic societies are and these illnesses are present and we as a society have to accept that this is not just
on the basic level of being nice or kind or caring people, this is something as a society we’re going to have to deal with. It is one of the—if there can be pluses of the terrible Covid crisis we’re in at the moment—is that the whole issue of social care is going up the political ladder and we hope there can be an approach to these particular illnesses that do not become party political. They are national, they affect us all in one way or another, and we have to bite the bullet, a rather unfortunate phrase, but acknowledge that this is waiting out there and we as a society have to gather together and do something about it, something positive about it.
SJ: Those moments, Glenda—because my mother had Alzheimer’s and I work with the Alzheimer’s Society, and those anger, that anger that frustration and the bravery you had to really go for those moments— because they’re shocking, they’re shocking in a drama but in real life they’re really heart-breaking and really shocking and it’s about people understanding people with dementia, people who live with dementia. I think it was really important those moments went in because people don’t understand and they’re scared of people who show themselves like that. If they don’t know anything about the disease then they’re pushed to one side, so I thought it was wonderful that side came out.
GJ: I very much hone in on what you said about people not understanding. I mean because those words have been in our society for some time so people know it’s there. I was amazed when the film came out and I would go down to the local Tesco or wherever and people would come up to me and say, you know, that they had that direct experience. But it is something that we know it’s there but we have I think as, well obviously I’m going to blame the politicians for this, but we have as a society and all political parties, walked around this great big black hole that’s waiting for us and hopefully now we’ll begin to realise we have to do something and the something we have to do can be positive and engage us all. It’s more than just finding another vaccine, it’s not down that area, it’s how do we care for ourselves—because that’s what we’re talking about here—because our lifespan is extending. We do have things that we can share, that we can recognise. We’ve seen during this Covid pandemic people doing the most extraordinary things to help each other, we just have to be very careful it doesn’t get pushed into some kind of box like ‘that’s social care or the NHS and nothing to do with us,’ because it’s to do with all of us.
BH: It’s interesting hearing you talk so passionately about something that will probably happen to some of us and is a very recognisable, universal thing. The other extreme from that is a character like the one you play Jodie where, hopefully, well she’s so different from the experience we all have and most of our audience will have, your audience will have. How do you feel about that? How do you prepare for something like that, for taking on a character that’s so different from the experience of you and from all of us?
JC: Honestly I try and leave a lot of it up to the moment. I was lucky that with season one we set the grounds for it, but I’ve since found so much freedom in her and have kind of been able to run with that. Honestly I can’t think about it too much. There’s’ a fine balance with her—when we met her in season one you want the audience to relate to her or to connect to her in some way and surprisingly they really did and I think for the story to work you definitely needed that. I think I’ve found that within working with Phoebe, working with the director—we have a director Damon Thomas who’s directed about ten episodes now maybe and he comes back every season. I think for me, and I don’t know about you ladies, but my relationship with a director is hugely important to the work that I produce because they make me either feel comfortable, they dare me to take risks, I think that is such a huge relationship when you’re on a set and it determines what you find on the day, what you push for and when you draw back. I definitely rely on the people around me, yeah.
BH: You and Suranne have had a not dissimilar experience in that you worked with multiple directors on the same project. How does that change the way you are directed? Do you find yourself giving a different kind of performance depending on the director? Or when you’re on a series and it’s different directors coming in are you the one in control setting the pace, you know, defining how you want to be directed?
JC: It’s interesting, I don’t know how you feel Suranne, but some directors come in and obviously you’ve done two seasons already so some directors will be like she knows what she’s doing and will feel more inclined to leave you to it and not overstep the mark, where I kind of need the direction and the notes. Each director brings in a completely different energy and I think what that enables you to do is adapt and learn to work with different people and kind of mould into your surroundings. What do you think Suranne? It definitely changes the pace and everything when it does that.
SJ: I think it goes back to what you were saying before about once you’ve done one series and you know the character it’s having the confidence. When you’re setting up a character, I mean I had Sally so she’s the creator, writer, director of four of the episodes, and I missed her when she left us I was like ‘oh no!’ it was like mama was gone. We did so much homework because with Gentleman Jack you have to know the diaries inside out and the truth behind Sally’s script, so if you haven’t done your homework it’s no fun to play. As long as the directors know what they’re doing as much as Sally and I do we have the freedom, but there’s a struggle if someone is lacking behind because then you feel like—I love someone to push me like you’ve just said and I feel like I need to play and explore but I want the confidence that someone is sat there saying you can do different things, you can go bigger… And if I don’t feel like there’s that push, I worry and I start to doubt myself. But it’s, yeah, it shifts. Every crew member that changes, every director that changes, it shifts but it brings something different. And you just about settle into it—
JC: And it changes again! So true.
BH: Glenda, do you sort of feel that you’ve got your style now and you know the best, the way you get your best work, or are you prepared to—
GJ: God no. Please God I try not to play myself, I have already said I try to see the world through the eyes of the character. When I went back on the stage after having been an MP for quite a few years I said to this friend of mine ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it it’s a long time since I did it,’ and she said ‘don’t be ridiculous it’s like riding a bicycle you never forget,’ which kind of put everything into perspective if you know what I mean. No, no, I mean, I’ll give you a precise example of what I mean: I did a film with John Schlesinger, I think it was the third I’ve done, I’ve done a couple with Ken. It never occurred to me, very dumb in those days, that directors might have any doubts about their own abilities, you know what I mean? When you worked with Ken Russell you didn’t really have that sense that he might have been a bit doubtful, but anyway, and I never, ever watched the previous day’s takes. Every morning on the set, John Schlesinger would come along and he’d say, I’m paraphrasing here, he’d say ‘I’ve seen the rushes, why are we going this ‘s’—four letter word ending in ‘t’—what do we think we’re doing? It’s just awful, I mean it’s just—well maybe it isn’t awful, well no, no, actually no, actually it’s rather good and you were all very good let’s get started.’ All this was going on and he was winding his fingers into the long blonde hair of one of his assistants here, and this was a regular thing, he would go through this we’re terrible, you’re awful and then suddenly he’d gone through that and you’d be back to work. That was really fascinating to me, I didn’t realise it struck them in the same way it strikes every actor I’ve ever known.
SJ: That’s another really important thing that I think I’ve tried to learn how to manage anxiety once you get to set because, and you can’t manage other people’s as you say Glenda. It’s so important that you are in a space where you’re not plagued by that. If you don’t have the joy at the moment of creating then it’s—
JC: That’s what it’s all about.
GJ: One of the great benefits of film even though technically it’s changed quite dramatically and I haven’t been on a film set in a long time and the technicalities have gone off this planet into another one as far as I’m concerned, but the one great thing about the camera is you never have to work for its attention. It is absolutely obsessed with you, with what you’re saying, with what you’re thinking, what you’re doing. Although when you see it— this is my direct experience—when you see what you’ve done and think what in the name of all that is holy were you thinking of, but at the time it’s really, really potent. That camera is just fascinated with what you do. But it doesn’t make you bigheaded, well I hope it doesn’t.
BH: Are you a big rehearser? Do you like rehearsal or do you like to just go for it?
GJ: It’s quite a rare thing for a film to have rehearsal. I mean you might—years ago, before all the technicalities became so AI and all that, you’d be called, you’d go to make up, you’d have your make up put on your face, we’re talking about seven, eight o’clock in the morning, you’d rehearse the scene which would be very short, you’d then go away for at least three, three and a half hours before they’d go ‘ok we’re going now,’ but then, you know, it all kicked up in that way. It’s just— it is that thing of, as I say, it’s not just the camera of course because the other thing that’s amazing is that when a set is being set up or work is going on, this large group of people are all going round doing their jobs all highly professional and then they tell you you’re going to do a take, you’re surrounded by a group of people who are as focused on that lit area as you are in a sense focused by the camera. You can feel that energy, it’s concentration, you can actually feel it and that’s amazing.
BH: Jodie is that the same for you? I can hear that completely for a single, one-off drama. When you get to the point where it’s a sort of series and presumably you’re not shooting chronologically and you’re shooting all over the world and jumping from location to location, is there ever a sense that you’re on any kind of treadmill? Or do you always get that sense of focus when somebody says action?
JC: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always there and I think what’s wonderful about Killing Eve is a lot of the crew come back every year, there’s a real—I don’t want to say family but it is in a way a family unit. People want to come back and they want to carry that story on and they’re really passionate about what they’re making and you can really feel that. They’re very supportive and respective of the things you have to do on set on a given particular day, or what you may need on that day. Exactly what Glenda says, you feel everyone there is wanting to do their absolute best and I think that’s so infections and makes you want to bring your A-game and be the best you possibly be.
BH: Do you recognise that Suranne having done lots of series and working with the same character over a long period of time?
SJ: I was just picking up on something Glenda said about rehearsal. We have the luxury of rehearsal, it’s really important to us because in the same way as Villanelle I guess, I’m playing a very highly intelligent woman who is hiding a lot and she is an orator… I’m like, when I got it I thought ‘oh god I have to be this intelligent on screen,’ that’s a lot of work. When I watch you Jodie I think that’s a lot of work to get to where you get to, even with natural talent you’ve still got to put all that work in. We do rehearse lots of scenes so we have the luxury of then letting the magic happen, and I’ve never had that before, so that’s really nice. I always get the buzz of ‘and Action’ because you’re like ‘ahh,’ and now it has to come. I think Gentleman Jack is just a very different beast, I haven’t worked on anything this tough before, the amount of lines. You work Monday to Friday, you finish on Friday night, I’ll come home and spend time with my four year old and then on Sunday I might have breakfast and then get into learning lines again for the next week. It’s tough, it’s a seven and a half month shoot. It’s a lot.
JC: Did you—what I loved about your performance particularly as well was the way you embodied her in your movement I thought so specific and what I enjoy watching. Was movement something you did a lot of before you got to set?
SJ: Yeah, in the diary it described her as having a certain walk, a certain gait—
SJ: People thought she looked like a man and her voice was deep. There was loads of clues in the diaries so we played around—Sally had me walking round rehearsal rooms watching me. That bit was fun and goes back to how to push it. I thought I was doing loads but once you get the cravats and coats and the top hat is massive, it comes here so huge—I had it here the other day and was like ‘is it really that big?!’—it feels really odd. Possibly Glenda when you were doing those outbursts, we’re all so used to doing delicate pieces to camera and being subtle, so when you have to do something big it can feel odd but then when you accept it, it’s the best thing ever. There’s a moment where you have to go from subtlety to ‘really? Really? Oh no this feels good.’ And then you can play.
BH: Presumably that’s the exact same for both of you though. For you Glenda you sort of had to age up and become sort of frail—
GJ: That’s very kind, very kind of you to lie so sweetly on my behalf. I mean one of the interesting things about film, whether it’s film or cameras now, is you do it in such small pieces and the trick is really hanging on to the energy. I mean expanding it but then if there’s a hole hoping it’s going to fill up again. It’s very rare to actually shoot in sequence. I don’t know how it is for you two doing your series but I remember when I was doing Elizabeth R we rarely shot in sequence and I invariably had a row with the man on the gate into White City because he’d never let me park my car there. What am I actually trying to say here? There is something about being on a set and it is infinitely helpful as when Jodie said the same people are working on it so there are familiar faces and you know who they are and they know who you are and they treat you like dirt and that’s perfectly OK because that’s the whole basis of working anyway. I think that makes it possible to move from you know things that need to be subtle to things that need to be unsubtle, because when you’re lucky you’re on this river that’s flowing. Sometimes it feels like it’s flowing backwards but you’re all there in the same situation.
JC: I think as well as a society as people we’re all so self aware and when you’re playing these, especially these particular characters, you have to shed that, all of that, from yourself. When you do that it’s so liberating but it is that kind of selfconsciousness you have to get rid of.
BH: You touched on it a little bit Suranne by talking about the hat and the cravat, but I think costumes in all three cases are really interesting to talk about here. The opening credits of Gentleman Jack it’s like she’s a superhero putting her costume on—
JC: So good
BH: It’s so good, yeah. How did that kind of impact on the performance? Did you have a particular way of dressing? Did you talk about the costumes she was going to have?
SJ: Tom Pye is predominantly a theatre designer. He’s done some TV before but he does operas and I loved that it went onto our screen because with Sally’s writing, with the character, with the sets— I’ve got quite big shoulders today but then the women’s shoulders you can’t even get onto the screen sometimes. He invited me right at the beginning to be part of the process with him. We went to Cosprops and we had the male team and the female team and we pushed it as far as we could with the male costumes and we took pictures and we’d add a little bit of femininity in and then we’d take it away and he had all these references, lots of Parisian references of the time, who was pushing it. Actually women on horseback kind of dressed a little bit like Gentleman Jack dresses, so she can get away with still dressing feminine because she was going riding, even if she’s not, but kind of being out in society and challenging gender, hiding in plain sight with her dress. It was all fascinating, all useful, and a lot of the costumes were made for me by John at Cosprops, and I mean what a delight to have that. And for the next series they’re making some amazing stuff, so I just think our team is just brilliant beyond.
BH: Same for you Jodie, Villanelle’s costumes kind of transcended the show. There was a BAFTA exhibition while the BAFTA main premises was closed and the one main thing everybody went for was Villanelle’s dress which was one of the prize exhibits. What kind of conversations did you have about the wardrobe and how does that wardrobe enable you as a character?
JC: For me what I loved witnessing is the playfulness the costume designers find when they get this opportunity, especially Sam who came up with season three. The way they see it as a playground and there’s no rules of wrong or right. I push that all to them and I enjoy going into a costume room and seeing rails and rails of deliciously expensive designer clothes that I keep my eye on for the costume sale. Honestly I kind of love just giving them the reins to have fun with it. For me it’s all about trying it on and a big thing for Villanelle is yes it’s fashion but it’s got to be comfortable, got to be practical, you know, and I remember talking to Phoebe early on saying she’s not going to scale a wall in six inch heels, OK that happens in Hollywood but it’s not happening here. What would she be wearing to do what she needs to do? It’s always so much fun seeing what they’ve picked out.
BH: Talking of practical and comfortable, Maud’s outfits, costumes, for Elizabeth, in a way that’s where costume designers are kind of unsung when they produce the wardrobe to give you a character like Maud. How much were you presented with that, that coat, those shoes? How much did you contribute to that?
GJ: My one guiding principle was that everything she wore must look as though she’d worn it for a long time. That’s the thing I can’t stand when you see whatever the character is and they’ve clearly not worn whatever they’re wearing before. That was a big plus. It’s easy to get clothes to look as though they’ve worn them a lot, and that was my big driver. I remember when I was doing Elizabeth R, which was the—we would rehearse and have to go back to White City as it was in the old days for costume fittings and things like that, and a costume fitting for me, for my sister Mary’s coronation or wedding—I can’t remember which it was—the dress was white, glorious, and the people who made it were brilliant. I’m not good at standing up for any length of time and I passed out, and when I came to I heard the voice of the costume designer saying ‘don’t get any blood on that dress. Don’t get any blood on that dress,’ because I of course had been hemmed into it. And I thought that’s a caring voice if ever I heard one.
BH: Very caring
GJ: Caring for the costume.
SJ: SO true. You just stand there and let people work around you. The amount of time you’re just—a nut, or anything can keep you going.
JC: A nut!
SJ: A nut or anything will do, just one. You leave those sessions because you are just stood there letting people work and play with your face, your hair, playing with you, and those are the days you go ‘I haven’t done anything today but I’m absolutely exhausted.’
GJ: I once did a film in Italy and it was a costume fitting and the designer was there, this middle aged gentleman, and these three absolutely dedicated women who made the costumes. I was standing there and he’s criticising them and he’s criticising the costumes, and they’re absolutely well not begging for forgiveness, and I thought do they know I’m here? Because it all goes on around you this huge drama. Then I thought to myself, they don’t know you’re here, you’re not important it’s the costumes that are important. That’s quite a salutary thing to have thrown at you unbeknownst by the people who throw it.
BH: We’re going to go to some audience questions in a moment I’m seeing lots flooding in, but before we do can we just talk a little about tone? There’s an interesting thing going on with all three performances, Jodie particularly, you have to balance a deadpan humour with violence and thriller. How does the balance work for you? Do you ever get a sense you’ve gone too far one way and have to rein it in, or does the balance come naturally to you?
JC: No I mean like Glenda said it’s like when you watch something back and you’re like ‘oh my God!’ there’s so many moments I had like that. Sorry I’m kind of repeating myself as before but I do heavily rely on—I’d rather a director go ‘bit much, take it down a peg.’ You can dare to go a little bit further with that. I guess always just focusing on there being truth in what it is you’re doing. Yes it may be a bit absurd or outlandish but where is the truth and does it feel authentic is always what you have to draw yourself back to.
BH: Suranne you had to do a really unusual thing which I assume you hadn’t done before, which is breaking the fourth wall, where you’re talking to camera. How does that—how easy is that to do, or can it take you out of the character then throw you back in?
SJ: I had to understand it before I committed to it. What Sally said is ‘how are we going to show,’ Anne Lister is a diarist, so ‘how are we going to show diary entries?’ That’s what the fourth wall is doing, she’s making a diary entry. Once I understood that it was easy; I’m talking to the book, to the page and it was OK. But I went through a lot of moments where I would wink at the camera or do things and I’d hear a big laugh and I’d think oh no that’s not meant to be funny. They’d come and go ‘that worked but not for what we want.’ It’s difficult because I’m representing a section of society as well so it’s very delicate. I want Anne to be real and full of all these questions and vulnerabilities that a woman of that time would have exploring her gender and sexuality and at the same time talking to the camera and being quirky and big and tipping my hat. I think only Sally could do that really. You’ve just got to trust and I think well if it didn’t work…
JC: It’s fine. It’s not the end of the world. Life goes on.
BH: Glenda you had a not dissimilar sort of tricky thing to manoeuvre, which was around interacting with characters from the past and from the present that were either there or not there. When you read that on the page did you believe that was going to come off or did you have to work at it to get it right?
GJ: Not really because what you see in the film is the increase of her illness, fallibility. Within that the whole action in the sense there are those moments where memory becomes more of a reality. Because I think that was very clearly marked and I could understand that it wasn’t that big a problem. The thing I found most difficult to get my head around was how this kind, nice, ordinary woman could throw these fits of rage. The kind of medical evidence that it’s frustration was very helpful I think. The obverse of that is she pads out the comfort if you know what I mean. They’re wildly overdressed, in truth, and I don’t mean that in a costume sense but the memory is much richer, softer than it probably was when the event actually occurred. That was a kind of balance I could understand.
SJ: My wife looks very beautiful in your show.
GJ: She’s very good, isn’t she.
SJ: I was like ‘ah!,’ that era just suited her so beautifully.
GJ: She knows exactly how to stub out a cigarette, don’t she.
JC: That singing voice as well, a beautiful singing voice.
GJ: Yeah! Marvellous.
BH: OK we’ve got lots of questions coming in and they’re veering from one side to the other. Millie Hansen would like to know any advice on dealing with rejection in the industry as an actress? Suranne, do you want to kick us off with that?
SJ: I guess, I guess having so much of it when you start off is—I learned at some point because I did some teaching and some audition techniques and worked with a company where I did musical theatre stuff, courses, and through working with other people I think every time you audition it’s like having a job. You get your script, you go, enjoy it for what it is and walk away. There’s so many factors you just might not look right, you just might not have the right voice or you know, you just might not fit with who they’ve got in mind. They might have already cast but they had to see a load of people to show the production company they were seeing people. Enjoy your meetings for what they are rather than hang everything on it all the time. It’s hard when, as Jodie said before, it’s like if I don’t get this part I’m not going to watch it because I really want this part. That’s hard, but every audition is a step to something else or a discovery. It’s really hard to learn that, you can’t just learn that starting out, but I think it’s really important to remember.
BH: Do you have any rejection advice, Glenda?
GJ: Well I’m not quite sure where her rejection is cited. If it’s auditions or is it bad notices? If it’s auditions, I would go to auditions—I’m going back a long way now—and I would spend at least a week getting ready for this audition and I would walk into the room, this is how it was in my day, and there was usually a line of people sitting at a table and you’d walk into the room and a voice would say ‘oh thank you darling but we’re looking for a blonde, bye.’ ‘Oh thank you darling we’re looking for something,’ and you have to learn it’s not personal. They’re not talking to you as a person, you just ain’t right for the job. That takes quite some time to learn, actually. On the other rejection which is bad notices, well you just— eventually you start reading them.
BH: Well you don’t get many do you. Go on.
JC: I was going to say, I think that’s right though Glenda. You have to remember the experience for what it was for you, what you got from it, the challenges you faced and the job that you did. Sometimes the moment you read someone else’s negative opinion it can completely change your memory of what that experience was, so I think it’s right to not look if you can!
BH: Question from Michelle Hooton who says: Question for everyone, can you remember if there was any particular character, actor, show or film, or even a specific scene that inspired you or helped you discover you wanted to go into acting as a career? Suranne, what’s yours? Oh go on Jodie, go for it.
JC: I was actually going to say I remember watching Samantha in Morven Caller, that was a big… That was the first moment that really spiked my interest and I think that film’s just beautiful.
BH: She’s not here, so you can say someone else. That’s just a joke! Suranne, you give yours.
SJ: I think when I discovered that acting was a thing and I could put my energies into it with a group of likeminded people was mind-blowing, and that you could even have a career at it was also… I started when I was eight at Oldham Theatre workshop and I was auditioning really early and doing amdrams and professional and amateur stuff. So yeah, I think once I thought ‘oh I’m going to do this, I’m actually going to do this,’ then you start to look at—Julie Walters is always someone that I… I think I’ve curtseyed to her a couple of times at awards and stuff. Then you just learn what it is, you get into film and you start to create your own kind of want and need and when you figure out what kind of actor you want to be and what you don’t want to be, that is magic. I think I spent a lot of time not knowing. I knew I wanted to do it and I knew what I loved but I didn’t know what kind of actor I wanted to be. I don’t think it was until I did Unforgiven that I really settled into that. So yeah.
BH: Glenda was there one thing that pushed you into it?
GJ: It was quite by accident actually. I was working in Boots Chemist and a friend of mine—I felt there had to be more to life than I was living and perhaps I had more to give than I was being asked to give. A friend of mind was in one of the local amateur dramatics societies and said ‘come it’s fun!’ so I went and somebody said, as I’m sure someone always does— not me I hasten to add—‘you should do this professionally.’ So I wrote to the only drama school I’d ever had, and the thing that really made me realise what the theatre was in a sense—I was very lucky, I left drama school and got a job in Hornchurch Rep, and there was a matinee on a Wednesday, a pensioners’ matinee, I can’t remember the name of the play but it was all set in a hospital ward and my character only had one scene with her back to the audience, telling her fiancé who was dying in his bed that she had fallen in love with somebody else and they weren’t going to get married. I go into my spiel and this voice from the stalls says ‘that’s very bad acting with your back to the audience,’ and that sort of settled it for me, I thought this is where I want to be.
BH: Fantastic. There’s a lesson there somewhere. OK question from Cecilia Hay who says what’s something you would like to see more of in female characters on screen?
GJ: Oh, shall I kick off? A really decent part that is the dramatic engine of the piece. I find it incomprehensible why contemporary writers still find us so boring. They never, or hardly ever, place us as the central engine. That’s what I would like to see.
SJ: Do you know I find that in, we have a company and we’ve been doing an awful lot of development in lockdown that I wouldn’t have time to do usually, or certainly not be this involved, and when we’re finding novels or pieces or stories, yes you’re right there’s often a question of ‘and what else?’ and ‘what if there was a something else?’ and it’s like no, no, it’s about this woman or these two women and the driver is going to be investigating what makes them tick, their life. There isn’t a dead body coming up… That’s my passion with my company and the development we’re doing. It’s just having the balls to tell the stories without there being an add-on. I think we’re getting better but it’s—when will we get to that point where you don’t ask ‘and what else?’
BH: Jodie let me just put another spin on it, good question here from Bethany Crooks who says women have been kind of leading the most popular TV shows lately, look at the ones in front of us, what do you think has changed in the last ten years to allow more strong, interesting and in depth roles for women? Are you conscious that TV and the role of TV in the world has changed really dramatically in relation to women specifically and actually more broadly than that?
JC: Absolutely and I think I’ve been very lucky in a lot of past work to work with a lot of female writers, directors. I think I was very recently watching Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, and having the likes of Michaela and Phoebe leading the charge and bringing this real, raw honesty to things and speaking the truth and not thinking of any kind of consequence, just laying it all out on the table. I feel very lucky to be you know in this time where these voices are being heard. People want to hear it. We connect to it and it’s so refreshing when we see things on screen that are so present in our everyday lives but people shy away from or don’t want to show. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by these women and to learn from them, more than anything, and to try and better myself in that way and find my own voice
BH: To broaden that out slightly, do you think that you, all of you, do you recognise that TV has really changed dramatically not just in the last ten years but specifically the past few months. Do you see a different future for TV now than you would have a year ago? Do you think there’s a change going on?
GJ: I think the really fundamental change, and I don’t think the industry, however you look at it—cinema, theatre, film—has caught up with is how people get their entertainment. I mean I think the idea that there are certain fixed sets and all that kind of stuff—I don’t mean sets in the film sense, but they get them on their phones and whatever, whatever. But I still feel the underlying thrust for anything that is new, creative is the wrong word but I’ll get to the point I’m trying to make, which is that even though women have achieved equality in certain sectors, not across the whole world, not in all walks of life by any manner or means, but there is still the bottom line or the fence you have to get over or as Hillary Clinton said the ceiling you have to crack, is that if a woman is successful she is deemed to be the exception that proves the rule. If a woman fails, that’s par for the course. That really hasn’t shifted and there you go. Jodie was talking about the writer that she admires whose series she had just seen, but you know, it’s still taken out of—I can’t say out of context, but the praise is always ‘this is
very unusual because a woman’s done this.’ I find that bewildering, I really do.
BH: Suranne do you get more of a sense of that because you have your own production company and you’re getting, you know, you’re talking to commissioners and talking to creatives. Do you get a sense things are changing?
SJ: Yeah, and this is where you discover relationships of who you want to work with and who wants to go in the same direction as you and has the focus and drive for that and who just kind of wants to hang on to what was. I know I want to work with daring people and I want to push things. I May Destroy You is amazing and the half hours are becoming really popular because they’re stories that are just crammed at you and you can binge them if you want to. Things are really changing and it’s exciting; I love producing, I think it’s something I love almost better than acting at times because it’s finding out what’s next and being in the driving seat in a way of how can we get to what we want, whereas on set you’re creating in a different way. It’s exciting, I love it.
BH: We’ve got time for one more audience question now, I’m just picking a random one from Georgia Davidson who says what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your respective roles that you’ll take on to future projects, in one line?
SJ: Bravery. Bravery and yeah, pushing myself.
JC: I think that for me too, just daring to take risks and like you say if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, you’ve tried and you move on. It’s a very free space, and to actually embrace that as opposed to see it as a daunting thing. I’d say the exact same thing as Suranne.
GJ: It’s a big thing in theatre to talk about the first night, but every performance is the
first night. I think it’s pretty much the same in front of a camera, it’s the first time you’ve done it and however much you may have done or how little you may have done that mountain is always there to climb. It never gets any smaller.
BH: I’m so sorry that we have run out of time and everybody is putting their questions on. But just tell us one more thing: You’ve all had multiple BAFTA nominations over the years, and all have won, how does it feel to be nominated this time? Does it ever feel different? Does it feel more special or less special? Jodie, as the reigning champion?
JC: I mean it was such a wonderful surprise. I think it’s always such an honour. BAFTA especially, that your peers think you should be recognised in this way. I feel very lucky to be in a category with these women and I’ve had the honour of working with Suranne and Samantha, so Glenda I’m coming for you.
BH: And for you Glenda, how does it feel to be nominated? It must be pretty affirming to come back after all this time and smash straight to the top?
GJ: It’s always an honour I think, and you know I share what Jodie said, it’s a particular honour to be in this group of women. What I always jib at is when people say ‘oh you’ve won,’ because you don’t win, it’s the people who vote for you. Thank you if you have and we understand why you haven’t if you haven’t.
BH: The people who win are the people who watch you, we’re all winners. Suranne what about you, how does it feel to be nominated again?
SJ: There’s so much content, like it’s a sea—I can’t keep up. To have your programme or your character recognised is like ‘really, wow?!’ There’s so much out there and somehow this shone through in some way. I’m really proud of that. That’s it, end of. Then I pinched myself just before I came on today going these women are so special and I love their work, so that again is another win. Then whatever happens on the night I would vote for any of these ladies, so it doesn’t—it kind of just, it’s lovely. It’s just a lovely thing regardless of the win.
BH: That’s lovely to hear and it’s been really wonderful to talk to you all, thank you so much for giving us your time.
JC: Thank you.
BH: Congratulations again on the amazing nominations. Thanks again to our supporting partner for the Sessions, TCL. Thank you audience, especially those of you who bothered to write a question in and I’m sorry we didn’t get to more of them. Please do join the conversation on BAFTA’s social channels and you can stay tuned there will be a slide up which tells you when to watch the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards, which is on the thirty first of July. The next event in this series is the Actors in conversation, particularly the Comedy Performers tomorrow at five o’clock. And you can visit BAFTA to register to view. Thank you so much everybody, have a good evening, good luck all of you.
JC: Bye guys.
GJ: Thank you.