How did you feel when you were asked to take part? Was it an instant yes, or did you have any reservations?

It was an absolute instant yes, as I’ve always wanted to do one of these. Alan Bennett is an extraordinary writer. It was an honour to be considered capable of doing this and taking it on. I felt incredibly excited and privileged and, to be honest, quite flattered.

Could you tell us a little about your character, Celia, and what she’s like?

Celia is an antiques dealer. She considers herself to be very knowledgeable. She was in love with man called Lawrence - an older antiques dealer, who has since left the land of the living - but she remains in a world where antique dealers have more prestige. She’s coming to grips with the fact that business is not good.

She has one or two neighbours that she talks about - a couple of friends called Nancy and Fay, who she considers to be a very lowbrow as they watch a lot of television. Then there’s Derek and Cyril who have the shop opposite her, and an older lady called Miss Ventriss who comes into the shop from time to time. There’s also woman called Mabel who works for Miss Ventriss. What’s so brilliant about the piece is that even though these are all these characters who you never see, they are described in such a way that you feel like you know them very well.

Do you feel you’d get on with Celia if you met her in real life?

I think Celia would drive me mad…!

On a practical level, can you tell us about the preparations for the role that were done remotely and how you found them?

We rehearsed on Zoom every afternoon for a couple of hours, which I found surprisingly exhausting as rehearsing remotely is much harder for some reason. But it was brilliant to work with Jonathan Kent again, as the last time was 15 years ago. I really enjoyed it.

All hair, make-up and costume was done via Zoom, but luckily a project like this attracts the best talent. We had Jacqueline Durran who is amazing and has dressed me before for The Darkest Hour, and Naomi Donne, an Oscar nominated make-up artist who does everything from Mary Poppins to James Bond, who I’ve worked with many times and is a great friend of mine. Both told me exactly what to do.

How did filming under social distancing guidelines differ to that of working on a regular film set?

First I had to get over the excitement that we were filming at Elstree on the set of EastEnders! That was such a thrill for me. I haven’t watched in years, but it was fascinating to see this place which is so rooted in British culture, so much part of the backdrop of our lives. I found it extraordinary to be on that set and know that it’s a permanent fixture. I didn’t get to visit the Queen Vic, but we were in the hairdressing salon, which was transformed into Celia’s antiques shop.

I don’t think filming under social distancing affected my performance because it is a monologue, but it made it quite a lonely experience. It’s also tiresome having to wipe everything down every time you’ve touched it, and having no one allowed near you. It’s not easy or something I would like to see happen all the time.

What do you think it is that makes Alan Bennett’s writing so special?

The train of thought his characters all have is brilliant. The way one word can trip into an idea of something else. It’s all brilliantly observed, calibrated and witty. He takes no prisoners but he is never cruel. Everybody is boiled down to their absolute core, and he manages to make you understand who a character is and what they are about in the space of three sentences.

Finally, why do you think people should watch The Hand Of God?

For the love of the language. In Celia he describes a particular type of woman the ‘wrong side’ of middle age, trying to keep herself together. It’s a wonderful portrait of a woman. And filming them at the time of lockdown was such a brilliant, brave idea and we need more of those. That’s what I love about Nick Hytner, that ‘why not?’ attitude. People said he couldn’t build a theatre and he said of course we can, and now it’s full and a brilliant theatre. I love his get-up-and-go approach and I appreciate that he got me involved with this. I’m absolutely thrilled to be involved.

Source BBC One

June 23, 2020 5:00am ET by BBC One  

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