Samantha Morton

1 December 08 words: Jared Wilson
"I spoke in a really broad Notts accent when I met Woody Allen, you can take the girl out of Notts, but you can’t take the Notts out of the girl"
Samantha Morton

Samantha Morton is one of the UK’s most respected and versatile actresses. In 2007 alone she appeared as Marilyn Monroe (Mister Lonely), Deborah Curtis (Control), Mary Queen of Scots (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and Myra Hindley (Longford). She’s acted in Hollywood blockbusters alongside the likes of Tom Cruise (Minority Report), Johnny Depp (The Libertine) and current Bond Daniel Craig (Enduring Love). She’s a national treasure and she came back to Notts in November to do a benefit appearance at Broadway for The Television Workshop. We went along to see what she said….

On her early days in Nottingham…
I had a drama teacher at school called Mr Thompson who told me I was good at acting. I was about eleven and we were doing Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat and I wanted to be Joseph, but I only got the part of the fairy. He told me that it’s not always about the lead part and that it’s also about what you get from other people around you.
The thing I love about the Television Workshop was that you met people from all walks of life who came together. I was predominately homeless at the time. I was in and out of foster homes and I’d left school at the age of twelve and never went back. So for me it was just good to be part of something so constructive, something that was consistent in my life was important. The workshop was probably the best, most well-rounded training that a young actor could hope for. At one point Ian (the workshop leader) kicked me out for a few months for misbehaviour – it was ages until he let me back in, but he also gave me train fare to go to London to audition for Peak Practice where I played a blind runaway. It seemed fitting. I got the part and things went well for me from there.

On playing Myra Hindley…
It was presented to me as many scripts are - with a description of the crew and the director, etcetera. I have to go on my instincts as to whether I can get inside a character or not and I trust my agent Nikki who has a really fine eye for the scripts we get sent. We talked about it and we were very nervous initially. As a parent myself I initially said no to the part. But I thought about it more and thought about what art is about and I thought I should do it and try to be respectful, even to her memory, which might seem a bit wrong in the scheme of things. There are layers upon layers to everything and my job as an actor isn’t just about turning up on time and reading my lines.

On making her directing debut with The Unloved, which is currently filming in Notts…
I didn’t really want to be a director because a lot of the directors I see are more like stage managers. They’re there and they have ideas and stuff, but I don’t see a lot of them putting their necks on the line. A long time ago I had a vision of a film, with various images in my head like photographs or a recurring dream. I tried to write it but failed miserably. Then a friend of mine Toni wrote it for me into one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

On comedies…
Sweet and Lowdown, directed by Woody Allen, is a bit of a comedy and I think I’m quite funny in that really. The Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin) have tried to get me into a couple of their films, but I turned them down because I honestly didn’t think the scripts were that funny. So I’ve tried to make comedies, but it’s just never worked out. I did a film once where, having read the script, I thought it was hilarious and told the director that. He turned round and told me it wasn’t a comedy and asked what I was talking about.

On the extent to which acting sends you a bit mad…
I think back in 1996 I went a bit bonkers. I was working all the time, but not putting anything back into myself and my own development. So I decided to go and live in Bali for a bit and write poetry, do yoga and get my head together. I didn’t really care about being famous or earning money. But listening to other people helped and sometimes it’s just about trying to escape your profession. I’ve got an Uncle Jeff and he’s a builder, but he’s not building houses 24 hours a day is he? I just had to learn to stand back a bit, rather than staying up until 4am stressing over scripts, whilst most other actors would just learn their lines and get their heads down. Also a major turning point was having children. There’s nothing like having someone else to look after to focus your mind on the important things.

On meeting Woody Allen, during casting for Sweet and Lowdown
I think my ignorance helped as I didn’t really know who he was at the time. I still spoke in a really broad Nottingham accent when I met him - you can take the girl out of Nottingham, but you can’t take the Nottingham out of the girl. So I just told him I’d have a proper look through the script and let him know if I was interested. Looking back I wish I could do that now, it was cheeky but also honest and showed a sense of confidence, which I think impressed him. It’s not that I was stupid, I just knew who I was and didn’t give a flying monkey’s what anyone else thought. As my gran and my nana always told me, ‘Even the Queen has a shit!’

What kind of research do you do as an actor…
Research is very important for certain characters, but I’m not a big method actor or anything. I spend a lot of time reading the script, the book if there is one and any background texts. But apart from that it’s about honesty and I would just transfer that character to someone I knew in Nottingham and try and think how they would feel.

On working with Spielberg…
I’ve worked on a few big budget films, but Minority Report was the largest. But I work the same way on all of them. I remember being on set and I had a stand in and there were loads of lights everywhere. So I asked for a word with Steven and said ‘Listen, you’re not going to get the best out of me like this and if that’s the case I might as well go home now. You’ve got to get all the lights out, we’ve got to rehearse it and get to know what’s going on inside out.’ I was very respectful in the way I said it, but they’d paid a lot of money to get me out there and I had to let them know how to get the best out of me.

On child care…
If I hadn’t been an actor I would have been working in childcare. I know a lot of actors do the whole charity and social conscience thing, but I’m always giving myself a kick up the arse to say I’m really lucky with where I am. I could easily have been working in Birds cake shop still, which would be a problem for my weight as I really like egg custards. But I wouldn’t have any of it were it not for acting or the Television Workshop.

On fashion…
I was born in 1977 and I think that says a lot for who I am as a spirit. I was voted worst dressed person at the Oscars. I was wearing a Paul Smith designer suit that was a rip-off of the cover from the Patti Smith album Horses. Eight years later everyone is wearing it!

Samantha Morton on Wikipedia
The Television Workshop website

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