What first drew you to acting?
I had a brilliant teacher at a school in Ruddington called Mr Thompson who said I was good at it. Then I went to another school in West Bridgford and by chance he ended up moving there as well. He told me that I should do drama so I auditioned for all the general drama groups that we’d heard about, but I didn’t get in anywhere. He told me about the Central Junior Television Workshop on Stoney Street, so I went there and they accepted me. That’s where it all began really…
Your school days were hard. You essentially left in your early teens…
When you’re in care it’s quite difficult if you live quite far away from your school. It’s tricky relying on the public transport system or voluntary drivers, but there are people who try and help. You can end up falling behind in your studies quite badly. When I told social workers that I wanted to move to London and become an actress they were dubious. They didn’t necessarily want to rain on my parade, but they were happy to try and share what they saw as the realities of life and that there was a good chance that was not what would happen to me.
How did the Television Workshop help your early development as an actor?
I feel privileged that I was part of that group. It gave me the idea that I might be good at something and made me confident about being able to carry it through. That was amazing to have. When you’re a teenager you can take things for granted and not realise how good the opportunities you have are. But that was a really good grounding. When you’re a teenager you take each day as it comes. You’re having the time of your life doing plays and you don’t really think of it in terms of your career.
What were your favourite haunts here?
I used to spend quite a lot of time in a pub called The Imperial on St James’s Street, but I doubt it’s there anymore. I was also a regular at the Marcus Garvey and Venus nightclub and a bar called Fothergills. We’d go to the bars to see DJs and have a few drinks before we went to a rave. I would never ever have gone to somewhere like the Black Orchid though – I would have thought that was the uncoolest thing ever, full of Burton boys and women in horrific outfits – all very much in a Hitman and Her style. For us it was about the music and not about ‘clubbing’ at all.
Do you still go out dancing now?
(Laughs) If you’re asking… No, I don’t get much chance to be honest. But I still listen to a massive variety of music. I’m a big fan of Radio 6 Music and I love listening to Cerys Matthews on a Sunday morning. At the same time I can happily have Radio 4 on. I’ve introduced my thirteen-year-old to Squarepusher and told her that Jake Bugg is from Clifton, which is where I was born. The best thing about music is that you can discover someone new, from the past or the present, each and every day.
How did you make the step from being a well-known British TV actress on a series like Band of Gold into progressing to film roles?
I had to make a stubborn choice, to say that I wanted to be in films. Back then there was a real stigma that if you were successful on TV that you couldn’t get seen for film parts as the public knew you for that. I basically pulled out of TV roles and had to ride it out. Then I did a film called Under the Skin, which did incredibly well and it all started to take off for me. It was taken very seriously over the pond and after that I started to get auditions for major film roles.
You’re known for choosing your roles carefully...
I’ve tried to take good care of my career. I’ve done a few Hollywood blockbusters, but I find they take a very long time to make and you have a huge professional responsibility to promote that film for many months after you’ve finished. A film like John Carter ends up taking a few years out of your life and if it doesn’t do well, for whatever reason, it can sometimes be quite sad. Plus there’s a joy in working of smaller independent productions that you just feel part of it more. You care about it and you’re doing it because you love it, so it feels less like work. I’ve always tried to work with diverse and interesting directors too, all of whom have challenged me in different ways. When you’ve you’ve been in acting in front of a camera for 25 years you get quite picky about who you want to spend your time with.
Are there any actors or directors you particularly admire?
Gena Rowlands is somebody I’ve always thought was incredible. Her relationship with John Cassavetes is one that I can only aspire to have with a director. I like the idea of working with the same people on different productions and getting to know them, like a co-operative or a family.
You moved into directing with The Unloved. Are you hoping to do more of that in the future?
Yes. After that I did a music video for The Last Goodbye by The Kills. I’d just done a project that was highly personal and so I wanted to do something where I just got to be highly creative. I’m directing a couple of other films, which are in the early stages. One is probably going to be shot in Manchester and we’ll have to see about the other one. But there’s a chance we’ll shoot that in Nottingham if we get the right funding. I think architecturally Nottingham has a huge amount going for it. It also have a rich source of amazing local actors and brilliant crew. It’s a no brainer for me if I do get the choice to shoot in Nottingham, people there just really know their stuff.
A pick of six Samantha Morton films that are definitely worth sticking on your rental list:
Under The Skin (1997): Her feature film debut saw her playing the lead role of Iris in this tale of the relationship between a mother and two daughters. Her performance led to Hollywood standing up and taking notice.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999): Following the success of Under The Skin, Samantha was cast as a mute laundress in Woody Allen’s comedy biopic of a fictional jazz guitarist. Her part earned her glowing reviews and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Minority Report (2002): Cast opposite Tom Cruise as Agatha, in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story. Her intense portrayal of the senior precog who helped the police prevent future murders landed her the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Longford (2006): Playing Myra Hindley, the Moors murderer, Samantha was criticised by relatives of the victims for taking on the role. Defending herself she said, “It is my duty as a performer to raise issues...we’re afraid to look at.” The part won her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
Control (2007): The biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis’ life starred Samantha as the late singer’s wife. Largely shot in Nottingham, it was the debut feature film of the photographer/director who Samantha had previously worked with on a promo for U2’s Electrical Storm.
The Unloved (2009): Samantha’s BAFTA winning directorial debut was co-written with Tony Grisoni. Filmed in Nottingham, the semi-autobiographical drama dealt with the issues faced by children growing up in the UK care system. Its initial airing on Channel 4 was viewed by 2 million.
Samantha Morton will be coming to a cinema near you over the next year in Decoding Annie Parker, The Harvest and Miss Julie.