Sally Hawkins stars as a mother caught between trying to understand her teenage son and reconciling with her husband, in stores October 4th
In director Richard Ayoade's coming-of-age comedy Submarine, acclaimed actress Sally Hawkins plays Jill, the mother of a teenage boy she doesn't quite understand and the wife of a husband that is growing apart from her. Things take a turn for the odd when she finds herself falling for the self-help guru that has moved in next door. The Submarine Blu-ray and DVD arrive in stores October 4th. To Celebrate the release of this quirky romantic adventure, we caught up with Sally Hawkins to find out more about her character, and to find out what it was like working with longtime friend Richard Ayoade.
Here is our conversation.
In playing the mother, what sort of off-screen rapport did you have to extend to your co-star and on-screen son Craig Roberts? Or did you only find that relationship once you were in front of the camera?
Sally Hawkins: We had some time to work together. Richard Ayoade spent a lot of time on Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige's relationship. Even then, we did have time to rehearse, and build that unique chemistry of a mother and son. Noah Taylor and I had a lot of time to improvise. That is always good fun, and very valuable. You don't usually get a lot of time to explore those relationships. The more time you have, the stronger those bonds will be, and the stronger they will look. We did have a couple of extra days. I felt like I'd always known Craig Roberts. I know that sounds like a cliché, and a bit ridiculous. But when I think back to first meeting with Craig, I instantly got along with him. I felt like I'd always known him. He is an incredibly likeable person. He is bright. He is very professional. I never felt like he was a child, even though he was very young. That chemistry had been there from the very beginning. Richard Ayoade was very careful, and very clever in working with the young actors. He built up their characters very slowly. By the time I met them, they were fully formed characters. They had their little quirks and characteristics. This all helped to make it believable. You have to look at my relationship with Craig Roberts and I as mother and son like this...It's not particularly modern. It's not very friendly. It's a very traditional, conventional, mother and son relationship. This kid is at that point in his life when he is coming into his teenage years. The whole movie is about him discovering himself, what he likes. At that point, you begin to break away from the family unit. You break away from the parents. From the usual child-adult relationship. I don't think this is an easy relationship, but the mother is really trying to understand him. She is a burden to herself. She tries really hard to understand people. She does love him, but she finds it hard to express that love. What is the best way to express that love? This person is rapidly growing up in front of her. She doesn't know if she should keep the reigns on tight. Or to let him go. I think that is difficult for every parent. When your child is reaching that stage of development. Jill finds this difficult. She isn't getting much help from the dad, and she finds it hard to watch the child grow up, I suppose. She is reaching a difficult stage in her own life. The more the child breaks away from the adult, the more it shows off things in her own life that she needs to work on. All the characters in the movie feel like children at different stages of development. Jill feels that she was only playing at being a mother. She didn't know the right responses, or the right thing to say at certain times. I think that is the reason for her awkwardness. She was trying very hard, but failed miserably.
As an actress, you have something most mother's don't have. And that is a script that allows you to peer into the moments in this child's life that a mother would never be present for. How does that help or hinder the way you come at this type of role? Did you stay away from that aspect of the story as much as you could?
Sally Hawkins: It's interesting. As Jill, I didn't want to know. Knowing can trip you up too much, as an actress. Its obviously there in the script. Which I read. And I read the book. When I was in the head of Jill, I didn't want to think about that. I didn't want to acknowledge it as an actor. You really don't want her to be privy to this information. As a mother, you don't have that type of access to your child's life. You don't know what they are thinking. What they are getting up to behind closed doors. As Jill, I didn't want to know. I knew it consciously. But as Jill, I didn't think about it. As an actor, its always useful to know what your character knows, and what your character doesn't know. Its hard to forget what your character wouldn't know, that may be a key piece to another character. When you are working with a script, you will be privy to information your character might not otherwise have. That could hinder any improvisation. Because you have that knowledge, something could come out and trip you up. You need to forget that, so that you can get a real response. If you knew that information, you could very well trip yourself up. You wouldn't give through to an instinctual conversation. So, as Jill, I solely concentrated on only what she would have known. Especially with the son's schooling. I didn't want to know that. So you try to forget the stuff you might have first taken in when you read the script. When you are in character, you can off of that. You can concentrate on the home life. You can concentrate on the Oliver that is being represented to you in only your scenes. That is an interesting question, as an actor. It is invaluable, the stuff you don't know. Because it creates tension. It can do stuff to your character that you may not have seen, or found. It can create interesting tension when you don't have the access to the knowledge of certain scenes, which the audience has seen. Some directors work quite strictly with that discipline. Like, for example, Mike Leigh. He works in the principle that this is key to get realistic improvisations. I think it's a very interesting question. Most directors don't work like that. Its up to you as an actor to work out what you know, and what you don't know as your character. That will make the situation and the relationship believable.
That brings up an interesting idea about improvisation as well. If you are present for a scene that you are not in as an actor, but you watch the other actors improvise on set, that will also affect what you may or may not know about the other characters you will be interacting with later.
Sally Hawkins: I suppose that most directors don't work like that. Richard Ayoade doesn't work like that. As actors, we have access to the story and the script, of course. We know what is going on. You just have to cut off that piece of your brain when you are in character. You have to lose that knowledge. You know what you know as a character. That is a personal decision in terms of the way you approach the craft of acting. Some actors like to know everything that is going on, or that has led up to a particular moment. For me, it can trip me up. That's what I have learned from past experiences. If I have an outside awareness that reaches beyond my character's knowledge, that can hinder what I do. I don't believe in the reactions. I don't believe what I am expressing in an improvisation, for example. When you look at the improvisation in movie by Judd Apatow, that is very theatrical. There is a knowledge there, and as an audience member, you revel in the in-joke. Which is another form of working through a scene. With the comedic actors, it's nice to have that knowledge. It becomes an in-joke, and that is a different type of expression. As an actress, I love those types of films. You have these very talented comedic actors, and they make it something else. It can be a play on words, or the situation. When you are trying to do something different, it is useful for that.
You have been longtime friends with director Richard Ayoade. When you enter into a project like this, do you have to put that friendship on hold? Or does it strengthen the relationship?
Sally Hawkins: It is a bit of both, actually. Its interesting having that relationship with Richard Ayoade as a director, and having him as a friend as well. When it comes to filming, that can be a very stressful situation. I suppose it only helps when you are surrounded by friends that love you, and know who you are. They won't judge you and the decisions you make. Sometimes it can be difficult when you don't have that bond. It is always a real luxury. It is valuated, and it can only be an advantage to work with friends that know how you think. There is a generosity there, and they love you, I suppose. They love being around you. I felt it was a real honor to watch a friend that I do love as a friend, and value...To see him in that context. You usually only see them socially, outside of work. When you are seeing someone that is incredibly talented, who you really respect, whom you usually only see socially, and then you get to watch them really come into their own, and you see their talent...You see how they work in their field...It was a real honor, and I felt very proud. I don't mean that in a patronizing way. I mean that I am very proud of Richard Ayoade. This was a huge feature film. He has worked before on many projects. He has been directing for a number of years. This is all he ever wanted to do. But to see him take the helm? He knew exactly what he wanted. He had an incredible vision. Eve though I have known Richard for many years, I have never been in any doubt of his talent. As soon as you meet Richard, you know that he is incredibly talented. Any project of his, I would want to be involved in. I think that is quite rare. He is the kind of person that you learn from. There have only been a few filmmakers that I can say that about. I have been incredibly lucky, because I have worked with some master filmmakers. He is the type of person that you know you can learn a lot from. He has an incredible vision of the world, and how he sees it. It was an honor to be around someone I value as a friend, and now I value him as an incredible filmmaker. I would want to be in every film that he ever makes. I think he is very special. I feel lucky to know him as a friend, and to work with him. I think it was an advantage. But yeah, you do have a different relationship with someone when you start working with them. You have your professional head on. You can't relax. You are working with a lot of money at stake. It is a tight schedule. But it helps when you know the people, and you love working with them. Everyone wants to work with their friends. I wish I could always do that. That's what this is about. Working with your friends, that you love. I have been very lucky that I have made some great friends. I would love to work on a film where every single person is my friend. That would be a really nice job to go to. Yeah. I hope to have that every single time.
Is it ever hard to read Richard in terms of when he thinks something is funny on set, and when something isn't funny?
Sally Hawkins: Richard Ayoade does have a very particular type of humor. Which I think is very funny, and very clever. He doesn't give too much away. I know him well enough now, to know when he thinks something is funny. He does laugh. But he doesn't give his laughs away. You have to earn them. You know when you have made Richard laugh that you've earned it. He is very discerning in terms of what he finds funny. Those are the people that you want to hang around, because you know when they laugh that they mean it. He doesn't give away his laugh, and I respect that. He is a very funny, witty guy. I know him well enough by now. I hope I do. You know when you've made him laugh that it means something.
You'll next be seen in yet another adaptation of Great Expectations. How are you guys bringing a fresh take to that film, or is it a classic retelling of the story?
Sally Hawkins: You' have to ask Mike Newell. It is a classic. You can't stray too far from that. That is what people want to see. That classic story. You owe it to the writing to tell it simply. It's hard to tell a story that has been passed down. You have to retain its simplicity. That is what people crave, I think. But you would have to ask Mike Newell about the ins and outs about how it will differ from the other versions of Great Expectations. Lord knows there have been a few. You just want to tell it as well as you can, as true to the storyteller as you can. When I was at the read through, I found it incredibly moving. You just need to tell that story in a simple way. It is just so full of emotion and humanity. It pins down an essence of humanity. I was so incredibly moved by these words, and these great characters. This is an iconic work. You have a character like Magwitch. When you have Ralph Fiennes bringing that to life, you know that you will be okay. It is so moving. Charles Dickens is not to be messed with. He is a very witty satirist. What this adaptation reveals is the compassion and heart beneath this cutting satire. It has incredible passion.