Imagine you're given a co-starring role in your first film. Now imagine that the actor you're co-starring with is none other than film legend Peter O'Toole. This was the case that actress Jodie Whittaker found herself in when she signed on for the role of Jessie in Venus. The film focuses on a pair of veteran actors, Maurice (Peter O'Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips), whose daily routine is disrupted by the arrival of Ian's grandniece, Jessie (Whittaker).
What was it like working with Peter O'Toole?
Jodie Whittaker: It really was amazing... since doing Venus, working with people like Peter, Vanessa and Richard, the things you do learn from such experienced actors. It was really fantastic. I didn't realize it would be but it was a really good laugh. We had a lot of fun. For a film that's quite emotional in a lot of senses and really demanding, the lightness off set, that was the director (Roger Michell), I think, a lot of it the kind of environment that was set up, it was just really good fun. I've got such amazing memories from it, especially because it was my first, real job. It was fantastic.
Why do you think Venus struck the chord that it did with people?
Jodie Whittaker: I'm not entirely certain what the feedback has been. I suppose I've tried to hide from it because I'm obviously very proud of this project. My friends and family loved it but I don't really know how its been received. I know that Peter and industry people liked it but audiences... I can only really go on how the audiences I watched it with, which were at film festivals, and I think the reason they connected to it and they really enjoyed it was probably because... it was love a story. It was taken in the most, kind of, individual sense. These people weren't very prissy, they weren't particularly nice people a lot of the time.
Jessie has a real harshness to her and when you first watch it you're like, "God, am I even going to like this character?" I think it was just about real people from such varied backgrounds and age ranges, it was really refreshing, I imagine, to watch because it was about people that we know, rather than these beautiful, successful, intelligent stories that are usually portrayed on film; they are the type of person you'd like to be. Whereas we're just kind of lost... the human behavior, the way we act, it happens in all types of people. That someone who's 18, like Jessie, can really find a love and affection for someone who is 75. That does happen even though it's quite rare. I think because it's a rare scenario and it made a rare film.
Do you think that making a film like this is important? To show that these kinds of relationships can exist. That they do happen?
Jodie Whittaker: I think with Venus it's a story that not many people have witnessed before on film. I think that writers have the bravery to take on a subject that might not be that easy for an audience to watch a lot of the time. If you're brave and you're really passionate, and you care about what you're writing, like Hanif (Kureishi; the screenwriter of Venus), you can get such an amazing arc and storyline coming through. We all have a mix of people in our lives. We've all got family and if you don't have family you've got friends of various age groups, I think the thing that I find frustrating is that when you watch films... this is an amazing film for the older actors. How many opportunities do people Peter's age get to play these leads?
That's what I found exciting about it. These actors who spent their entire lives giving to the film industry, get to play these fantastic characters at their age. Not that many writers will write for that generation. I think it proves that it's interesting.
What attracted you to the character of Jessie?
Jodie Whittaker: I think the fact that I'm not very similar to Jessie. In the sense that my background is the same area. Apart from that, family-wise, background, everything was kind of the polar opposite of her. The thing that attracted me is that she really reminded me of a lot of people that I know, and a lot of friends I went to school with or kids you see on the bus. I think that their story, it sounds a bit cheesy, their story is not always told, because on first meeting you don't necessarily like them. She's aggressive, she won't give anything and she's not open to change or anything like that with her first meeting with Maurice.
You meet a lot of people like that. I loved the fact that there was a reason behind it and that she'd been given this fantastic background to why she was like how she was. Obviously, we all come from different places and it's a film about not judging somebody on first meeting and giving them an opportunity to change.
Do you think comparisons to something like My Fair Lady are accurate?
Jodie Whittaker: Yeah, a bit. It's great to be compared to My Fair Lady, it's a classic. I don't think it's particularly like anything. I was in it so I can't see outside of the box really. It feels, I supposed, completely unique to me. It takes things from everything. I haven't seen it but everyone said that it was similar to the Scarlett Johansson film, what's it called?
Lost in Translation?
Jodie Whittaker: Yeah, a lot of my friends said that it reminded them of that.
What do you have coming up next?
Jodie Whittaker: I'm working on a film called Good. It's based on a play by C.P. Taylor. We're filming in Budapest and so it's actually going on now; I'm in England for a week and then I go back again on Sunday. It's about the rise of the Nazi party there. We're all playing Germans. Viggo Mortensen's playing the lead character and I play his student; he teaches at a University. We have an affair, become married... it's about a 10 year journey from 1933 to 1943, being German in The Third Reich. It's a really interesting story. It's a fantastic play. It's from the point of view that we don't often watch films about the Germans who voted Hitler in and why that happened. It's miles away from Venus! I'm glad I haven't been typecast.
Venus is available on DVD from Miramax Films.
Dont't forget to also check out: Venus