Actress Lesley Manville discusses Another Year, the unique filmmaking process of director Mike Leigh, and much more.
Lesley Manville is no stranger to director Mike Leigh, having worked together six times on the silver screen. The actress starred in his films High Hopes, Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, All Or Nothing, Vera Drake, and his latest drama Another Year, which arrives on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on June 7. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented actress, who was nominated for a BAFTA award and several other critic's awards for her portrayal of Mary in Another Year. Take a look at what she had to say below.
You have worked with Mike several times before. Can you talk about when you first heard about this latest project?
Lesley Manville: I have worked with Mike a lot, and Another Year was done in exactly the same way that he always works. We literally start with nothing and we have a very long period to create the characters and create the story and then we finally cue it all so that when we shoot it, it's absolutely set in stone. That's how he always works, but it doesn't mean that we have a very long rehearsal. We had about 18 weeks, I think, on Another Year, but when you literally start with nothing, that's not actually as long as you might think. We really do start with nothing. He doesn't give us any notion of what the story is going to be about, or what characters we're going to be playing. We really do create those from scratch. When I first saw it, he had a private screening literally just for the actors, so that we could see it, and, inevitably, you're watching yourself. You can't help that, and I think it took us two or three times of seeing the film before I really tuned into it, in a more objective way, and felt the power of the film. It says a lot about relationships and how random anybody's life can be, whether it's in terms of a good relationship, or, in terms of my character, Mary, a disastrous relationship or no relationship at all. Yes, Mary has her problems, but so does everybody. I think it's a terrific film about getting older and loneliness and just trying to keep your head above water, in a very difficult world.
Mike's process is rather unusual, compared to other directors. Do you find you can get a better story out of a process like that, where it's totally collaborative, as opposed to just getting the script?
Lesley Manville: I don't know about a better story, but what you do get that's better is fully rounded three-dimensional characters. I think that's the big difference for me, watching his films, and for being in them. I really do feel that I'm inhabiting the character very fully and, in a way, what happens when we individually create the characters, collaboratively with him, it's then up to Mike to put them in situations where a narrative and a story line will start to emerge. The story is more his responsibility, because he's the only person with an overall vision of what's happening, of what everybody is doing. For me and the other actors, we are only concerned with our characters and what our characters are doing. I can only speak personally by saying that I find it a very fulfilling way of working, and a lot of actors want to work with him for that reason. You do get the opportunity to do something very completely. A lot of the times, unfortunately, in television or films, everybody is trying to do things quickly. It's a treat to work with him. It really is.
You hear about so many movies that get rushed together because they need to make a date. It must be a real relief to work on a movie like this where there is not that kind of pressure.
Lesley Manville: It is. I just did a film with Mat Whitecross, who did Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll with Andy Serkis. I just made a film with him, with Ray Winstone, Jim Sturgess and myself called Ashes. It's a lovely film, a really, really lovely film. Mat is a great director, but he was completely up against it, because he had four weeks to shoot a feature film. That is certainly impossible. He couldn't make it the way he wanted to, and we couldn't investigate it and have the time and luxury to explore it in the way the actors would have liked to. Now, that is a very talented, gifted filmmaker who is being compromised because of time and money, well, because of money. It is a luxury with Mike because that is how he has always worked, and that is the only way he works. When he gets money to make a film, he is absolutely the provider that there will be 18 weeks rehearsal and we will have to be paid for that time. We aren't paid terrific wages. I mean, he made Another Year on his lowest budget in many, many decades. For my part, the last major film I had made with him was All Or Nothing, and I think that was 10 years ago. I was earning the same money on Another Year as I did on All Or Nothing. We're not doing it for the financial rewards (Laughs). We're certainly doing it for the art.
I've been a big fan of Jim Broadbent for many years now. Can you talk about your process of working with him, and what he is like on the set?
Lesley Manville: What you see is what you get with Jim. I don't know if you've ever met him, but if not, I expect you'd imagine he's this genial, very nice, approachable, humble man, and you'd be exactly right. He's all of those things. With Mike Leigh though, he's never going to work with actors who carry around a big ego. Jim is a prime example. We're just there to have a nice time, and we really do have a nice time. In between all this hard, in-depth work, we do have a lot of fun. Jim is a wonderful human being, as well as being as a terrific actor. He's been doing some pretty good stuff on British television lately, so I'm sure you'll get to see that before long.
Was there a particular highlight for you on this film, or perhaps a favorite scene you filmed in Another Year?
Lesley Manville: Not really a highlight, not. A lot of the scenes were very challenging and I remembered them because of the enormity of them, the emotional enormity of them. I suppose in a way those are highlights, because they're challenging you and that's what we do it for. Actors want to play those kinds of scenes that force you to go to places that are difficult. There is no particular one incident. It was a roller-coaster of a shoot. As the story of the film develops, it becomes quite intense.
Is there anything that Mike is working on now that you know of?
Lesley Manville: Well, I'm working with him now, but we're working on a play. It's a new play that we will devise in the same way he makes his films, and we're going to be performing it at the National Theatre in London. I've never worked with him on stage before, and the National Theatre is a fantastic venue. I've worked there many times, and it's very exciting to be working in my favorite theatre with one of my favorite directors. It's pretty surreal.
Excellent. When is that supposed to open?
Lesley Manville: Well, we have started rehearsals, but it's a long rehearsal period, and it will open in September.
Is there anything you can say about your character in Ashes and if you could talk about the story?
Lesley Manville: Oh, well the story of Lesley Manville: deals with Ray Winstone's character, who is a man with very early onset of dementia, Alzheimer's. I play his wife, and, whenever I'm in the film, he's remembering her, because she's dead. She's remembering her because he's struggling with his memory as Alzheimer sufferers do. It's a bit of a film noir. It's a thriller, and a very human story. I think Ray is turning in a terrific performance as the central character who has Alzheimer's. It's very touching and poignant at the same time. Jim Sturgess comes into it as a young man purported to be his son. That's sort of it, really, but it's dramatic and emotional and it's very good. Mat Whitecross is a terrific young director.
To wrap up, what would you like to say to people who didn't get a chance to see Another Year in theaters, about why they should pick up the Blu-ray?
Lesley Manville: Well, they won't see a better film about the human condition. They won't see a better film about the frailty and the fragility of life and the randomness or the luck of the draw of life. It's a very good film portraying loneliness, but it has lots of laughs as well. It's moving, but like all of his films, there is a great deal of humor there. Oddly enough, you might think that is for people who are of the age of the characters in it, people in their 40s, 50s, or 60s. An awful lot of young people, my son included, who is 22, said to me, that it was his favorite film of mine that he has seen, and it touched him on all sorts of levels. It's not just for middle-aged people. All human life is there, really. It's one of those films.
Excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Lesley, and best of luck with the play and anything else you have coming up.
Lesley Manville: Thank you very much, Brian. Thank you.