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Happy-Go-Lucky - Sally Hawkins interview

Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SALLY Hawkins talks about playing such an eternally upbeat character in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky and the real-life joy that the role has brought…

Q. This is your third collaboration with Mike Leigh. Was it, for you, the most fruitful yet?
Sally Hawkins: I just love working with him. I think he’s brilliant, because he gives you that time and that space to explore the characters. I had six months on this, and with such freedom to really delve into and build a very real, rich and believable character and to create this world. So, yeah it was a similar experience in the way I knew the process, but different because Poppy is a very different character to Susan in Vera Drake or Sam in All or Nothing. If it were up to me, I’d work with Mike Leigh for the rest of my life.

Q. Given that way of working, is there more of you in Poppy than there might be in a character in a film made by a different director?
Sally Hawkins: No. Whatever character you end up playing, people will investigate them in exactly the same way, although you might not end up doing it for so long. No, it’s just the way he works. So, for example, Eddie Marsan is very different to Scott. But Poppy is a nicer character. In some ways we are quite similar. Scott is a really extreme character.

Q. But Poppy is extreme in her own way as well…
Sally Hawkins: Yeah, you’re right. Being in Poppy’s shoes, it was difficult for me to see that until now. It’s hard to be objective, even with an audience, because I’m reliving it. It’ll probably be some years down the line before I can see her in an objective way. But she is quite extreme. Just as Scott is living inside this dark box, she is full of life.

Have you met anyone like Poppy in your life?
Sally Hawkins: Yeah. I think the people I tend to veer towards are the ones that have that nature. She is quite extreme. But I do really admire that quality in people, that ability to get on with it. That love of life. She’s an extraordinary coper in life. She has an incredible ability to cope with what life throws at her. I learned a lot from her. My friends tend to be full of that humour and love of life, and I’m drawn to it. I never like being too serious.

It must have been quite exhausting staying so bouncy and giggly on set…
Sally Hawkins: It was actually really nice to play. And not wallow in self-pity. It’s true if you’re feeling a bit down and you smile, you reap the rewards. You start to feel a bit better, and think there’s a lot to be said for that. She’s all about that. She’s energising, life-affirming, enriching. It was like exercise: the more you do, the more you want to do. She creates good hormones.

Did you keep the boots?
Sally Hawkins: [Laughs] Yes, I did. They’re on the top of my wardrobe now. They’ve got a slight glamour attached to them now. They’re magic. I haven’t stepped into them since filming. I don’t know where they would take me.

Q. What did the kids think about you when you were acting as their teacher?
Sally Hawkins: The kids were great. I was lucky I had time to be with them, and to introduce myself to them as an actor and then as Miss Cross. They were incredibly patient and bright. They couldn’t go through Mike’s whole process, although with two of the young actors he did to a certain extent. He tried to talk them through their characters and their histories and relationships. So, these little actors had little characters to hole on to. Whether you want to go into acting or not, it’s an incredible experience. For me, it would have had an incredible effect on me. The kids were great. I really bonded with them.

I did worry about frightening them, though. Routines for children are very important and I didn’t want to unsettle them. It could have been quite frightening to have this big, noisy film crew coming in and taking over their space. But saying that, they were amazing and I love kids, anyway. I’ve probably always been broody. What was scary for me as an actor was being up there in front of a class of 30 and you’re on your own, and if you’re not doing a good, convincing job they’re the most discerning audience you can have. They’ll be honest and let you know. But if you’re behaving like a teacher, they’ll respond to you as one. Teachers are incredible. I don’t know how they do what they do… I ramble just ridiculously.

Q. How did standing in front of a class of 30 kids compare to receiving your award in Berlin?
Sally Hawkins: Quite similar, actually [laughs], especially with the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen. I still haven’t really taken that in. It was amazing. To get that kind of response when it’s just being released. We didn’t know how people would respond to it, whether people would think it was dreadful or whether it would really fly. It was incredibly prestigious. It’ll probably hit me a couple of months down the line in the middle of the night [screams].

Q. What’s next?
Sally Hawkins: I’ve done a film called An Education… Nick Hornby’s adapted this novel by Len Barber, the journalist who had an affair with an older man, a married man, when she was at school, aged 15 or 16. And it’s about that really.

Read our review of Happy-Go-Lucky