Keeping Rosy - Christine Bottomley interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
CHRISTINE Bottomley talks about the appeal of working alongside Maxine Peake in new British thriller Keeping Rosy and why playing the role of feisty sister Sarah represented a polar opposite character to herself.
She also reflects on her own career to date, including spending a morning with Peter O’Toole on Venus, being championed by Jimmy McGovern on The Street and working with Clio Barnard on the critically-acclaimed The Arbor. And she gives us a little insight into what to expect from forthcoming BBC series, In The Club.
Q. What can audiences expect from Keeping Rosy?
Christine Bottomley: Well, I think it’s kind of a thriller that’s powered through by a woman. Something happens to her and she goes on a bit of a journey and has a re-awakening. She starts off as this hard-faced businesswoman but then my character comes into the mix and they have to deal with a crisis. I’m a bit of a scallywag in it, really, but these two women learn from each other. I watched it again recently and I think it’s really quite brave. Predominantly, for the first 50 minutes it’s Maxine Peake hitting her stride and being brilliant and then it really takes shape in the second third with lots of twists and turns.
Q. And your character, Sarah, is described as ‘feisty’. How was that to play?
Christine Bottomley: She is feisty and definitely one of those women who would pay more attention to the fella’s in room. I’m a woman’s woman but she’s not. So, it was interesting to play someone that if a fella comes into the room, she changes the way she is and the way she responds because that’s the polar opposite to myself. That being said, she’s feisty but she’s also full of heart. She’s just the kind of woman who should maybe think before she speaks – but in her eyes, everything she does is done through the best of intentions.
Q. Is it liberating to play someone like that?
Christine Bottomley: It’s different and enjoyable… because she doesn’t think before she speaks, so she’s not quite as calculated as some characters that I’ve played. And she’s not being manipulative to provoke a response. So, she represented a different challenge for me, which is always great to do as an actress.
Q. It sounds like a film that boasts plenty of strong roles for women. Is that something you’ve noticed is hard to find? Or is it getting easier?
Christine Bottomley: No, I think that, actually, over the last few years it’s been getting loads better and it’s a really exciting time to be a female reading scripts. I just finished a series set in Manchester which is all women [In The Club for the BBC]. It stars Hermione Norris, Tara Fitzgerald and Jill Halfpenny and it’s about an ante-natal group. It’s basically all females, so that was what was so appealing about the project. I think people are finally realising that women are interesting and more interesting the older they get. But it’s taken a while for that realisation to happen. Indeed, there were times when it was quite worrying that after hitting a certain age, you wouldn’t hear from a lot of actresses anymore. But that’s when women hit their stride and get a lot more interesting. You see that in roles for males but it’s slowly getting better for women too.
Q. You play a pregnant midwife in In The Club, don’t you?
Christine Bottomley: Well, at first, you wonder is she/isn’t she? But then it turns out that she is. I don’t actually have kids myself so I found that part interesting because, obviously, I’ve never given birth in real life, and yet you see it in its full throws in this series! It’s not quite Call The Midwife and it’s not One Born Every Minute but we’re trying to make it as real as possible. So, I’d say that it was more liberating to dive in and go for it in that kind of role. And to be working with such a group of great women was amazing – it was a really good project and one of those where you come away having made some really good friends. I wish there were more like that.
Q. Did it make you think twice about having kids yourself?
Christine Bottomley: Well, who knows [laughs]. I think new life is the most exciting thing and I absolutely have so much respect for my friends and family that have gone and done it because it seems like the hardest job in the world. So, who knows – maybe one day I might try it myself. But I completely salute anyone who does.
Q. What about playing a midwife. Did you speak to real-life midwives to get into character?
Christine Bottomley: We had some midwives [on-set] that were in the Leeds episodes of One Born Every Minute and I kept watching the show myself. You could say I was overdoing it all the time because it was such a great reference point [laughs]. We also had as couple of lovely midwives on-set for all the medical stuff. It’s just such an amazing job bringing new life into the world. And they’re such lovely women. They would quite often come off the night shift to help us for a couple of hours and were so very, very helpful and a right giggle. We’d go to the pub afterwards and have a real laugh. However, the minute we stopped doing the show and I’d done my birth scene, I stopped watching the show because I needed a bit of a break [laughs]. But I do like to do my research. In fact, I left a book lying around in my dad’s house, a pregnancy book, and he was like: “Um, Christine, do you have something to tell me?” He was really excited about it. But I had to say: “Sorry, dad, I’m only reading it as research for a part. I’m not actually pregnant.” I think he was a little disappointed.
Q. So, going back to Sarah in Keeping Rosy, what kind of preparation did you do for that role?
Christine Bottomley: Well, Sarah was one of those roles that didn’t require so much research. It was more about having a chat with Maxine and talking about the family back story and their history. But I’ve worked with Maxine a good few times and we’ve become really good friends. She’s playing my sister, so we have an immediate sort of thing where we both feel free to try anything out. It was more about the interplay on-set and being spontaneous. But that’s fun too because it’s nice working with someone you’ve known for a long time – and very helpful. Sarah was the sort of character where it’s best to remain open and playful. I didn’t want to lock anything down with her.
Q. I read a quote that you became interested in acting from an early age and decided on a life of professional pretending. Do you still view it that way?
Christine Bottomley: Well, I’ve just played a midwife but never for a second would I think that I could ever deliver a baby! So, to that essence, it’s still pretending. But it’s worked out ok so far, touch wood, because you’re doing so many different things – if you’re playing a lawyer or someone medical, you can dip your toe into a lot of different things. And I do find that if I go out for a meal I can be listening to a few conversations at once all around me. It can drive my partner bonkers a little bit. But it’s about being able to tell a lot of very different stories as well as you can and I do genuinely love what I do.
Q. And how easy would you say it’s been to get where you are today?
Christine Bottomley: Nobody in my family does it, and none of my peers, so it was a very different thing for me to want to do. I was lucky, I got offered places and have had some good opportunities. But it is hard work. I suppose I am a bit of a geek when it comes to acting and doing my work. But I was never really nerdy at school, more slightly naughty, so this is my time to be nerdy [laughs].
Q. You’ve done some really interesting work. One that stands out, of course, was The Arbor for Clio Barnard. How did that change things for you?
Christine Bottomley: I think working with Clio was a game changer in the sense it was lovely to work on a film that was a really good shoot. She is such a calm woman and quite in control of everything. So, she lets you run with it and do what you want and that was a liberating experience. She’s a very good friend of mine now and I look to her for advice. She’s definitely someone I hope to work with again and one of my peers, so it felt like a huge privilege to be able to have that experience. And again, with Andrea Dunbar [the subject of The Arbor], I was always aware of Rita, Sue And Bob Too… but it opened my eyes to the fact that she had all these really, really good plays too and parts she had written so brilliantly for women. She was so ahead of her time and Clio was really aware of that. So, making that film was really about respecting the material and doing your best job with it. And it opened many doors for me. Quite soon afterwards, I was on the BIFA jury and that helped me to really look at film in a different way.
Q. Similarly, you were in the first series of The Street for Jimmy McGovern. How was that?
Christine Bottomley: That was brilliant. I love Jimmy. I remember writing about him for a GCSE drama or A-level drama project because of how he televised Hillsborough. He experienced it and then wrote about it so fearlessly and put it on the box in everyone’s front room to challenge how they thought about Hillsborough. It was so brave and inspiring. I remember reading the scripts for The Street and seeing how he charted a very abusive relationship that myself and Lee Ingleby were involved in. He had charted it – along with another writer, Arthur Ellison – so meticulously that once I’d read it once I knew most of it. The words just filtered in and that’s a sign of really good writing – if you read it and it’s there.
Q. Was it game-changing for you?
Christine Bottomley: It really was. Not long before that I had done Early Doors and that was more comedic, which was completely different. But there were obviously some really tasty people in The Street, such as Timothy Spall – who is about to deservedly have a very good year thanks to Mr Turner – and Jim Broadbent, so it means that a lot more people get to see it, which is brilliant. But they did take a risk with me on that one really. There were a lot of names up for it but Jimmy was very kind in sort of championing me. So, I owe him a lot. And I’ll buy him a pint if I meet him again someday.
Q. Does being championed in that way add to any pressure on you as an actress?
Christine Bottomley: No, not pressure. I just thought it was brilliant because here was someone I wrote about in an essay and someone that I have always wanted to work with, going to bat for me. I think jimmy’s good like that – if someone is a part of his project and he’s [personally] picked them, then he’s right behind them and really supportive. So, I didn’t feel any pressure, more support.
Q. You also played a nurse in Venus alongside Peter O’Toole. How was that for you?
Christine Bottomley: Peter O’Toole… what a gem! He just oozed star quality. I spent a morning with him and what a charmer! He was an absolutely charming man. He was quite old by that point but those blue eyes still sparkled. It was a lovely morning at work, being charmed by Peter O’Toole.
Q. Did you get at all star-struck? Do you get star-struck?
Christine Bottomley: Well, for me, he’s a proper old school film star. So, yes. But what’s funny is that the other week I saw somebody from Googlebox on the Tube and I was like: “Oh wow, that’s them off Googlebox.” Conversely, you find yourself surrounded by really famous people at awards events and you don’t get phased by other actors. It was the same with the midwives from One Born Every Minute – it was great being in their presence. But not so much around other actors [laughs].
Q. You’ve done a lot of theatre – Alaska and Ladybird at the Royal Court being two standouts. Is that something you’ll always look to continue doing?
Christine Bottomley: Yeah, I absolutely love theatre and particularly the Royal Court because it’s all about new writing. Alaska was written by DC Moore, who has just written a series for Channel 4. So, it’s all about young writers who have a lot of stories to tell and some really exciting stuff to say. When I’m in the rehearsal room for six weeks, there’s nothing else quite like that feeling. I always try and do a bit of theatre every couple of years because I enjoy it so much and there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from doing it live.
Q. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt to this point?
Christine Bottomley: I think to always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself and treat every single person with the same amount of respect. It’s not often you see it, but sometimes you meet someone who is not very nice to their peers. But when you do, it’s a massive lesson in treating everybody with respect.
Q. And what have been some of your favourite experiences?
Christine Bottomley: There have been so many. I think that one of my most favourite was a few years ago when The Arbor was up for so many awards… seeing Clio really hit her stride as a filmmaker and coming out as absolutely one to watch was special because she had deserved that recognition for so long. It was a real privilege being part of that journey.
Keeping Rosy is released in UK cinemas on Friday, June 27, 2014.