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Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger! - Joanna Page interview

Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger!

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOANNA Page talks about the joys of pregnancy, as well as the cravings, and why playing David Tennant’s pregnant wife in Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger! was perfect preparation (as well as something that made her feel broody)!

She also talks about working with writer-director Debbie Isitt on the sequel, as well as the childen, and why she initially felt daunted about improvising and playing Tennant’s wife.

Q. Have you got any cravings?
Joanna Page: Percy Pigs and now any sort of sweets like Strawberry Laces. Real children’s sweets! Also Nandos. There were a couple of weeks where James [James Thornton, actor husband] had to go to Nandos every single day. And it had to be Nandos chicken. It couldn’t be chicken back home with Nandos sauce, which we’ve got. Basically now any really starchy carbohydrates. And then basically food. But I haven’t had anything weird like coal. My nan used to chew coal. Oh, I am [also] craving Merlot. A glass of Merlot but I can’t blinking have it. I’m looking forward to the end when I can have some soft cheese, olives, loads of garlic, pate and a bottle of Merlot [laughs].

Q. Do you ‘sin’ occasionally?
Joanna Page: No, no, not at all. I really haven’t. I’ve been really good, I haven’t at all. And I’m sounding like an alcoholic because I talk to James all the time about alcohol. I pour him the bitter and have a little sniff.

Q. When’s the baby due?
Joanna Page: Next year. Early next year.

Q. Do you know the sex?
Joanna Page: We know what it’s going to be but we’re supposed to be keeping it a secret. But that’s not going very well. When you’re talking about it you end up slipping up. But at the moment we’re doing pretty well. I always thought I’d never want to know what it was and as soon as we were in there on the 12-week scan I was “what is it? what is it?” and she said obviously I can’t say because I don’t know yet… We’ve planned for both.

Q. How was working on Nativity 2 and putting [writer-director] Debbie Isitt’s improvisational style?
Joanna Page: When I met Debbie she tells you a bit about your character and so I think she casts so very well that instinctively you are like that and she says what’s happening to your character and where you are but refused to say what the plot was. And I heard there was a piece of paper with a breakdown of scenes and plot. I was: “Oh my God, how can I get my hands on that?” But then I thought for goodness sake let it go and stop being so controlling. Then it was great! I turned up and didn’t know at all what we were doing. I knew my character. So, if I know my character and how she would react in situations, then put me in that situation and I’ll just improvise.

If you do have a text, you’re always thinking and have thoughts, so even if you’re not speaking there are thoughts going on so it’s exactly the same. And it was nice because there were no expectations, you felt really free. Everything is spontaneous, it’s fresh, you improvise for a while and she’s given you some pointers – I want this, this and this out of the scene – and then leaves you go. It just sort of naturally comes out and you listen to what the other actors are saying. The thing you can do with improvising is think you have to talk all the time, I have to fill this space and talk… [And] I can talk [laughs]! But after sort of going ‘okay let’s listen to what he’s saying and think about what I want to convey’, you get the hang of it.

Q. But some of this is with kids!
Joanna Page: Yes, but they were amazing, they’re really inspiring because they weren’t in the least bit nervous. They were just natural and it was like they weren’t acting. They just opened their mouths and the funny things they come out with… like the scene in which they’re interpreting what David [Tennant] and Marc [Wootton] are saying to each other. It’s so natural and so amazing and stops you being nervous… you just get on with it.

Q. What else attracted you to this film?
Joanna Page: After watching the first one I basically cried all the way through it and could not believe just how amazing the children were… how sweet they were. So, it was the thought of doing something that totally terrified me. I improvised in drama school but never improvised a whole film. The thought of turning up on set and going: “Oh my god, can I do this? If I can’t think of anything to say I’m just going to look stupid.” I’m thinking I’ve never done anything like this before, can I do it? So, you do it thinking it will be a brilliant experience. And then hearing about the other cast and thinking I’d love to work with them. I’ve never worked with David, or Jessica [Hynes]. I worked with Marc once and that was so much fun because he’s fantastic. So, [it was] thinking I’m going to get to work with these brilliant people and do something that terrifies me… I think you should do things that terrify you all the time.

Q. How much time did you get to prepare with David?
Joanna Page: I met up with David beforehand and we improvised a bit with each other and it was quite scary because you turn up, go “hello, nice to meet you” and “right let’s improvise now as husband and wife”. That is truly terrifying but after that first day turning up on set was fine. Also, there’s not really a sense of failure because you obviously trust Debbie and what’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing awful’s going to happen. If I am truly stuck and can’t think of anything to do, then don’t say anything. You know she has a list of what’s going on and will nudge you.

Q. It strikes me you’re a lady who’s very seldom stuck for words…
Joanna Page: [Laughs] That is completely different when you turn up for your first day to improvise with David… you go “ oh my god, oh my god”! There’s [also] somewhere you’ve got to get in a scene. You can’t just sit there and talk and talk and talk. It has to get going. You know that somewhere in that scene you have to get to a certain bit of information or a certain place to get the plot moving across.

Q. Is there a piece of music you love and a Christmas song you hate?
Joanna Page: I can’t think of a Christmas song I hate. I actually border on hysteria as soon as Christmas songs start. By the time I got down the red carpet and I was at the other end it was like my Christmas playlist! By the time I went in I was going “it’s nearly Christmas” bordering on hysteria.

Q. Were you in a nativity play?
Joanna Page: Yes, but I can’t remember what I played. I do know I was never the main part. I never got to be Mary. This was in all school plays… I was always the one in the background or the donkey. I was never a star, I never got to be the main part and that still goes for me now. I always wanted to be Mary.

Q. Was that you way into acting?
Joanna Page: I was really, really shy so my mum sent me to drama classes when I was about nine just so that if I ever had to do a job interview or anything like that I’d be able to talk to people. I was very shy. I would always be in my own world and from very small I’d have my own dressing up box. And every day I would dress up as different people. I was in my own world but I didn’t like talking to other people. So, she sent me to drama classes and I ended up doing the local thing in the local theatre and then just started doing all the way through school and just loved it. Then wanted to do it for A-levels and then it just got to university or drama school and people said, “go to university, you need something to fall back on”. But by that time I thought: “No, I just want to dress up and be different people all the time. I’m going to drama school, it’s going to work out!” So, I auditioned and got into RADA and that was just it then.

Q. Do you get recognised a lot by fans? And if so, do you mind having your picture taken?
Joanna Page: Video as well. Because people can now film you. With me people will say I’m the groom at somebody’s wedding, so can I video you being Stacey and saying a few words? So, you say something but it always makes me panic because I think I’m an actress, so I don’t want to sound rubbish and it makes me nervous. It’s filming all the time… everywhere – aeroplanes, supermarkets, shops, in toilets. Everywhere! I have been ambushed in toilets so many times. They’re all doing their make-up and it’s usually the evening and everyone’s had a few drinks …

Q. Does it ever confuse people when you’re out with husband?
Joanna Page: Oh my god no, it’s really weird. Because they either don’t know who I am, not having seen Gavin and Stacey at all, and are completely obsessed with Emmerdale and I have to do the photos for them and get surrounded by about 12 women. Or he’s completely ignored and they’ll be all over me. So, it’s the complete opposite. It’s really funny..

Q. Did the children in Nativity know who you were?
Joanna Page: Yes, they did. They wanted to have photos and everything. They were just so sweet. They were just really, really lovely. They are so innocent and little. They were never … I always thought they were so cute because they were so confident, like “yeah this is our film, we were in the first one, we know what’s going on, we know what’s happening”. They were much more confident and relaxed than I was in the beginning. I was like: “I hope I’m going to be good enough!” But they were pretty chilled.

Q. How do you balance your various work commitments as a family?
Joanna Page: James isn’t up there in Leeds any more. So, actually it’s been mental over the last three years. But now things actually have stabilised because he’s not in Leeds. And we were in London but we’ve moved out to Oxfordshire. So, it’s amazing after three years, we’re in the same house, we spend evenings together and now have a normal life. We’ve been with each other for 12 years but aside from the last three years we’ve always been with each other. That said, you just forget what’s it’s like to come home and cook. We walk the dog together and it’s been fantastic to just be together again. Hence being pregnant [laughs].

Q. Was the film a rehearsal for being pregnant?
Joanna Page: It made me awfully broody. I loved that pregnancy bump. It was plastic and would sit on my stomach and it got really hot and sweaty and it was really nice because it was warm and at lunchtime I wouldn’t take it off. I would sit in the trailer like this because it was lovely. And I kept my maternity jeans afterwards and I wasn’t even pregnant. I thought it’s ridiculous that nobody’s told me about elasticated waistbands before because they’re amazing. I am now wearing them. And I’ve got my red jumper from the poster and my boots. So, I do look exactly the same now [laughs]!

Read our review of Nativity 2

Read our interview with Debbie Isitt