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The Invisible Woman - Joanna Scanlan interview

The Invisible Woman

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOANNA Scanlan talks about the challenge of playing Catherine Dickens alongside Ralph Fiennes in The Invisible Woman. She also discusses her take on one of the key scenes in the film. She was talking at a press conference held during the 2013 London Film Festival.

Q. This is one of those small scene-stealing roles. How did it come about?
Joanna Scanlan: I was very surprised to be offered it. I went into audition with Ralph in a small room, we just read it and it felt very natural between us. When you walk out you don’t know if you’ve got the job for a long time and I feel a great sense of responsibility to Catherine Dickens, the woman as well. There’s a sense that when you accept something like that, how much of a portrayal of a living human being you can possibly ever convey. So, I had to trust this line of incredible beads from Catherine throught to Claire [Tomlin]’s incredible sleuthing to unravel the story, to Abi [Morgan]’s dramatic interpretation to Ralph’s direction. And in the end, you sit there and let that hold you and hope that you’re doing the real Catherine Dickens some service. I think she would have liked the fact that 100 years on, her story is being told with some sympathy.

Ralph Fiennes: Can I just jump in? It was always a case that there was this great, great scene when Catherine Dickens visits Nelly and returns the bracelet. Apparently, that happened. It’s a fantastic scene in the first draft of the screenplay and when Jo very generously agreed to come in and read, within a few seconds we were transported by the way she read the scene. It was absolutely brilliant.

Q. “Life is nothing without good company” is one quote to stem from the film. But for all the socializing that Dickens did I wonder if you think he was inherently a lonely man?
Joanna Scanlan: I wonder if he was lonely in his life with Nelly, because it was lived alongside a double life. He couldn’t truly have his heart’s desire. That must have been lonely.

Q. The scene when Catherine Dickens returns the bracelet to Nelly is the most heartbreaking in the film and it’s also quite a brutal scene. What was your take on it as the person who had to convey those emotions?
Joanna Scanlan: I felt there was almost a kind of complicity between these two women who loved the same man. It’s a complex set of emotions. It’s not simply about some kind of bitter position. There’s some affection there too, so for me it was about exploring that. And felicity is a wonderful actress and in that scene with me I couldn’t not melt looking at her young and beautiful face and feeling a sort of maternal tenderness towards her. I think Ralph was in charge of how that scene was going to play out, but the energy of that scene between us was tenderness I think.

And also, at the same time, I was aware of an enormous sadness that really affected me because this was her last hurrah; she was about to be banished and that was going to be it for her. But today, that wouldn’t happen. If exactly the same scenario took place… I’m that age and I feel like my life is just beginning. And so in a sense I think there was a melancholy and nostalgia mixed with a tenderness towards this young girl because I wouldn’t want to have to go back to being young and going through all that pain again in this character of Ellen Terner. Which is what happened – she had a tough ride.

Read our review of The Invisible Woman

Read our interview with Ralph Fiennes