Starlings - Rebecca Night interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
REBECCA Night talks exclusively to IndieLondon about new Sky1 comedy-drama Starlings and working with Downton Abbey‘s Brendan Coyle.
She also talks about her own career to date, from appearing in BBC drama Fanny Hill to appearing on stage in The Importance of Being Earnest to working with Mike Figgis on forthcoming movie Suspension of Disbelief…
Q. How did you get involved with Starlings?
Rebecca Night: It was an audition but it was one of those last minute ones. I think it was two auditions in two days in a row and suddenly we were starting, which is always kind of weird because you never know what you letting yourself in for [laughs].
Q. How would you describe Bell Starling? She’s a new mother, isn’t she?
Rebecca Night: Yes, episode one opens with me in labour, which is nice [laughs]. She’s a young mum and I think really she’s lovely and warm and has a good heart but she’s also a bit mean to Reuben, her will they/won’t they boyfriend. It’s kind of justifiable why she’s that way with him… or is it? Her reasons do become clear. But I felt a bit mean to Ukweli Roach [who plays Reuben] because I was always being a bitch to him. But I think Bell’s going through a big change. She’s got a baby. She’s still living at home and there are a lot of people under one roof. It’s a really close family, though, and Bell is the oldest sister. They’re from Derbyshire… oh, and she’s also a model – not a very good one, which suits me.
Q. How did you go about finding the character?
Rebecca Night: Well, in a way the script was so good that she was just there. I think you could have maybe played he really, really harsh but I hope I kept the heart of her. I hope she still has a bit of softness. I was trying to imagine her situation of finding herself with a baby with a guy she’s been with for a long time but who may not be everything she thinks he is. I think she’s also really insecure and not into communicating. So that’s interesting to play with because I usually play the type of characters who believe in talking about things. So, playing someone who is repressed is a change for me, even though she can be outspoken.
Q. And how was dealing with your youngest co-star, your baby?
Rebecca Night: I was a bit nervous before we started filming because I don’t really have much experience with babies. But by the end I wanted to keep him [laughs]! But the mums were always on set, so I’d be like: “OK, you have him back.” But he was gorgeous and he got used to me pretty quickly. I would look at him and he’d smile back at me and that, in turn, made me smile. There were odd takes where I was trying to say some lines and I’d be like: “Do you mind being quiet, I’m trying to deliver my line.” But of course, babies don’t work like that and that’s how it is in real life – babies, I guess, do take over your life. You do have to suddenly change how you act, which made it more authentic than if I’d been trying to do it with only a doll.
Q. I would also imagine that you have to become quite close-knit as a group of actors when playing a family living under a roof that’s really too small to fit everyone in?
Rebecca Night: Completely. It sounds like a cliché to say it but we all fell in love and enjoyed being in each other’s company. Going to work was a pleasure. It was quite long days of filming but by the end of each day, I’d be like: “Bye guys, miss you!” We also had the older generation who genuinely can guide you as actors. Lesley Sharp is very much the guiding force for the whole family when playing Jan and also she’s a really lovely woman to have around. So, it was a pleasure. I felt like you could learn a lot from being in their company.
Q. And then there’s Brendan Coyle, who everyone knows and loves as Mr Bates in Downton Abbey…
Rebecca Night: Brendan is so cheeky, which you kind of don’t think from seeing him play Mr Bates. But he keeps the atmosphere very light on set, which is important when doing a comedy… especially if you’re doing a few takes and you have to keep the energy up. But he’s great for that.
Q. You got to see first-hand how he’s coping with being a sex symbol and something of a nation’s favourite…
Rebecca Night: He doesn’t let it go to his head. He gets a bit of stick for it and is teased by Matt [King] and Steve [Edge]. But, like you say, he is a heartthrob now. I think even Helen Mirren said in an interview recently that he’s attractive. And he is! But he’s my dad in Starlings, so I can’t really think of him like that [laughs].
Q. Is it good to work around people like Brendan, who are suddenly the attention of so much media scrutiny for a role, to see how they cope with that kind of celebrity? I know you’ve experienced a little of it following Fanny Hill, when everyone was singing your praises…
Rebecca Night: Yeah, personally I haven’t really experienced anything like that. But it’s important because you do hear stories, whether it’s fair or not, about how things go to people’s head. We’re all human beings at the end of the day and just doing a job that puts you in the public eye. So, it’s good to see how people cope. He takes it all with a pinch of salt, while still feeling so lucky to have been blessed with a role like that. But he’s had a great career and has consistently been doing brilliant work. And that’s the biggest thing to remember, I think, that it’s about the work… and that’s where you can stay grounded. I hope to get lots more jobs like this over the course of my life because it’s exciting. So, you have to be able to recognise and enjoy it too.
Q. Steve Coogan serves as executive producer. Did you get to meet him at all?
Rebecca Night: Not so much. He came to the set one day and I got a bit tongue-tied. But he’s brilliant. I think he’s in on the edit. But I didn’t really get to know him.
Q. What does landing a role in a big Sky1 comedy-drama like Starlings mean for your career at this point?
Rebecca Night: It’s really nice to be part of hopefully a big series. But you never know how these things will be received. It’s a lovely thing to be a part of and I think people will like it. It’s also nice for me because I’ve never done a complete series before. I’ve done four episodes in a series but I’ve never been in every episode. So, it’s really fun for your character to have eight hours of stuff to play with. I don’t really know what it means for my career though.
Q. After coming out of drama school and landing the lead in the critically-acclaimed Fanny Hill did that place any pressure on you from that point onwards?
Rebecca Night: Well, I kind of had a year out of drama school before Fanny Hill where not much had happened and I was starting to get a little frustrated. So, it was lovely to then get to play the lead and to work every day, and then to have it so well received. But I don’t think I had enough time to stop and think about it too much. Sometimes people land a job and it takes them to stratospheric heights but I’ve been able to take my time a little more and grow with each job. After Fanny Hill, I went straight into the stage version of The Importance of Being Earnest with [playwright and director] Peter Gill and I felt like I learned so much as an actress. Everyone told me while I was at drama school that this isn’t it, you’ve still got so much more to learn and you’re always a bit sceptical. But it’s so true and I really realised then that I did still have so much to learn. With every job, you feel like you grow a little but more.
Q. Is theatre something you’ll keep doing in between TV and film, which you’re now branching into?
Rebecca Night: Yeah, definitely, because I can imagine that if you leave it for four years before going back it must be terrifying to get back on stage. But I love all of it and it’s nice to mix it up. I find that whichever you’ve been doing, you tend to want to get back to the other, so I think I’ll always try to divide my time where possible. I also think that with a play you have more control over your final performance because in film and TV they choose which shot or which take they’re going to use in the edit. So, it’s a very different experience.
Q. Talking of films, how was working with Mike Figgis on Suspension of Disbelief?
Rebecca Night: Mike Figgis is amazing… so cool. He is a genius… he’s just so visionary. I felt like I had a master-class in which films to watch while I was working with him… so many old films I feel I should have seen and hadn’t known about. But that experience was quite different to TV and he works on tiny hand held cameras. We did a lot of improv. He’s very much in charge of everything but not in a scary way.
Q. He has a reputation for gritty and this is a psychological thriller, so what can we expect from it?
Rebecca Night: It’s one of those films where I don’t want to say too much because the less you know, the better. But Sebastian Koch is my dad, a screenwriter called Martin, who has written a film I’m in and my character in that film is also an actress. So, there’s a film within a film element. And then this mysterious stranger turns up and there’s a murder and a whodunit kind of thing. There’s a few different genres going on. But the main thing is it’s a thriller, with maybe some eroticism. It’s very naturalist and gritty….
Q. How was being the lead in a film for the first time?
Rebecca Night: Well, there’s three of us really – me Lotte Verbeek and Sebastian… I should have been daunted but Mike was so good in the audition at instantly putting me at ease, so I felt like an actress doing a job and he was the director getting a good performance from me. He has a great sense of humour and he wants to create the best environment for everyone to work in. It was sometimes pretty dark but also free, creative and fun, which helps because if actors are relaxed, you can go to those dark places and not feel afraid. He knows how to create an environment that enables you to do that.
Q. When can we expect that?
Rebecca Night: I actually don’t know. I think he is maybe editing it quite quickly. So, maybe it’ll be ready in time to take to festivals such as Cannes.
Q. I read that Kevin Spacey, Dame Judi Dench and Meryl Streep would be your ideal co-stars. Have you had chance to meet any of them yet?
Rebecca Night: I have met Kevin Spacey because I worked at the Old Vic last Christmas. American Beauty is still one of my favourites and I think he’s doing such good things with the Old Vic. When you’re younger, you put someone on a pedestal and it can be quite intimidating, so it’s nice when they become another actor to you and it’s not such a scary thing meeting them. That being said, with people like Meryl Streep you tend to think: “Oh my god, it’s like another world.” But you never know… maybe I’ll work with them one day.
Q. Is America somewhere you’d like to work if the opportunity arose? Or will you be looking to stay in England?
Rebecca Night: I’m happy here at the moment. But it’s really about wherever the work goes… if something interesting came up, I would be up for it. I guess, it will happen if it’s meant to. Right now, I’m enjoying the work here. And I think that if I did ever decide to go, it would be with a job confirmed, rather than turning up blind and saying: “I’m here! Hire me!”
Q. Could there be a second series of Starlings?
Rebecca Night: I would be nice to do another series of Starlings. I guess they’ll wait until it airs before deciding. But I’d definitely be keen.
Starlings airs on Sky1 on Sunday nights from May 13 at 8pm.