One of the undoubted highlights of the festive season’s televisual offerings on Channel 4 is This Is England ’88 – a slice of funny, gritty, brutally real 80s life, told in the way only Shane Meadows can. Once again, he has reunited the key cast members from This Is England, including Vicky McClure, whose outstanding performance in This Is England ’86 won her a Bafta earlier this year.
Trying desperately to refrain from tugging our forelocks in the presence of her greatness, we asked her about breaking into acting, Shane Meadows’ unusual working practises, and no longer having hair like Jedward.
You started off acting when you went to the Television Workshop in Nottingham aged 12, didn’t you?
I was dancing at the time – I’d danced since I was three, and my teacher knew that I needed more, performance-wise, so she told me about it. I auditioned, but I didn’t get in – they declined me. Then somebody dropped out, so they gave me a place. Thank God they did. It was great, I was there for ten years – it was a big part of my life.
A lot of your fellow cast members in This is England came from there too, didn’t they?
Yeah, loads of us – off the top of my head Andrew Shim, Chanel Cresswell, Danielle Watson, Perry Fitzpatrick, Rosamund Hanson, and Michael Socha. Then there is a lot of other amazing talent which has come out of there too; Toby Kebbell, Lauren Socha [who also won a Bafta earlier this year], and obviously Samantha Morton.
Why is it such a breeding ground for talent?
The difference between the workshop and drama school is there’s no sitting down and writing, we don’t get scripts and pull them apart, it’s all practical. You’re always up and experimenting – it’s great for kids to be able to go there and express themselves as they would naturally want to, in a safe environment where everybody’s doing exactly the same. You don’t walk out with a qualification or a certificate, some people never even act after it, but they’ve gained a certain confidence that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. It’s a unique place. I went just recently to have a chat with them – with my Bafta! I got there a bit early to watch the workshop, and I just don’t think there’s anything else like it out there.
How did it feel to win the Bafta?
It was beyond my wildest dreams – seriously. Just being nominated was a massive shock, and the night itself was one of those overwhelming nights where you just pinch yourself and go “How have I ended up here?” And then when they announced my name….It’s just put such a positive aspect on my life and my career, and I’m so proud of it. It’s in my bedroom at the minute.
Do you ever wake up to discover you’ve been cuddling it in the night?
That’s not happened – yet! But I do wake up every now and again and see it and think “God that’s weird.” I don’t underestimate what it is, and I certainly don’t take it for granted.
Has it changed anything for you?
Yeah, this has been a very positive year for me, work-wise, and there have been some really interesting projects that I’ve done that are actually quite far away from Lol – so people are looking beyond the character, which is amazing. I’m not being typecast, which is great, and the projects that I’ve got coming out are interesting projects with great people and brilliant actors. The opportunities have increased, definitely. But people keep saying “Is LA calling?” and no, it’s not. And actually that’s not the path that I’m trying to take. I love British cinema and British television. I haven’t got a specific plan in place, I’m just enjoying the opportunities that are coming through, really.
You worked in an office job until March 2010, doing property valuation. Why did you stick with your job for so long?
I was there for eight years. When I first started it was part-time – I was doing 12-hours-a-week, and I was young, I didn’t need such a heavy wage, I didn’t have the bills that I had last year when I had a house. I stayed because I needed to earn money, and I didn’t have work coming through. I don’t know how to make money without having a job, so I stuck there. And they were an extremely supportive company that knew what I was doing, and they were great. If I had an audition, I never missed out. I filmed stuff while I was there, they’d just say “Off you go!” and I’d go back to work when I’d finished. It worked out well, and I’ve got a lot of friends there, and a lot to thank them for.
You’re back on our screens in December with This Is England ’88. This is now your third outing as Lol. Does that mean you feel particularly close to her?
Yeah, I do. I know her through and through now, and the journey that she’s taken over the years is extreme. Creating the character of Lol has got more and more intense, we’ve added more and more layers as we’ve gone on. It’s been a gradual process, and quite organic. She’s a character that I massively enjoy playing, but she takes it out of me.
Yeah – Lol’s life was pretty tough in ’86. Is there any chance she’s living the life of a blissfully happy millionaire in ’88?
Blissfully happy millionaire? I can’t really imagine that ever being the case! Realistically, the fact that she’s murdered her father, to jump from that to her being happy two years later just wouldn’t happen. I think Shane was really clever the way he dealt with that in ’88. There’s a lot that needs to be cleared up. As much as it’s another tough story for Lol, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, which is the beautiful thing about Lol’s tale, really.
You’ve talked in the past about loving working with Shane. What is it about him that actors like so much?
A lot of it is improvised – we do use the scripts, because they’re so strong, and the way they’re written is so real – but there’s just such a creative process. And there’s always time on set – if we get to a scene, and it’s not working, there’s no panic about running out of time – for some reason Shane just doesn’t have that issue. If it’s not working, we’ll spend all day on it if need be. Not only do you get the time, you get the creative input. He draws Lol out of me better than anyone else ever could, because we created her together. When I need to go to a certain place, Shane knows how to channel that. I believe he’s got an aspect of genius inside of him. He’s also a really good mate, which is really helpful. It doesn’t feel like work, when you’re going to work with your mates on a Monday morning. There’s a million reasons why I love working with Shane. The hope is that I’ll continue working with him for a long time.
As a single parent, Lol’s leading a very isolated life from the others, isn’t she?
Yeah, that’s right.
Is it true that Shane kept you completely separate from all the other cast members during filming?
Yeah, he did. He kind of did the same with Joseph Gilgun, who plays Woody. We weren’t allowed to see each other throughout filming, and we were both isolated from the gang. It’s hard going, but if you think you’re only on a shoot for four weeks, it’s not about going out and getting drunk and having a laugh, you’re there to work and to graft. You have to work hard if you want it to turn out great. I was very isolated, and it was a really hard shoot for me. I took Lol home with me most nights, and struggled to come out of character quite a lot. I would never claim to be a method actor for everything that I do, but certainly for Lol it works for me to do that. It might feel hard at the time. I went out one Saturday night with a friend, and Joe was out, and we bumped into each other. I told Shane the next day, and he was so disappointed that he threw me out of my flat and chucked me into a hotel. I think I stayed in the hotel for all of one night before he relented, but there was still a lot of packing involved. It just added to the drama – we didn’t speak to each other all day on set!
You said after filming ’86 that one of the ways you’d coped with the subject matter was by having fun with the rest of the cast. Did you feel like you missed out on that aspect this time around?
I didn’t feel like I missed out. Obviously I missed them, but I was so involved in what I was doing that I wasn’t really thinking about what everyone else was doing. Don’t get me wrong, I went to the pub, I had a drink. But I also had a few days when I had a bit of trouble defining Vicky and Lol, because you can take it to the extreme, but I haven’t suffered from it in any way. It’s what you do for your art, as people say.
Did you feel a sense of responsibility portraying a single mother suffering from depression, in representing that accurately for people who do go through that?
Yeah, without a doubt. Shane and I were very aware of the issues we were portraying on screen, and trying to make them as real as possible. A lot of thought goes into it. But it’s all about portraying it in the way that Lol would react to it.
You filmed with a little girl who played your daughter, Lisa. How did you find that?
She’s just amazing. She’s only two years old. The great thing about her was that she became very used to the people and cameras on set. It’s a gradual process – I went and had dinner with her and her mum, I went to her house, we were very conscious about building a relationship. Her mum introduced me to her as ‘Mum’, so she still calls me mum now. Her mum was so relaxed on set and so understanding of what we were doing. She was an absolutely amazing little girl, she’s a star in the making without a doubt. She’s only two, but she played that part perfectly. I was really proud of her, there were never any tears or tantrums, there was none of that. She was just happy to be there, she enjoyed everybody’s company, and we built a really nice relationship. She was brilliant – I love her to bits.
Did you do anything to create an 80s mind set – listen to 80s music or anything?
No, not really. I think there’s a lot to be said about why it’s called This Is England, and not This Was England – you could set these storylines today, they’re still relevant. I think we’ve all become quite attached to the 80s, listening to the music, and the clothes – I love Lol’s style. I love wearing Fred Perry and Doc Martens, I think the look’s really strong. I’ve definitely embraced what was the 80s and learned so much about it.
Is there a sense of relief that this time around you don’t have hair like Jedward?
Do you know what? Last night I was at Bafta, and who was there but Jedward? I remember having my hair compared to Jedward in the papers, and that’s absolutely fine – I thought my hair was really cool. So that means Jedward must have really cool hair!
This is England ’88 is on Channel 4 on 13th, 14th and 15th December at 10pm.
Watch a video teaser for the first episode of This Is England ’88 here.