Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Care - Interviews with Sheridan Smith (Jenny), Alison Steadman (Mary) and Sinead Keenan (Claire)
Who is your character?
I play Jenny. She’s a single mum of two girls, and when we meet her at the start of Care she’s still married to her ex-husband, Dave, but they have been through a messy breakup. They’re still in regular contact because of their daughters, but you can tell it’s awkward for her.
In the opening minutes of Care, Jenny’s lovely mum Mary - who helps her with the girls - suffers a stroke and goes on to develop dementia. Jenny must then decide how she’s going to look after her mum - with the NHS and continuing healthcare.
In a nutshell, Care is an incredibly powerful film about a young mum struggling with her two girls - and what her and her family do when her mum develops dementia.
How did you research the role?
I spoke to a quite a few people. A number of my friends have had parents and grandparents with dementia, and speaking with them taught me about a lot about it and was really helpful. Jenny and her family don’t know how to react. When something that massive happens - you do think, how would a family react to that?
Alison Steadman, who plays my mum, was hugely helpful. She had done a lot of research herself to allow for as accurate a performance as possible, so a lot of the time I am purely reacting to her performance.
What first attracted you to Care?
Obviously Jimmy McGovern… he’s written the script with Gillian Juckes and it is amazing. I’m a big fan of Jimmy. I worked with him years ago on The Accused, when I did an episode of that. When Jimmy got in touch and said he was working on this script I was very excited. I jumped at the chance. He’s a genius when it comes to writing. Everyone knows Jimmy. I’m very honoured to be back working with him.
When I realised what the script was about and I read it - I cried all the way through it. It really moved me. I thought it was such an important subject matter. It’s a really important story to tell. Lots of people will be going through the same situation. They’re just a real family and it could happen to anyone, up and down the country. It’s very important. That’s what Jimmy is great at - he always tackles a subject that needs to be discussed.
Was there an especially challenging scene to film?
One of the more challenging scenes was the scene at the start, when my character Jenny’s mum has the accident and Jenny’s then out looking for her and her daughters. Jenny only hears the crash on the phone, so she doesn’t actually know what’s happened. She jumps in the car and she doesn’t know where her kids are… Gosh I’m getting all panicky just thinking about it! I was really shaking after that scene, and I was crying a lot.
It was a really great scene to play - so well written - and I loved doing it. It took me a while to come down afterwards. On set it looked so real, with the girls and the smoke from the accident. The two girls who play Jenny’s daughters are great and so fantastic to work with. They were always hanging round my neck - and they made me birthday cards and everything! I got on great with them. In the scene, when they run towards me crying… the whole thing was a lot. I’m getting emotional just talking about it! I really enjoyed the whole drama and adrenaline of the scene.
Tell us about Mary… what does the film have in store for her?
Initially we see the character as very lively - Mary is a lady who is full of life. She loves her grandkids and spends a lot of time with them. She’s a fun granny to be with. She sends them up and pulls their legs. She’s a very bright, strong lady. And then the rug is pulled right from under her in a flash.
The terrifying thing for me is that it could happen to any of us at any time… and when it does happen, as a human being you have no control. There’s nothing you can do to help yourself. You are totally dependent on medical staff and doctors and family. Suddenly this woman who is full of life and zest and chat… she can’t speak. She can’t communicate.
What attracted you to the film?
Several things… Jimmy McGovern… who is a brilliant writer. Sheridan Smith… who is such a talented actress… filming in my home town… playing a Liverpool woman, which I don’t do very often. It ticked all the boxes.
I’ve never worked with Jimmy McGovern before. He just gets under the skin of the characters. They are so believable. His stuff is always so heart-warming yet heart-wrenching. He ticks all the boxes. Never having worked with him before, when it came up I knew I had to do it. I knew it would be so great. He and Gillian Juckes have written the most wonderful script.
How did you prepare for the role?
I went from what was in the fantastic script and I also spoke to a doctor who specialises in dealing with people who have had a stroke. I had a long chat with him.
I also know someone, a contemporary of mine, who had a massive stroke about six months ago. It’s so hard to see how it can change someone’s life entirely. Just to be in the stroke unit and to observe people… I chatted to quite a few of the patients or just exchanged smiles… I saw what was going on in the unit. That was really helpful to me.
It really makes me appreciate that at the end of the day I can get dressed, put my lipstick on and go and have a gin and tonic - as some people aren’t so lucky.
It’s not an easy role to play… did you have any reservations about taking it on?
I didn’t have any reservations. I knew it would be a terrific challenge. I didn’t have reservations but knew it would be something that I was going to really have to work at to get into Mary’s brain and understand fully what had happened to her, in order to understand what she was going through. In that sense it was challenging but it was also good to know that I had this challenge and that I could achieve it.
How was working with Sheridan Smith again? What is she like to share a scene with?
Sheridan is 100% committed. There’s no nonsense with her. She really goes for it. She’s so lovely because we have a lot of emotional scenes together that were very taxing. When we finished a take, if it had gone well she would take my hand and grip my hand - she wouldn’t say anything but it was great to have that support. We felt that we were really communicating together. It was so good to have that.
Did you talk about what your characters relationship would have been like before the stroke?
Yes - we had rehearsal time. We knew that the three of them (Jenny, Mary and Sinead Keenan’s character Claire) were strong characters - particularly Sheridan’s character. Perhaps it wasn’t always an easy relationship. Life was tough for them all… relationships, bringing up kids and one thing or another… But you knew that they were supportive. When this sort of thing happens, suddenly it shines a spotlight on life and what’s important. I think it’s great for their mother to know that those two girls were going to support her and be there for her.
Is there anything that has stayed with you since filming?
Definitely. Once you’ve played a part like this, it stays with you. In life we hope that we don’t get ill and of course we don’t dwell on things like that because you’ve got to carry on living. I’m touching wood as I say this, but I’ve got a very active and happy life - and I’m very grateful for that. But it does make you think. When I do see people who have experienced similar to Mary or are having difficulty communicating, I think I have even more empathy than I did before. It has really made me think.
What do you hope viewers will take from watching Care? Why should viewers tune in?
Like any good drama, it will be compelling but it will also raise awareness and raise consciousness. It will increase people’s empathy. It will make people realise that they should appreciate life and realise if this does happen in life we should give people the best chance. Most health services do their best, but they can’t always do what they want to do because they have not got the resources. Care homes have not got the resources to do what they should be doing. I think raising awareness of that is very important.
What made you want to be a part of Care?
From the moment I clapped eyes on Cracker I have long since been a huge fan of Jimmy McGovern’s. The opportunity to work with Jimmy was a golden one - the fact that the brilliant Alison Steadman and Sheridan Smith were both involved meant I could in no way say no.
The story is also quite close to my heart. My nana and papa lived in Belfast and both went through the NHS system in their final years. My nana had Alzheimer’s and although the care she received was administered wholeheartedly by those we came in contact with on the front line of the NHS, battling our way to get that care was challenging, to put it politely.
The journey that Jenny and Claire make to get their mother the care she needs and is entitled to is one that all too many will be familiar with.
Please tell us about your character. Where do we meet Claire at the start of the film, and what was she like to play?
Claire is the daughter who ‘lives away’, which brings with it its own complications when dealing with a sick parent. For her own reasons, Claire can’t be there in the same way as Jenny can with the day-to-day caring for her mother. This serves to make Claire feel guilty, so that when she does come home and tries to advocate for her mother, she does so a lot more fervently and aggressively than her sister.
As a daughter who lives away from home, I was keen not to portray Claire as the villain of the piece, as can sometimes be the case when you see dramas like this. Living away from home does not necessarily mean that you care less about your family, it can just mean you have made different choices in life which have led you down a different path and to a different place. Geography and circumstance don’t necessarily mean a lack of love for a parent, which is certainly the case with Claire.
Was there a particularly memorable scene or moment to film?
The first scene I filmed with Sheridan and Alison was a fairly memorable one, for me at least. It was the scene where Claire finds Jenny and her mum in the hospital, and finds out she’s had a stroke. To be in a room working with two actors you have admired for years and years on a piece written by a writer you have admired for years and years, is quite the thing. I had to dig deep into my acting boots that day to give some sort of semblance of professionalism and not betray my inner fan girl!
This is your second time in as many years playing a Liverpudlian, and filming in the city. What makes Liverpool such a great location to film?
No word of a lie, Liverpool is my favourite city in the UK. This was my second time filming in Liverpool and I cannot tell you how nice it was to be back. There is a buzz and a pride in Liverpool that you will be hard pushed to find anywhere else in the UK, which makes it a great city not just to work in but to spend time in.
Why should BBC One viewers tune in to Care?
The journey that Jenny and Claire make to get their mother the care she needs and is entitled to is one that all too many will be familiar with. Every viewer will be able to identify with some part of Care, it’s co-written by Jimmy McGovern with Gillian Juckes, and starring Alison Steadman and Sheridan Smith - that’s a fairly tempting proposition right there!