Who do you play?
Liz is a hairdresser who has three boys and a wonderful husband. Together, they run a youth opera in Carmarthen in Wales. David would be literally by her side, helping build the sets, helping rally the community together, raising money to put shows on, auditioning kids. She lived for that youth opera. Hairdressing is a side thing that she did to earn a few pennies, but that’s part of being in the community as well, which was important to her.
She had a tough childhood in lots of ways. That’s the Liz that I took on. She had quite an extraordinary life. There are certain parts of the script that I was like, “Did that really happen?”
What sort of a mother is she?
She’s loving, but she’s also trying to save the youth opera so she’s just gone on this mission to do something, and trusts that David will stay at home and look after the kids.
Why did you take this role?
At my age, it’s nice for me to try and do different things. That often doesn’t come along, because the parts are just not there. We’re getting better, but there’s not the variety. But I really found Liz’s voice to be fascinating and inspiring. Because of my background in the Television Workshop, which is where Jack O’Connell and the amazing Vicky McClure come from, it reminded me so much of that world, and I just wanted to be part of it.
Liz was an inspiration to young people, wasn’t she?
Yes, absolutely. Liz was incredibly inspiring to young people, and she had their backs. No matter who you were, once you were in the youth opera, you were in. And she was a tough teacher as well, which I quite like, in that she treated everybody the same, and there was fairness, but it was hard. The commitment was hard for these young people, but they learnt amazing lessons by going there.
Thematically, what appealed to you about the film? Were you attracted by the feel-good factor that it has?
I obviously felt it was very uplifting, but I also thought it was a gentle reminder to society of what’s important, especially given the austerity that we’ve had for years. The arts have taken such a crushing blow, both with Brexit and with the pandemic, that I feel that this film is very poignant, and quite on-point really, in reminding people what’s important in life.
You can’t forget the arts, you can’t forget music. It is life. It’s so important. Whether or not it reminds people of cinema from a different time – and there’s certainly a beauty to that, I love cinema that takes me away on a journey and just makes me feel good – it shouldn’t be that for the sake of it. You shouldn’t be like, “Right, we’re going to make a feel-good film.” There has to be truth in it. And certainly, the script gave us that. Like a Brassed Off or something like that.
Tell me a little about the preparation that you did, given that Liz was a real person.
I was very lucky, because there’s a lot of stuff on Liz. I’ve seen documentaries where she’d spoken, and I could look at photographs of her. Everybody had a Liz story! But you can get quite overwhelmed with trying to make everybody happy, whether she had a little tic, she fiddled with her earring, just all sorts of things, what she wore, whatever. At a certain point, I had to say to both Jacquetta [Levon], the amazing hair and make-up designer, and Jo Thompson, the costume designer, “We’ve got to be as Liz would be. We’ve got to be truthful to the character as well. We can’t just carbon copy everything. We’ve got to make it our own as well, because she’d want us to.” So I think there’s a bit of artistic licence in there.
So I had documentary footage of her talking but I also had a wonderful voice coach who really helped me with the Carmarthen accent. Even for the younger people from Carmarthen, the accent is quite different to what it was in the early nineties, so I was well supported in navigating how to play her.
How did that dialect compare to others that you’ve done in the past? Was it a particularly difficult one?
It was, yes. I’d never done it before. When I’ve done Welsh in the past it was more of a Cardiff, so it was a really beautiful challenge. I’ve done my best, so I hope it’s not too bad! I’ve had so many challenges over the years, and I just love them. I think one of the trickiest accents I ever did is Alpha in The Walking Dead, and I loved it. Once it clicks, you’re in heaven. It’s the learning of a new skill, learning to work a new muscle that’s exciting.
And did you have to stay in dialect in between scenes, or were you able to slip in and out?
On, no! I couldn’t do that! I have to do me. Was it a pressure, knowing that Liz’s sons were on set, and that everyone remembers her? I had to put it out of my head. It’s a fantasy version of the situation. It’s real, that actually did happen, so it’s not a lie, but there’s a bit of artistic licence.
Tell me a little about her relationship with Mr Morgan and who he is.
He was her school drama teacher, and they’d stayed in touch and remained friends. He helps her to save the cinema. He gives her ideas, and they bounce off each other. He’s a good old fashioned mentor.
The scenes with him particularly seem to be a love letter to the cinema.
Yes. For me personally, especially with the pandemic and the fact that cinemas closed, those months were utterly heartbreaking. But we’re also at a time where cinema attendance is down anyway because people have these incredible ways of watching content now. So I found the fact that we were making a film that was about the love of film, and the love of theatre, quite beautiful.
Do you hope that this film will inspire a bit of love to go down to your local independent cinema?
I really hope so! I hope that it inspires younger people. A lot of young people just watch their computers, unless it’s going to the IMAX and seeing a superhero movie. Everything has to be a big event to get people out, and it just breaks my heart a little bit. But I think that people are going to be desperate to do things together. Hopefully, it’ll bring more people to the cinema again, and – oh, God, I hope so – prompt a renaissance.
Tell me a little bit about working with the rest of the cast.
I just had the best time with the actors. I thought they were absolutely extraordinary. It was just fab. I had a wonderful time. I was lucky, I got to do a lot of scenes especially with Adeel, and David and my boys, Fflyn [Edwards] and Harry [Luke], they were amazing.
The climax to the film is Liz sending a fax to Steven Spielberg’soffice and asking him to help save the cinema. You have worked with Spielberg in the past: why do you think his involvement in Liz’s fight to save the cinema is such a great hook for the film?
It just confirms to me that his love of cinema is profound. The fact that he did that for this little Welsh town! When I first read it I went, “Really?” So I went online, I did loads of research, and it did, it really happened!
Not only did I love the fact that these people did that, I really adore Steven Spielberg. He’s not only an incredible filmmaker, but he’s just an absolutely amazing person to work for. I was quite young when I worked with him, so he set the bar very high for the rest of my career. But he did that, and it’s lovely that the world will now get to celebrate that.
Apart from Minority Report, may I ask your favourite Spielberg film?
Oh, my gosh, favourite Spielberg film … Schindler’s List. It just breaks my heart, especially with everything that goes on in the world. I think when you make films that are very, very hard, very tough, they are also reminders for society.
He manages to make very political films without them being very political, if that makes sense. The stories are poignant, but actually the message behind it is, “This should never happen again.” He’s just incredible.
Save The Cinema is out on Sky Cinema on the 14th January 2022 and you can read our review here.