An Interview with Vicky McClure

this interview was conducted shortly after “This is England ’86” was broadcast and before Vicky McClure won her BAFTA.  it originally appeared on my film review blog  it’s something I am quite proud of and I didn’t like the idea of it being lost so I am re-posting it here for your delight and delectation.

This Is England 86_Lol

“I enter the impressive foyer of the Grande Hotel in La-di-dah London to be greeted by Vicky McClure in a one off Stella McCartney dress. Her P.A takes me aside and tells me what Vicky will and will not answer questions on. It’s very intimidating but she is the hottest property in British acting right now so I should feel lucky to be granted an audience with her.”

That is the sort of introduction that one normally associates with a “celebrity” interview but Vicky McClure isn’t a celebrity and, thankfully, she has no interest in ever being one. She is, however, an actress who has just performed in the most intense, dramatic, powerful, draining and terrifying scene ever broadcast on British television. Her performance in “This Is England ’86” on Channel 4 has propelled her to an interesting place; she will soon be recognised by school kids and serious critics alike and will, in all likelihood, be writing an acceptance speech for the next BAFTAs. McClure, it is safe to say, is on the verge of big things.

I don’t speak with her in the foyer of a big hotel, there is no P.A and there is no list of acceptable subjects to discuss…instead, when I speak with her she is sitting in her bedroom at her parents house. She is relaxed, charming, funny and very open and honest. At just 15 McClure landed the part of “Ladene” in Shane Meadows “A Room For Romeo Brass”. “Ladene” was the big sister to “Romeo” played by Andrew Shim with whom she has also starred in “This is England” and, more intimately, “This is England ’86” as well as Paddy Considine.

“Before “Romeo Brass” I had been at Central TV Workshop in Nottingham, which is where the likes of Samantha Morton and some of the other guys in “This is England” also came from. I started there when I was eleven and had landed bit parts in things like “Peak Practice”. Ian Smith, who runs the workshop, came in one day and told us that there was going to be a massive audition the next day, we all had to impress, that it was for a film with this great new director called Shane Meadows and I was thinking “I’ve never heard of him in my life” but I did the audition and then they said that they were going to do a shortlist and I made it onto that, which was a surprise because I thought I’d really messed it up. I was just pleased to have made it that far because I was the only girl from my age group (11-16) to make it, all the other girls were from the 16 and overs. The other reason I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere was because Shimmys (Andrew Shim) sister was auditioning and it just seemed like she was the obvious choice to play his sister! But I got it and I was absolutely gobsmacked.”

Being cast in the role of sister over the “real” sister says something about how convincing Vicky must have been at that audition stage. Her performance in the film is equally convincing. Her relationship with Andrew Shim seems totally natural and never anything less than real. At sixteen though it must have seemed like her life was about to change forever as she took a major part in a film that was guaranteed to have an audience thanks to the directors success with “24-7”.

“I remember thinking to myself, I’m fifteen, I’m at school, I’m going to be in a film, I won’t have to go to school anymore…I’m Julia Roberts. Of course, the reality is that it isn’t like that but what it did do for me was give me a great platform. I didn’t get overnight fame and I don’t want it now…I want overnight work. It’s the work that’s important. I know I’ll get offered things now but I only want to do things that are interesting and gritty. I don’t want to do crap.”

Fame? Picture in the papers? Falling out of a cab, drunk, outside of China Whites? Nope. Vicky McClure wants to work, do interesting and gritty things. It’s unnerving to hear isn’t it? That’s because we are so used to hearing people say they want to be a “celebrity” or to be “famous” simply so they can be…a celebrity or famous. They don’t want to be famous for anything; fame in and of itself is the goal. My heart skips a beat when I hear Vicky say things like… “I won’t ever class myself as a celebrity or a “star”. I’m dead normal, I’m living at my mum and dads, I’m sat in my bedroom…the bedroom I grew up in. People probably think I live in a mansion in London…but I don’t! I’m just very grateful for what I’ve got. I like looking through “Heat” magazine but it’s not for me. Although I don’t aspire to be a star or a celebrity, I am very aware of today’s media and the advantages & disadvantages it holds. I think it’s about being aware enough to know how to control it and not letting it control you. Even after the series I’ve had a taste of what being in the public eye is like, everyone’s being lovely however I don’t plan on bringing out my own reality TV show & perfume!! It’s scary knowing the pressure I’m under for future projects and you become very aware of the media pressures around you!”

This awareness of the dangers of “celebrity” and a desire to avoid it places McClure in the company of others who prize work and quality over “fame” and “celebrity”; Johnny Depp, Ricky Gervais, Chloe Sevigny and Larry David are all examples of people who have managed to maintain a level of public recognition without ever selling themselves to the tabloids. “Ladene” in “Romeo Brass” attracts the attention of an, ultimately, deranged and dangerous Paddy Considine. In one memorable and disturbing scene she finds herself in his home and confronted by him in, nearly, all of his glory. It’s a scene that is packed with real tension as the very real possibility of a sexual assault looms large in the background but that also contains real humour in “Ladenes” response to Considine. How does a 16 year old girl prepare for a scene like that?

“I didn’t! Because I didn’t know it was going to happen. That’s a Shane Meadows special for you that! Because so much of what you do with Shane is improvised all I knew was that Paddy and I were meant to be on our first date and when the take started he just appeared and there it was! So my reaction in that scene is totally natural.” Anyone who has seen “This is England” will have a favourite scene and for me it is the moment when “Combo” (Stephen Graham) decides to confront Vickys character, “Lol”, with his true feelings. By the time the scene comes around the audience are fairly sure that they don’t like “Combo”; he’s violent, he’s aggressive, he is racist and he has broken up a happy band of warriors with his far right rhetoric. When he tells “Lol” that he loves her and that he wants to be with her though we see that there is more to him than what we have seen and Vickys performance in that scene is beyond fabulous. It’s a scene that never fails to move me. It also gives us a hint of a depth to “Lol”s character that we wouldn’t have without it.

“In the original script the idea was that Lol would take Combo down and alleyway to talk and then she would say “Shall we just have it then”, meaning shall we have sex and he would take down his pants and Lol would just walk away, leaving him there utterly humiliated with everything hanging out, which would have been funny but it just didn’t fit with the dynamic of the film. When we came to actually film it Stephen and I played it in a much softer way, to show that “Combo” does have vulnerability. I don’t think we did too many takes, we wanted it to be quite raw and if we had gone over it and over it then it would have lost some of that.”

What is as important about this scene is that it paves the way for what happens in the finale of “This is England ’86” when “Combo” finds redemption with “Lol”. Without that earlier scene where we see his humanity and his love for “Lol” then none of what happens at the end of “…’86” would have made sense or even have been possible. Now we’ve touched on the very thing that has prompted this issue; “This is England ’86” the first post-Big Brother Channel 4 drama. A drama co-written and directed by Shane Meadows and a series that is unlike anything seen on British television for a long time, possibly ever. It is achingly funny at times, deceptively so, and ultimately it is darker, grittier, edgier and bleaker than anything I can remember seeing on television. At the heart of the show is the story of “Lol” and Vicky McClure is central to everything that happens. She is on screen for huge chunks of the show and in the finale delivers a performance that is simply magnificent. “Lol” is the victim of a savage sexual assault in the final episode of the series at the hands of her father “Mick” (Johnny Harris) and it is a scene that will leave many viewers shaken, stirred and upset. It is, however, a scene that, thanks to its unflinching realism, will provide a means for real life victims to be able to say “That happened to me” and to seek the help, support and justice they need.

“Shane had me watch some films that he felt might help me to prepare, at least from a professional point of view with regards camera work and what have you. But for me this was all about character development. Vicky had to be put to one side and I had to become “Lol”. It had to to be totally believable and I had to live that character. It wasn’t a closed set but I trusted everyone around me. Johnny Harris and I worked very closely to make that scene work. Johnny is the best actor I have ever worked with and he and I prepared in ways that neither of us will ever disclose. We helped each other get to where we needed to be and, I think, it worked. It was emotionally draining and I remember getting into my caravan after filming and falling on the floor, crying, crying and crying.”

My own reaction after watching Vickys performance in this scene was exactly the same. I cried. In a world where, increasingly, we are presented with the glossiest, slickest and shiniest “entertainment” wrapped up in perfect hair and teeth being confronted with something as brilliantly real as this is a welcome relief…no matter how difficult it might be.

You should treat yourself today…go and order “A Room For Romeo Brass”, “This Is England” and “This Is England ’86” and settle down over the next few nights to watch the development of an actress who will soon be a household name…and for all the right reasons. Vicky McClure…an actress and not a celebrity. Give thanks.

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