Emily Watson on Apple Tree Yard

Emily Watson plays Yvonne in the BBC’s psychological thriller Apple Tree Yard. Here she talks about why she was initially wary of taking the role and dealing with a hard hitting subject.

How did you first hear of Apple Tree Yard?
When I originally got the script, I was very wary due to the nature of it. However I was interested enough to meet Jess, the director, and I kind of fell in love with her.

Describe Apple Tree Yard.
Apple Tree Yard is a dense female-driven psychological thriller that’s very complex and very grown up.

Have you enjoyed getting to grips with the role of Yvonne, how’s it been for you?
It’s a very relentless schedule. What’s been so great is there have been really different areas to go into with Yvonne. Being on screen with someone is very fun and energizing. Ben (Chaplin) is hilarious and it’s been really good fun to do this with him. There’s been a lot of changeable stuff, one day I’m filming in the crypt and the next I’m in the dock at the Old Bailey.

How has it unfolded for you when you’ve been shooting along the way?
A lot of it has been very challenging. One thing I felt Ben has done with the part of Costley is that he has taken away any sense of it being sleazy so I hope the audience will fall for him in the same way Yvonne does, so when things turn, it becomes as much of a shock to them as it is to her. It’s been challenging and uncomfortable with particular scenes. The mess is beyond your worst nightmares and becomes more entangled. She tells one lie that unfolds into another lie which gets worse. It’s an immensely stressful state to be in when the whole situation becomes very complicated.

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Considering the intimate nature of the scenes with Mark Costley, was it easier that you both knew each other before starting this project?
I’ve known Ben about eleven years now and it makes it easier because I knew he was great to work with. When I first spoke to him on the phone after he had agreed to the part, I told him how great it was and then after I put the phone down, all I could think was oh no, I have to do those scenes with Ben, who I know! When you do those scenes in your twenties, it’s really difficult, but when you do those scenes as a more experienced actor, you are better at knowing what’s going to work and what it needs. I said to Jess straightaway that I wasn’t going to do any nudity, but it made it more real in a way that doesn’t feel too exposing or uncomfortable.

What is Jess like to work with as a director?
I’ve enjoyed working with Jess as much as anyone in my career; she’s a really lovely person and the sort I would want to keep as a friend. She is very thoughtful, very considered and very creative, always trying things and giving you space.

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Do you think Apple Tree Yard is a timely piece, considering the issues of gender and sexuality which are discussed?
I think there’s a lot of debate going on about the presence of women in film and television and pieces like this are becoming more common. The most loyal audience for TV is women and they are really interested in watching women like these on TV. Television is changing and evolving, becoming much more complex and grown up.

If Yvonne was a man, do you think her story would have turned out differently?
If Yvonne was a man, I think we would definitely have been allowed to film in the Houses of Parliament, which I think says a lot about gender politics.

What do you hope a viewer takes away from Apple Tree Yard?
I hope it’s going to cause debate and that people feel very strongly about Yvonne, the things she does and the choices she makes. I know some people are going to really disapprove of her. I think some women will be really invested in that relationship, showing an older woman going off and having an exciting affair. I hope it’s going to make people talk. I think the moral ambiguity and how it’s not entirely clear-cut is true to life. I know a story is poorer for being morally black and white and I think it’s a grown up story where everyone is imperfect, complicated and interesting because of that.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.