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Mark Rylance on playing Thomas Cromwell in BBC Two’s epic drama Wolf Hall



The year has barely begun before we are into our stride with a slice of truly fascinating costume drama airing soon on BBC-2 based on the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by the booker prize winning Hilary Mantel. Amongst an all star cast Mark Rylance stands out as the scheming Thomas Cromwell. Here he talks about the process of finding his character and how the books allowed him to add an extra layer of depth to Cromwell.

How did you prepare for a role of this magnitude?
Well, you read the books. When you have such fantastic detailed books behind the script, it makes sense to use them and I read them twice. I’d check each scene in the script with the book. Sometimes it’s a few different scenes in the books that have been put together to make a scene. The book in particular is so much about what Cromwell is thinking, so I really made a study of that. I tend to try and make lists of everything the characters say about themselves, and about the others. Where the lists are too big and too long, I marked particularly eloquent passages – there’s a beautiful passage where Cromwell describes what it is to serve Henry. So, I put those aside, so that I could keep referring to them. And try and figure out what he wants as a person. I was very struck by him being a runaway. The few runaway kids I know have grown up with a certain pragmatism. The image I have is, runaways knowing how to determine whether the road they’re looking at is a dead end alley, or something that has a few openings. So, you’re always trying to keep possibilities ahead. Not to close down your options if you have to make a getaway. I suppose I thought that perhaps unconsciously, maybe, or consciously, with the things that have happened to him that he seeks security.

But, as soon as I say that, it’s true, as soon as you say one thing, the opposite is immediately borne. It must be thought that he also enjoys a certain amount of risk. And, I guess you would get addicted to risk if you were a runaway kid, at that time in France and Italy. It would be hard to settle down. And, yet, you would always be seeking some security.

You are known primarily as a theatre and film actor. What made you want to be part of this television drama?
My wife had read the books and said they were very good. And the scripts that I saw initially were very good. So, I hadn’t read the books, but the scripts were the things that inspired me. I didn’t really know about the depth of the character at that point. But there was a lot of change in it. I like stories where people change, where the characters that I play change. And, this character changes a lot. I think that was it.

So much in the novel is concerned with what Cromwell is thinking but not saying. How do you translate that into a performance on screen?
You just think he’s a very private man, and people don’t really know what is fact and what is myth about him. I think that’s the best you can do, really.

What is Cromwell’s goal?
He’s always playing to win, playing to win what he feels will be the most beneficial outcome of the situation. He chooses to serve the top dog, in a very violent pack. So, he has to be thinking, “What’s the best outcome for the King?”

But, at certain times, I think, probably his best outcome, personally, would be not to kill Anne Boleyn. Indeed, not to have to do a lot of the things he does. But, like a hired protector, or guard for a mafia man, he knows that if he doesn’t do it, someone else will.

This was a time when hierarchy was all-pervasive. What was it about Cromwell that enabled him to rise?

He was obviously gifted with an incredible memory. And Hilary [Mantel] writes about that – that’s a particular form of intelligence. He’s also gifted with – or, maybe he learned it through experience – a canny sense for judging whether people are honest or not, by looking in their eyes. And so he’s a very good judge of people. He rarely misjudges characters. Sometimes he’s surprised by characters, but usually Hilary makes a big point, and says this is one of the few moments he was surprised. He probably would have been a champion chess player in that he’s usually seven or eight moves ahead of the other players around him.

Also personal tragedy in his life has a certain determining effect on his own emotions. It gives him a certain kind of recklessness, or nihilism, about his own fate. He’s not particularly attached to anything, or anyone. He knows everything can be lost at any moment. And he was just lucky, wasn’t he? At the time that the mercantile class was rising in power, and starting to really be the funders of the aristocracy, he knew all about that – he knew about bankers and trade. And also, it’s a great piece of luck that he apprentices himself to Wolsey, and learns Wolsey’s particular form of laissez faire-type pragmatism. It’s almost like managing a football team of millionaire players; you have to know when to be firm and when to be liberal, which battles to fight and when. All these things, I think he learns from Wolsey. We talk about his mental abilities: he’s also physically not frightened. He’s a soldier, and he knows how to deal with himself physically.

What was his relationship with authority – did he understand how to be mastered, as well as how to be a master?
I think he’s able to see authority as a game. It’s a game where you can play the rules, and you can call people on the rules. Wolsey teaches him that. I think he’s pretty suspicious of authority. He’s a heretic, isn’t he? He certainly sees that the present situation has been repressive of intelligent people, like himself, who would like to read the Bible in English. And, who would like to not be judged by some system of judgement, but judged on their own merits. Peter Kosminsky is always remarking to me that Cromwell divides people into two groups; those who judge him on his own merits, and those who judge him because of his background.

Do you ever think of him as a brilliant actor? Someone who plays the role that’s required in front of whoever is the audience?
That’s a good point. He’s different when he goes back to see his father than when he’s talking to Norfolk, or when he’s talking to Anne Boleyn, or to his children. I think Hilary has remarked that he’s very gentle with women and young children. And he’s a very, very tough prosecuting attorney with men.

What has it been like spending 85 days filming as one character?
I was very tightly sprung in the first weeks, feeling very anxious indeed, about decisions that were being made, and I felt I didn’t know anything. Gradually, over the period of time I became so familiar with the character, I would often forget we’re about to do a take, and then I hear, “Action!” And, we’re off. So, it becomes second nature, in a way, to be on a set filming. That aspect is very helpful.

In terms of the character, it’s so confusing you can’t keep track of it because we film out of order. So you have to give up on that. You give up on a lot of ideals. And, that’s probably good.

Did you come out of the process liking Cromwell or loathing him?
I try not to judge characters I play, negatively or positively. They judge themselves. I didn’t set out to display anything with the character, I just tried to be the character, and the stories made a certain judgement of what things to include, (or not) about him.

Why do we find this period so endlessly fascinating?
It must be something to do with the very human nature of the King, I think. He’s a very human character, he has a lot of human frailties, a lot of situations that many of us face – of the conflict between our relationship to society, our public role. Whether that society’s just our family, our extended family, our workplace, our country, international… It’s the whole idea of divine Kings, or of these rulers who lead us, we’re fascinated, aren’t we?

When we find out actually what was going on with Kennedy, or Clinton, or eventually find out what was going on in Obama’s mind, it’s riveting. We may know more, eventually, about Queen Elizabeth II. Right now she keeps her cards very close to her chest!



The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai




Romola Garai The Miniaturist

Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.

What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.

It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.

Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.

Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.

One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.

Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.

What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.

Anya Taylor Joy The Miniaturist

Anya Taylor Joy plays Nella.

Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!

What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.

I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.

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Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small




Trust Me Sharon Small

Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.

What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].

How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.

How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.

Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.

What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.

What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!

What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.

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Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker




Trust Me

Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.

What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.

How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.

Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.

How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!

Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.

Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!

What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!

Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!

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