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Ridley Road | Interview with Rita Tushingham (Nettie Jones)

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Could you introduce us to Nettie and where we find her at the start of the series?

You find Nettie in her little house in London. She has advertised a room to let, and she is talking to someone who has come to see the room.

What about the role drew you to the show?

I liked her. She’s got strength and she’s got quite a backstory about what’s happened in her life. She was fun to play and I like the look – the red wig and all that. But I like all the episodes, there’s no good doing something if you just like that character, you need to like the whole thing, and I did. It’s a story that not many people know about, and it needed to be told.

How impressed were you with the set design team recreating the 60s?

Well, I’m part of the 60s. That’s when I started in the business. I thought it was really good… and the clothes! When they talk about it being a period piece it’s so funny because to me, it’s part of my life. But I was very impressed, I thought they did some wonderful things. The costumes, makeup and everything really fits.

You have lots of scenes with Agnes O’Casey – how did you find working with her?

It was lovely. In fact, the first day shooting was with Agnes, which was nice because it was our first scene together. It was really nice for her because if you haven’t worked on a set before, it can be very difficult, but with her it was very relaxed. She’s lovely, very talented and it’s a wonderful role for her. Most of my scenes are with her or Mr Burns.

Can you tell us about working with Sarah Solemani and Jo Bloom and how this process worked?

I actually haven’t met them, but I love the script. It’s a wonderful script and a wonderful story that certainly needed to be told, especially as people are becoming more aware of social movements with Black Lives Matter and footballers taking the knee. You need people to be aware because even though I was young at the time this was happening, I was still shocked when I heard people saying some of the lines. There is an intake of breath, you can’t imagine people could talk like that and I’m afraid some people still will.

How have you found filming in Manchester and working with RED Production company?

I’ve filmed here before – I did my very first film here, A Taste of Honey. I’ve worked with RED before too, I did Bedlam with RED Productions. It’s great. I’m from Liverpool, so I know Manchester really well. The crew were fabulous, it’s a great story, lovely director and cast. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet many of the cast. Quite a few people in this have not had scenes with each other and our paths haven’t crossed. You see them from a distance and that’s it.

Were there any highlights that you had from your time on set?

I love doing what I’m doing. So, doing it every day, on the days I’m shooting, is always a highlight. You can’t just pick one thing. It’s been wonderful to be working, certainly with what we were faced with around COVID-19. It’s been a very different way of working. There are different things that you have to do and be aware of. It’s always lovely to come to work and work with people, that’s a highlight.

What do you hope that audiences take away from the show when they watch it?

I think that they should do a lot of soul searching. Especially people who are bigoted about things. Now, because of social media and the internet, people are far more aware of happenings. I think we need to be aware of our history, even if it’s unpleasant.This is what’s happening more now, people are rebelling against bigotry and other things, and are able to have a say.

You can do far more research now, some people think “I don’t want to go to the library”, but a lot of people who are on the internet, can find that they are suddenly informed by things that have happened in history or things that are happening today, and that’s very important. There are certain things that aren’t so good, but you can be well informed now. You don’t have to rush to the library or hope that you’re taught it in school, it’s readily available.

Can you tell us about wardrobe, did you have input into Nettie’s costume?

I spoke with the wardrobe department about it and it was wonderful because we had the same idea. Of course, I knew the sixties clothes and I loved the apron. It’s getting all the pieces to fit, it’s like a jigsaw and you’re the canvas. I loved the wig and all those little pieces like the earrings and the jewellery, it all fit together and I was very happy with that.

What do you think audiences will take away from Ridley Road?

Well, I think it’s an amazing story and it’s a strong story. It will be a story that a lot of people will not be aware of. Not only is it a really well written piece, but it will also have an impact. You want people to watch it and follow the story of this young girl.