Ever since her Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread, work has been flooding in for Lesley Manville, finally letting US audiences see the talent evident on stage, screen and TV here for decades. The actor talks to @JanetChristie2 about new film Ordinary Love with Liam Neeson, and taking the opportunities that come her way
Life has changed a lot for Lesley Manville since she was ‘discovered’ by Hollywood last year, despite being a multiple award-winning star of stage and screen in the UK. Being nominated for an Oscar for her supporting actress performance in Phantom Thread opposite Daniel Day-Lewis has seen her career take off Stateside and given her opportunities she wasn’t looking out for, but is delighted to take up.
“I was overwhelmed by the response to Phantom Thread,” she says. “I’d have been happy to have made it if nobody had ever seen it because I had 14 of the most glorious weeks of my life and career shooting it. I thought it was a stunning film – it’s the kind of film I love anyway.
Otherwise working in period films is all pros and no cons, says Lesley Manville
She loves clothes and costume dramas and so Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017), set in the haute couture world of London in 1954, was a perfect fit. Lesley Manville plays Cyril Woodcock, sister to Daniel Day-Lewis’ gifted but obsessive couturier, Reynolds Woodcock
Talking about the preparation for her role, Lesley says over the phone from London, “I knew I was going to do the film about seven months before we started filming so I had lots of time to research the period of the film, the 50s, the history of fashion, the world of fashion leading up to that. I had time to think about the character and how I might play her. I had lots of sessions and meetings with Paul Thomas Anderson, I had a few with Daniel Day Lewis, lots of costume fittings with Mark Bridges. You put all the research, the work and the preparation in and then you start to shoot the film. That is when everybody has to try and find a way to create something that is going to work and going to be interesting.”
Insisting there aren’t any cons to working in a period film, the 63-year-old says, “I love costume dramas because you put on these clothes and when you go to the set everything is in the right period which helps you feel very much in that world. I find it all a great help and it is such a beautiful period as well. Women dressed so beautifully at that time in history. Everything about it was helpful. Sometimes your corset is a bit tight! (laughs) Apart from that it is all pros, no cons.” [ . . . ]
Lesley Manville is surprised when I tell her that her character in Phantom Thread, Cyril, became a queer Internet icon this year, the subject of fan fiction in which she runs off with Daniel Day-Lewis’s love interest, Alma. “Listen, I’ll take it. But no, I don’t follow anything like that. So there’s this whole other world going on that I know not of.”Yes, Manville speaks in such poetic turns of phrase, and it even makes some sense, given that she eschews, as she says, both the Internet and social media. When I apologize for being tired after working my first Met Gala during our conversation last week, she says that when she sees the pictures every year, “I can’t help but think of all the money that it costs that those people have spent on those clothes.” Later, she jokes, “I’ll never get an invite now, will I?
”You wouldn’t guess that we’re supposed to be talking about, on the surface, one of her most anodyne roles, as Cathy in the BAFTA-winning British sitcom Mum, about a very typical English middle-class woman turning 60, and confronting a new phase of life after the death of her husband. But Manville, as in all of her roles, including Cyril, and as the muse of U.K. director Mike Leigh (in whose 2010 film Another Year she stunned as drunk divorcée Mary), has a history of subverting the “good mum” stereotype. Even while clad in her best Marks & Spencer florals, Manville brings a wryness to Cathy, a role in which she says, “In its ordinariness there is a subversiveness . . . You may look at somebody who outwardly seems quite level, and plain, and straightforward . . . But you see that twinkle in her.”
Cathy is caught in a will-they-or-won’t-they tangle with friend Michael, played by Peter Mullan (of Westworld and Ozark); the romance is what Manville says made season two of Mum so popular in the U.K. (It has just been made available in the U.S. on Mother’s Day on Britbox, ITV, and the BBC’s American streaming service.) And Manville’s real-life former marriage to actor Gary Oldman, with whom she was up for an Academy Award at the Oscars this year, proved to be gossip fodder in the press, as well as more fuel for Manville/Cyril fans, who see the actor and the character as champions for single ladies everywhere (Manville is currently unmarried).
During our conversation, Manville gave very demure, very British answers to questions on her relationship with her famous ex, the #MeToo movement, and whether or not Cyril would have attended fashion’s night out (answer: as a stylist), and talked bringing a bit of badness to Mum. An excerpt from that conversation, below:
There is a rash of shows and books at the moment about mothers as antiheroes, you know, mothers who smoke and drink, mothers who have sex lives. Mum feels almost subversive because it’s not trying to do that. It’s very traditional.
Making Cathy a real, whole person is my job. I have to make her believable. It’s interesting that in its ordinariness there is a subversiveness; there is a subversive feeling about it. I think that’s because if you met her in the supermarket, you’d just think, Oh, she’s this very ordinary woman, but of course, nobody’s ordinary. We’re all exceptional. And you may look at somebody who outwardly seems quite level, and plain, and straightforward, but of course, she’s got the most gorgeous sense of humor herself, which is why she is able to absorb all of the stuff around her and kind of just keep it to herself. And she’s not judging anybody. She’s not making them feel bad about themselves, she’s being supportive, but you see that twinkle in her
And what’s great is that the only person that she can sometimes share that twinkle with is Peter Mullan’s character, Michael. The audience thinks, Oh, come on, you two. You’ve got to get together because you’d have such a great time. You’d laugh so much. All of my friends have been going, “Oh, I can’t bear it. I can’t wait to see what happens.” It just gets so good. Peter Mullan, just, oh my goodness. You keep watching it because he will tear you apart. That’s why, even though season one was successful in England, season two has just gone through the roof, and it’s been the most enormous and surprising hit, and narratives about this middle-aged couple falling in love, but it’s so human and touching [ . . . ]
Grande dame of stage Lesley Manville tells our reporter about acting beside Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Phantom Thread’, and playing an alpha-woman and femme fatal
On a grey, mid-winter day in London, Lesley Manville is dressed in cosy knits and tucked away on a couch in a hotel suite in Soho. Still delicately beautiful at 61, her blue eyes are bright, and her rich-beige hair is loose around her face.
It’s a strikingly different look to the one she sports in her latest film, the much-feted Phantom Thread, in which she plays the manager of a couture house in 1950s London. As Cyril Woodcock she is all figure-sculpting suits, bright red lips and an icy gaze that could freeze at 40 paces – a kind of proto-Anna Wintour, with a touch of femme fatale thrown in for good measure.
She is, in the film, a kind of exotic bird existing in a rarefied world. Most of her scenes take place inside The House of Woodcock, where she reigns supreme. Though it is her brother, Reynolds Woodcock, a creative genius with a controlling streak, who is the design talent, it is Cyril who rules the roost.
here are few things more exciting in film than a Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson movie. The last time the two masters of cinema worked together was a decade ago for There Will Be Blood, a film that earned Day-Lewis the second of his three Oscars for Best Actor.