Samantha Morton: ‘I felt a lot of anger when I was a teenager in care’

The actress, director and activist opens up to Jane Graham about her younger years, sharing her experiences of living in care

At 16 I was living in a homeless hostel in Nottingham – it was called an independence unit but basically it was a dumping ground for kids who had to leave care. We were just forgotten about really, with no support or follow-up. The people who ran the unit were great, they were as helpful as they could be with helping you get your money or applying for college. But it was a very tough time. I felt a lot of anger when I was a teenager. I’d been in care since I was a baby, so it had been a massive part of my life.

I was angry at the system, the state, for failing to take care of me in the most basic common-sense way. Why was I being abused by residential social workers but I couldn’t stay the night at my friend’s house because their parents hadn’t been checked out? Of course I was angry.

My stepfather, who I adored, was Glaswegian and very outgoing. If I’m anyone’s child it’s not my mother’s or my father’s, it’s my stepfather’s. I’m very like him – he was very outspoken and a real character.

Despite my unstable upbringing, I was never shy. I loved fighting for the right to do or say something. I always had my hand up in class. And my stepfather supported me in everything I did. I lost touch with him for certain reasons. But when I was with him I did say thank you. He knew how grateful I was.

I told him I wasn’t into crime any more and I’d cleaned up my act,

Sometimes all you need to turn a child’s life around is one person who notices, who cares, who goes the extra mile. For me it was Mr Thompson at my junior school. He saw something in me. He knew I liked doing school plays and he encouraged me to visit the Central Junior Television Workshop run by Ian Smith. So I went to an audition and the rest is history. I found drama and I found Ian Smith.

Ian became my teacher, my mentor. He was the guy I phoned when I was in the cells again. He was incredible to me. I was in and out of the Workshop from age 14 and when I was 16, and ready to really turn my life around, I got back in touch with him. I told him I wasn’t into crime any more and I’d cleaned up my act, having been part of the rave scene. He put me back into the Workshop, got me to auditions, and I started to get proper speaking parts. I owe so much to those two teachers. [ . . . ]

Continue at THE GUARDIAN: Samantha Morton: ‘I felt a lot of anger when I was a teenager in care’

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