Lesley Manville on Another Year and Why She Doesn't Care About the Golden Globes
When speaking with Another Year star Lesley Manville, it's hard to not walk away with the impression that she feels this is her big break. Sure, her career has spanned over 30 years -- and Another Year is her sixth film with Academy Award nominated director Mike Leigh -- but, as Manville points out, no other performance of hers has ever generated this much buzz in the United States during awards season. An awards season that has already garnered Best Actress accolades from the National Board of Review.
Manville stars as the Mary in Another Year, the less-happy friend of the happily married Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) at the center of the film. Movieline spoke to Manville about Mike Leigh's unique style of filmmaking, her award chances, why she no longer cares about the Golden Globes, and how to effectively portray a drunk on-screen.
First of all, congratulations on the National Board of Review Best Actress Award.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Jesse Eisenberg won Best Actor for The Social Network, it seems like the National Board of Review does like to honor a wide range of films.
I still think he stands a lot more of a chance at winning some of the January awards, let's put it that way [laughs].
Why do you feel that way? Everyone seems to be responding very well toward Another Year.
Oh, well, they do. But when you've got competition like these big gun Hollywood films like The Social Network and Black Swan, and here we are, we are a small, independent, British film. And I know people love it -- I know people are getting the film and I know people are really being touched and moved by it, which is great. But I think when you come up against those films -- and I'm talking about in terms of the best film category -- I feel that it will probably be a battle of the giants this year. Between The King's Speech and The Social Network, both of which are terrific films so there's no harm in that. I feel that we are smaller size in terms of those. I don't mean in terms of our credibility, but you know what I'm saying.
Well, there are ten films nominated.
That's right! So there's room, there's room for everybody.
Then there are the Golden Globes in which Another Year was shut out. Which, considering how the Globes work, nothing they nominate is really shocking one way or another. But were you surprised?
I was surprised. Then everybody started to tell me about all of the politics that go on with the Golden Globe Awards. I mean, everyone kept blogging me and emailing and texting me saying, "Well, the Golden Globes are this and you really shouldn't care about them." So I thought, "All right, well I won't then!" [laughs]
If you read how the Globe's voting works, it's pretty shady.
Well, I don't know. I knew nothing about it, it was really only in the day afterward that I thought, "How did he manage to walk away with nothing?" Then everyone told me all this kind of stuff about them, so I wasn't really worried after that.
[Some spoilers ahead]
If you read a synopsis of Another Year, it's about a couple that, in the film, is quite happy. But, as a viewer, I didn't leave that film happy at all.
Well, I think the film leaves you quite reflective, doesn't it? That's the feeling that I've got talking to lots of people who have seen it. It kind of hands the baton over to the audience at the end, doesn't it? Not just because it doesn't tie up any of the story, it doesn't tie up any loose ends. Like life, it just leaves it all there. It delivers it and says, "Here it is." We're not gong to do a neat kind of film ending. Especially because of the way that final shot kind of drifts away. You lose the sound of the other people chatting away in the scene, you lose the sound of the score that's playing and you are just left in absolute silence looking at Mary's face. So, yeah, then it fades to black. It is very, very haunting and it does leave you with a lot to think about. It does make people look into themselves for a bit as well.
Mary seems very alone even though she always has people around her.
Oh, yeah, that's it. Because you hear the young couple saying that they're going off to Paris and they're doing this together. Then you're hearing Gerri and Tom talk about all of their travels that they've had in their life. And Mary is looking at a future that's a bit of a black hole, really. That's why the title is so good as well. Because you just imagine, "OK, for her, it's just going to be another year and her future is not looking all that good."
For Mary, why do you think alcohol is such a big part of her life?
Well, it's featured quite heavily in her life as we created her whole back-story. Again, it's mainly to do with loneliness. Last night, she goes home from work on her own and there's nobody there so the bottle of wine becomes her friend. And it does what alcohol does for a lot of people; it kind of gives them a confidence when they're in a social situation. And when they're on their own, it eases the pain of the loneliness in some way, I guess.
Would self-medication be the correct term?
Yeah, I think so. I'd agree with you there, definitely.
I quite enjoyed the shirt Ken [Peter Wight] was wearing...
"Less Thinking, More Drinking"! It's good, isn't it? I don't know where they found that, but it was terrific. All of the actors work from very early on with all of the costume designers so he would have gotten a wardrobe together in the same way that we all did. And I don't know who found that, I have no idea [laughs].
What's the key to playing a character who is drunk for a good portion of the film?
Well, I don't know, I had never played drunk before so it was new territory for me. Mike and I didn't particularly talk about it too much before hand -- talk about, as it were, the technicalities of doing it -- because I think it might have made me feel worried about it when I just kind of trusted that it would come out all right. As I said, I had never played a drunk scene before. But I kind of know how she would behave drunk. And I've watched people be drunk over my life, but I've never played it. It was kind of a case of just going in at the deep end and seeing how it came out...and it was fine. The only thing we had to discuss, really, was the slight progression of her drunkenness as the scene goes on. It has kind of three sections to it. Obviously it's a tricky area because you want it to be believable. But, at the same time, in my observations of people being drunk, they are a bit ridiculous as well. It's finding a fine line, I suppose, between wanting it to look like somebody who really is drunk, and getting it the right lever of ridiculousness, or whatever, without making it look inaccurate.
For the sake of accuracy, I'm assuming there was no thought of partaking in the real thing.
No, you couldn't possibly do that. You couldn't work in the disciplined way that we have to if you were drunk. No, you absolutely couldn't do that. And I just couldn't work if I'd been drinking, there's just no question about it. It's acting, so you have to act at the end of the day [laughs].
Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've known Mike Leigh since 1979?
Yes, I have! Yes.
What does he bring to you as an actor that makes you want to continue to work with him?
Well, I don't know if you know anything about how he works, but none of his work ever starts with a script. We have a very lengthy rehearsal period where we create the characters and, much further down the line, we'll start to do improvisations. Out of those improvisations he will create a narrative and, finally, there will be a script that we shoot. On Another Year we had 18 weeks before we started shooting. So he's always worked like that but that's what attracts me to it because it's very, very collaborative work. And very creative, for me, because Mary is not a character that was presented to me on a script on paper, she wasn't a figment of somebody else's imagination, she's absolutely the product of mine and Mike's imagination. So it's very empowering work and incredibly satisfying because it's so creative.
The first time you went through that process, did you automatically buy into it?
Yes I did. I really took to it, it made sense to me and it had logic and a thoroughness that I quite enjoyed. Yeah, I completely got it. Not all actors do; not all actors like working in that way. A lot of people just like the security and the safety net of the script. And that's fine. But I loved it; I loved the whole thing of creating the character from scratch and filling out their life. And I loved the liberation of the improvisation -- obviously when we shoot we're not improvising on film, it's all dialogue by the time we shoot it.
Right, and I was warned before speaking with Mike not to call the finished product "improvisation" because, as you said, it's not and he doesn't like people to think that.
Well, it's not that it's improv; I think that he just thinks that talking about the process is less interesting than talking about the end product. I think he knows that everybody knows that improvisation is just part of the process of getting to the end product. It's very hard to talk about the process without making it sound a bit esoteric and a bit precious. And the thing is, it isn't any of those things. It's very straightforward and quite a lot of it is pretty mundane and painstaking. So it's quite hard to explain it quickly or in a short form. So he would rather it stay a little enigmatic and I think he sort of feels it's a process that's his and it's very personal and why should we explain it all away? I mean, I don't have a problem talking about it, but I know that he would just rather not.
He couldn't have been nicer, but I admit that I was nervous before speaking with him because I've seen him get angry in the past.
Yeah, I know, he does. I mean, I know, he does a bit sometimes and sometimes there's no rhyme or reason. But, yeah, he does get a little bit testy with journalists at times so I can understand your anticipation [laughs].
The case could be made that Another Year has two female leads. Ruth Sheen has a very large role as well, but your role is the one being nominated, and winning, for lead actress. Did you have any say at all in that process?
It's Sony Pictures Classics who is distributing it in the States. They make all of the decisions about that, it's completely out of our hands. And they have had a lot of debates, certainly about whether they were going to place me because you could argue that it's a film with three leading roles. I don't know the situation with Jim and Ruth, but I know with me they weren't sure to campaign me for leading or supporting. I don't know, but they absolutely decided in the end that they would campaign me for leading. If that's the right decision or not, I don't know. But it seems to be a really good year this year and it's quite a busy field, so I'm not expecting anything really.
Well, I wouldn't say that. You've already won one award...
It's a case of there's a lot of good performances by women this year and the reason for that is that there have been a lot of films that have given really good roles to women. That's a good thing. I mean, of course, in real terms, it would have been better if I had come in with this performance in what was a bit of a quiet year for actresses. But I can only really be celebrating the fact that it's been a good year for actresses. At the end of the day, the important thing is that people are seeing the film and people are getting to see my work in the states. And people in the states, if they didn't know who I was six months ago, they probably do now and that's a good thing. If people see the film - which they will, hopefully - and it opens up possibilities for some work for me, then that's a very good thing. At the end of the day, it's the work that matters. It really is.
Following up on the notion that if people in the States didn't know who you were six months ago, they might now. Of all your performances, are you happy that this is the one that people are seeing? Is this your best role?
Well, it's hard to say because I've done some amazingly good productions on stage and I feel very close to some of those. I also made a film with Mike Leigh in 2002 called All or Nothing which is a particularly wonderful film but sort of sent without praise. Mike and I both feel that it was the one that got away. But I am very proud of this without a doubt. I've also done some really great television work in England that I'm very proud of. In a career that spans over 30 years, you're lucky you have a handful of things that you are proud of. This, certainly, would be one of them but it's not on its own. There are others as well that I'm proud of. Particularly All or Nothing.