Today I grabbed a few minutes with actress Charlotte Spencer to talk about her role in the new film Bypass. You may know Charlotte for her roles in Wild Bill and Glue which recently gave her a BAFTA TV nomination. Now she is starring opposite George Mackay in this poetic look into an often overlooked side of Britain which you can see in the reopened Regent Street Cinema tomorrow (here). Read on for our interview…
What really grabbed you about Bypass and Lilly when you first encountered them?
I liked the script, especially Lilly because there was a quiet strength about her. She was clever about her trust in Tim. Whereas everyone else thinks of him as this person who was going to go down the wrong track, she always has faith in him. There is the sense that behind every man is a strong woman. Some would think she was a stupid girl for becoming pregnant but perhaps it should be taken in another direction.
So you see it as a strong aspect, not a slightly naive one?
Yeah, I’m not saying it is the answer to everything. In a lot of situations naivety and youth can really do wrong… but by the end of the film I do have a strange hope for them.
Yeah there’s a little glimmer there. You were saying that Lilly is Tim’s lifeboat in his stormy sea so to speak, but she does have her own troubled past as well… how did you approach her different aspects?
I always find that from studying people and their lives people can go in two different directions. They either go down the path which their parents take them down and if that’s a bad path then they go there, or they go against it. And I think Lilly is strong enough to go against it. She manages to buy herself a flat and get a job. She’s a decent girl despite her upbringing.
Yes my backstory was that she was actually an orphan and the reason she lives with her flatmate is because they met in care. She had been in and out of care all of her life and that’s partially why she wants to have a baby so much, it’s to have her own flesh and blood. I felt there was more to her having a child than just a ‘oh let’s have a child’ attitude. Although many people might see that as a stupid move, they may not understand the reasoning and history behind it.
When preparing for the film did you research the culture and lifestyle of those who are in situations like Lilly and Tim?
Well what I try to do is try to put myself in the situation. My Mum didn’t have a great upbringing so I can talk to her about things, not that she had the same things as Lilly. Then there are friends who may have been in care for example. It’s just taking aspects of things because ultimately you can research as much as you like but your character is their own person. You have to just take elements and piece them together.
And is that your approach to all of your roles?
Yeah I find that once I’ve done my research and pieced it all together I can then put myself in their situation and try to feel what they’re feeling.
How does filming on location affect your overall performance?
Oh it helps massively because you’re then taken out of your own environment and put into theirs, so you can really get into the character and their feelings.
It was quite positive whilst we were there. We had some people who were commenting on how glad they were that we were filming in the north. And Duane did some great filming of locals going into shops, smoking, and chatting which were quite interesting to see… although I’m not sure they went into the film.
And do you think it challenged or informed your general opinions/perceptions in any way?
Well I come from a working class background; my dad’s a builder and my mum works in a school so I’m aware of having to work hard for what you want, and for not always getting where you want to be. I’m aware that most of them are very hardworking, good people and that you can be a victim of your circumstance. I think that’s the whole story of the film; that it’s not the individual’s fault.
The film, whilst it’s many things, has a political agenda what with it being timed to coincide with the run up to the general election. Was that agenda discussed much on set/in meetings?
Not too much really, we never went out to make it a political film… although Duane may have done. I just think it is showing a side to Britain which maybe isn’t always shown. A lot of British films are quite bleak, and bleak in certain ways which they have to be because that’s the reality of it, but at the same time that’s why I think it is so important that you put that element of hope in there. It’s not all doom and gloom, these people get on with their lives and have moments of happiness.
I think that what with the BBC moving to Manchester the north is becoming more prominent now and it’s important that we realise that Britain is the whole island and not just one section of it.
What responsibility (if any) does the performer have in a social document like this?
I think it’s important to be realistic, not to play anything up or make it bleaker than it is. Just to be honest with it, as with anything really.
Hmmm not really, it’s basically the same. But with theatre you don’t have to delve as deep I think because everything is much bigger on stage. Whereas on TV and film you have to delve that little bit deeper because everything in the performance is shown on your face.
And do you have a preference between the two forms?
No I love both for different reasons!
You did Mary Poppins when you were young, was it the singing or the acting which attracted you to that?
I dance, act and sing and I’ve always loved doing all three but I find acting so interesting, its study of people and human emotions. How people react to certain situations is fascinating. Singing and dancing is just another way of displaying emotions, and I do sometimes like that over the top stuff. I love it all!
Do you know what started your passion for that as a child?
No, my parents have nothing to do with the industry but since I was about three I’ve always wanted to do it. I went to my first ballet lesson at three and that was it, I just carried on performing ever since. Then as I grew I just got more into the acting because I like to study people.
I think that I have grown up into my roles. I have been very lucky with each job that I’ve had because they have all been very different and can show different elements to me, also each character probably has an element of myself in it. I hope to do this for years to come and hopefully I’ll try to figure more things out!
And is there anything in particular you are looking to get out of future roles whether that’s genres, subjects…
I would like to do a period drama as I am quite fascinated by the past as well. But I would do anything really as long as they are strong characters. If they’re strong then I’m happy.
And finally Charlotte what else have you got coming out which we should be looking out for?
I’ve just filmed a short film for the BFI called Above about a girl who comes out of prison and who has a child. It’s about how she reacts to coming back. I had a great time on it and it’s brilliantly shot and written. There are hardly any words instead it’s just done with the performance.
Excellent, I’ll be looking out for that! Alright Charlotte, it was a pleasure to speak with you today!
You too, thank you!
And that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this interview with Charlotte Spencer, please do leave your thoughts behind in the comment box below.