I can never see me as one of those people who carry on Question timesays Anne-Marie Duff thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t feel like that’s where I can express myself. But I guess I feel like a political person. I have never defined myself that way, but everything is a political question. And I’m a mom, so everything cracks you up and forces you to think about your village, your global village. And you don’t care.
She smiles and sits down in her chair. We talk in the Almeida bar, deserted except for an occasional delivery man. Politics is the order of the day as she stars in Beth Steel’s epic new play The house of shadowsa saga of working-class life that traces a family’s fortunes from the relatively hopeful mid-1960s, when a belief in progress for the poor seemed to be ingrained in society, to disillusionment and frustration of 2019, when jobs and opportunities are gone.
Duff was drawn to the role of damaged and damaging matriarch Constance at least in part because it focuses attention on a layer of society rarely represented on stage – and because it seeks to explain how we got here. where we are today.
“It’s just a brilliant piece about trauma. How everything is born out of trauma. And how everything political is personal. The two are tied very neatly together. You could say that right now because we feel like a traumatized country, right? The last 10 years have really been like a *** show. It’s like watching a freight train go through the station, and you think how many more bloody cars? Just when you feel the sun rising on the horizon, Putin goes crazy. It’s been incredibly trying for all of us, hasn’t it? »
That’s what it’s like to talk to Duff, who’s been such a familiar figure since his breakthrough in Paul Abbott Shameless almost 20 years ago. She is an accomplice conversationalist, who attracts you with her questions and her sentences of agreement. It’s part of the quality of every woman that has made her not only one of our best actresses, but also one of the most capable of evoking empathy and emotion, that she kindly plays Ma Costa in Its dark materialsor a drug-addicted mother Sex education.
It helps that she looks like a normal person rather than a movie star. “I didn’t get botoxed until nine,” she says, when we start talking about what it’s like to be 51. “I made this decision, and some people think it’s crazy, but it didn’t stop me from working and it means women on the street stopping me and saying ‘thank you so much.’ is so emotional, you know?
But the sense that she understands ordinary people is at the heart of her talent. She seems to have an almost uncanny ability to let her face communicate her thoughts and feelings. Just being the person she plays, allowing all of their light and dark to pour out of her. For all his success in the cinema (The Madeleine Sisters, Suffragette) and TV (she’s set to make her mark in a new Channel 4 series Suspicious), it is on stage that this know-how crystallizes.
She got into the habit of choosing epic and often political plays, by George Bernard Shaw Saint Joan at Terence Rattigan Famous cause about a woman wrongly convicted of murder at DC Moore Commmon (basically who owns England) and Ella Hickson Oil which has spanned centuries in its explanation of our relationship with ‘black gold’.
The stage is where his political engagement is concentrated. “That’s where I have a goal. Because history is important to change things. It always has been. Look at Ken Loach’s Cathy comes home that got people thinking about homelessness.
The current slide of so many households into poverty is both part of the landscape of The house of shadows – and a lot on his mind. “I grew up in a house where we had the gas turned off, where we had to do without a lot. It’s always been my life. I never had to think about it.
“That’s what people forget. It’s not just about food banks, but how are you going to cook the food? How are you going to wash your children? It’s just scary, isn’t it? The relentlessness of it. It makes you feel like you can’t do anything. But of course, people are naturally good. We saw it during the pandemic. You’d be in a queue with 100 people at Sainsbury’s and only one would be boring. That’s what you have to hang on to. »
I wonder if the theater is really the right forum for social issues. The audiences that usually come may not be the ones who need to change their minds or represent their stories of struggle. Even here, his essential optimism shines through. “It’s expensive, even subsidized theatre,” she says. “But having said that, it could be a very good time for subsidized theaters, which often present more difficult work. People won’t be able to afford to pay £100 a ticket for a theater in the West End.
“When I was little, we didn’t go to the theatre. When you’re on the bread line, that can’t be a priority. That’s why we need theater in schools and things like National Theater Live and cheap ticket systems to make things incredibly accessible to people.
His own upbringing in an Irish family in West London was poor in some ways, but rich in others. Duff recalls his father, a painter and decorator, sat the family down to watch Franco Zeffirelli’s film Romeo and Juliet when it was on television; he encouraged her to read a lot. “I was a little weird. I read about people like [the 19th-century Italian actress] Eleanora Duse and Ellen Terry. It wasn’t like I was watching lethal weapon and think I want to be a star,” she laughs.
She begins to play in the youth theater, and it is only later that she sees her first play thanks to a school trip to see Hamlet at the National Theatre, with Daniel Day-Lewis. She was also influenced by British new wave films such as A taste of honey and Saturday evening and Sunday morning. She would like to do more film, “but the film is in a curious position in the minute because there is a lot of security around superheroes and Marvel, the DC universe and horror. I thought that this year’s awards season was fascinating because it was a real kind of identity crisis.
Television, on the other hand, is the thing these days. “And what’s great about on-screen storytelling is that there are a lot more fantastic roles for women.” She points to Easttown Mare like a TV show that people might not have done ten years ago, and we talk excitedly about the groundbreaking qualities of Sex education, which she joined in the second series as the irresponsible mother of the heroine Maeve. “I don’t think I’ve been stopped on the street for anything since Shameless. People love this show so much. Because it’s full of love. It’s not cynically constructed.
She is excited at the casting of one of Sex educationThe young stars of Ncuti Gatwa as the new Doctor Who. “I smiled when I saw the news,” Duff says. “He is so charismatic and brilliant. All of these kids are brilliant – the kindest, most dedicated, and most grateful in a truly adorable way.
Her own son, Brendan, from her 10-year marriage to actor James McAvoy, is now 12. She and McAvoy met on the set of Shameless but divorced in 2016. Brendan lives with Duff but the actors are raising him together. “I love being a mom,” she says with a smile. “I always knew I wanted to be one. But, she quickly adds, I’m also very interested in supporting women who don’t want to do this. I hate the realm of nonsense and shame who is around it.
For Duff, however, motherhood “is fine with me. The great thing about being a working mom is that you’ll never waste people’s time. You will be prepared. You know how precious everything is. Every minute counts. »
Duff’s next television appearance is in Suspiciousbased on the Danish series Forhøret. It features James Nesbitt as a detective called to the morgue to identify a corpse – only to find it is his daughter. The story unfolds as a series of two hands, with different actors playing opposite Nesbitt and a main cast. Duff plays his ex-wife in an almost unbearably poignant episode where they both go to say goodbye to their daughter’s body.
Is it more difficult to play such a scene when you are a parent yourself? I found it incredibly difficult to watch Duff stroke her child’s hair, reluctant to leave. “I hear you, sister,” she said. “It’s difficult. But it also makes you very respectful of the script. You go, ‘oh okay, I have to say it correctly.’ But the script isn’t flippant. What pains me is when it tickles. In this, there was time taken to respect the story.
The series airs on Channel 4, which is threatened with privatization by the government. Will she be part of the campaign against such a decision? She is clearly against the idea, but remains cautious in her response. “Well, you’re just worried about outside influences making decisions for non-creative reasons,” she says.
However, the channel and Shameless undoubtedly changed his life. “The weird thing about this series is that it gave me other jobs that you would never have imagined. I played Elizabeth I because of Shameless. He was a huge facilitator. I met my ex-husband and we had a child. It changed my life and I am very grateful to him. But also what I like Shameless was that it was a show about poverty, it had a sense of connection to the real world.
Which brings us back to the beginning and the role of the story in helping people understand their lives, especially at a time when opinions have become so polarized. “As I get older, I have less and less certainty. Which is sometimes exhausting for people, but I think it could be a virtue. We have such a culture of opinion. However, it makes me very uncomfortable. Everything that matters is born out of conversation. And that’s what theater – and film and television – do. He converses and we can join in silence.
‘The House of Shadows’ is at the Almeida until June 18; ‘Suspect’ is coming soon to Channel 4 and All 4