BWW Interview: Vicky McClure Talks LINE OF DUTY, THIS IS ENGLAND and Stage Drama TOUCHED
Actress Vicky McClure's projects include Shane Meadows' This Is England series, Line of Duty and Broadchurch. She's now taking on her first major stage role with Nottingham Playhouse's 40th anniversary production of Stephen Lowe's World War II drama Touched, centring on a family of working-class women during the 100 days between VE Day and VJ Day. It begins previews on 17 February.
What was the first drama you saw that really inspired you?
The film Educating Rita, with Julie Walters - she captured my attention straightaway just with her raw believability. She's still going strong and doing exactly that, and I still strive for that and am inspired by her.
When did you start thinking seriously about acting as a career?
I'd always hoped I'd eventually get to point where it could pay the bills. When I was at the Central Junior Television Workshop I didn't really have work so to speak, but I took the plunge after This Is England '86 to support myself without a day job, so that's probably when I took things seriously. But from day one always hoped it would be a career.
How did your family react?
My family has always been hugely supportive, especially when jobs aren't coming through or you don't get the audition. They've always encouraged me to carry on and not give up. Had they not been that encouraging I might have lost faith, so they're a huge part of the reason why I am where I am.
What was your first paid acting job?
Peak Practice - I didn't have to say anything, just walk up some stairs. I remember it being a really snowy day and I slipped, and then when they actually aired it they kept the take where I slipped, so that was a bit embarrassing! In terms of speaking roles my first major job was A Room for Romeo Brass with Shane Meadows.
How would you describe the experience of working with Shane?
It's completely unique to any other director I've ever worked with or will ever work with. You're given complete freedom, he has as much trust in you as you do in him, which means you get the best out of everybody because it's such a collaboration. I believe everything that I do when I'm performing with him. If I don't believe something I really struggle to perform it - there has to be a sense of reality to it even if it's a complete extreme, let's say sci-fi or something like that; I have to find the truth in it, and that's what Shane is all about, so he's my number one.
What's it been like developing the character of Lol over several projects?
When we did the film we didn't know it would become a series, so the development of Lol back then wasn't as detailed. It's very hard to describe the transition from the film through to This Is England '90 and the amount we did, but there was a lot of rehearsal, a lot of thought around her background and things that aren't even explored in the show that are just ingrained in my head - very small details just help, especially when we're improvising. Through the support of Shane and just continuing to build that character, that made her what she was.
What was your Line of Duty audition like?
It was actually quite an embarrassing audition as it goes. I remember getting there and I was a bit flustered. I had a bottle of water and I went to have a drink of it and it went all down my top, I sort of missed my mouth, so I thought "That's that flopped" - they're not going to trust me with a big intelligent cop show if I can't even drink my water properly. But thankfully it didn't phase them.
It was quite a daunting audition because I could see the scripts were great. We didn't know it would get recommissioned and become the success it has, but I was very conscious that I was really keen on the role and wanted to impress - and then I threw water down my top!
It's such a detailed, realistic series - do you get lots of notes on police procedure?
We have got support from an ex-policeman with certain aspects of the show to make sure there's that believability. Jed Mercurio, who writes it, is a fiercely intelligent man, so even before it's been checked over he's pretty clued up on what he's doing and the procedures. Now we've got to Series Four the terminology feels a bit more natural - we've learned a lot. But you're never going to be a fully qualified cop from doing a TV show, so we do get the support that we need.
What's it like filming those long interview scenes?
They're your best friend and worst enemy. They're really hard to learn, so you have to make sure you put the hours in. We all spend a lot of time - myself, Martin and Adrian, and whoever else is in the interview - making sure we've got it nailed because we run it as a whole scene. We don't break it up, so the take can go on for half an hour, and obviously the dialogue's very complicated and complex.
But you get such fulfilment out of those scenes, as they're so well written and there's such a build and a tension in the room. They're some of my favourite scenes because they've actually got a bit of a stamp now - Line of Duty has become known for its big interrogation scenes.
What made you decide to switch over to theatre for your next project?
It wasn't a decision, it's all happened really organically, which is how I wanted it to be - I don't like to tick boxes just because someone says "We haven't seen her do theatre". I've done theatre for 10 years with the Television Workshop, it just wasn't paid theatre with lots of posters all over the town.
I'd always had it in my head that should a play come around I'd want to do it at the Nottingham Playhouse. This play was sent to me a few years ago and I read it and really enjoyed it, but it just wasn't the right time to go and do it, and then I met Stephen Lowe at an event and spoke to him, and here we are.
How have you found the stage process compared with screen?
I found them more extremely different than I expected to. You don't get time to rehearse in some television shows - working with Shane it's completely different, otherwise there's less of a rehearsal period - and for a play that's completely crucial. It's great to have that time to really explore everything and make sure we've got everything completely set, but some of it's been tricky.
Is it more or less pressure making your stage debut back in Nottingham?
More pressure! I am feeling the pressure. It's a nice pressure, because there's a lot of fuss around the play and I really appreciate people buying the tickets and the Playhouse making a fuss of it, but I'm sure I'll have butterflies in my stomach come the first night.
Tell us a bit about Sandra - how you've approached her, any research of the period?
We've done masses of research of the period. Matt Aston, the director, sent us various links to background of that time and I spoke to my grandparents, who were around then, so I feel I've got a really good sense of 1945 and Nottingham especially at that time.
Sandra's been a really interesting character to explore. There's so much going on and yet she has to remain as together as possible, because she's just a grafter, a hard-working woman. You've got that put up, shut up mentality, but somehow, at some point she breaks and you can totally understand why. It's just the mental health behind it wasn't as understood back then, so it's been tricky and really interesting.
Do you think audiences today will find resonance in the play?
Absolutely, we're still living in troubled times. It's obviously completely different to how it was back then and I can't imagine the feeling of continued bombs being dropped right outside your door. There's an actual map we've seen of how many bombs were dropped there and it's absolutely petrifying.
But the women in this play still feel very true to the women of today, that strength. And for youngsters coming to watch it there's that element of seeing the family community and especially this strong Nottingham woman that I keep referring to - I don't think that's changed at all, so I hope people get a sense of that.
You've played some fantastic meaty female parts - are there a lot around, or have you had to fight for them?
I think there are a lot more interesting roles for women now. There's a big campaign at the minute for the next Doctor in Doctor Who to be a woman - even James Bond, there was talk of all that! There's this illusion women can't take on these roles. Well, we clearly can - I could name thousands of wonderful actresses that do big meaty, chunky roles, so they are there. I always want to play something that's got a lot to give. We all have to fight for what we want.
Speaking of James Bond, any more plans for action roles after Line of Duty?
There's no plans. I do love Line of Duty and how action-packed it is - I like something with pace.
Would you do James Bond or the Doctor if you were asked?
Well, if they asked and said "Right, we're offering you the role of James Bond", I think I'd find it really hard to turn down! I just don't see that ever being the case. With the Doctor I don't know, you never know how you'll feel until something's put in front of you.
Any dream projects or collaborators for the future?
I'd love to work with Julie Walters. Just to have a scene with her - I would love to know how that feels working with someone who's been such an inspiration to me. If somebody says you can do that, what do you want to do, I'd love to do a comedy with her. To me comedy is watching the reality of something - like The Office, it wasn't playing for gags. Reality can be hilarious at times. Julie plays that absolutely perfectly.
Finally, any advice to budding actors?
Remain with who you are. Try not to let people change you into what you think you need to be, because then you'll get older and think "I've lost my accent or where I came from". It's important to be yourself - you can't act your way through life.
Touched at Nottingham Playhouse 17 February-4 March
Photo credit: John Corrigan