Glancing over Sally Hawkins’ CV, there are few greats in the British film and TV industry the actress hasn’t worked with. Since graduating from RADA in 1998, the 34 year old has acted opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton, Ewan McGregor and Michael Sheen, and starred in three movies directed by Mike Leigh
As if being Mike Leigh’s muse wasn’t enough, Sally also picked up a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky, bringing her to the attention of audiences the world over. And yet despite the flood of offers that have doubtless come her way since, the actress has tactfully chosen to shy away from her new-found celebrity.
We were still thinking about Made In Dagenham days after we saw it. What made you fall in love with it?
A bit of everything, really. It was partly the character because she’s so strong, but also the story. It’s always interesting when a film is taken from real life but I’m ashamed to say I really didn’t know anything before the movie about these women and their fight or the fact they were responsible for the Equal Pay Act. They started it all – it was like this little rock that gathered speed and became a huge boulder, like in Indiana Jones.
Did you do much research for the role?
I went to Dagenham and met three of the women who worked for Ford and they were hilarious. But it does get you all fired up. You do get that feeling, when you’re engaging with history like that – it taps into something profound in us all. When you think about it, it’s basic human rights, and the film takes in discrimination across the board.
What was it like being on set with such a brilliant cast of actresses (Miranda Richardson, Jamie Winstone, Rosamund Pike)?
It was a lot of fun, especially when you’ve got people like Jaime Winstone, who’s hysterical! We definitely needed that sort of camaraderie and director Nigel Cole (who has also directed the female ensemble picture Calendar Girls and Billy Elliot), was very particular in making sure it translated on screen. I also think you don’t really see such a big female cast in films that much. Hopefully that’s changing. I know it’s an ensemble piece but to be leading it in a way...
Sally, you’re definitely the lead!
(Looks uncomfortable). I know, but… if there is a lead... I’m proud that was me.
Have you stayed friends with the other actresses?
Honestly, I would pick up the phone to them all. Bonding like that doesn’t happen often. You hope it does, but (acting) is a bit like school. You have people you get on with and people you don’t… and people you go to lunch with (laughs).
Is it true that you’re good friends with James Corden?
Yeah. I don’t have many friends that are celebrities so he’s kind of the only one. We met when we were starring as the kids in All Or Nothing and I love him. He’s such a brilliant actor and comedian and entertainer… he can do it all. I think he gets a lot of stick because he puts himself out there but I love the fact he doesn’t excuse himself.
The response to Happy Go Lucky was incredible and really raised your profile both here and in the US. How do you deal with that?
I don’t really (laughs). It can be a bit insane, this world, and I suppose I’m quite lucky. I also think there’s a danger if you’re acting and you want to be a ‘celebrity’ because people stop seeing the characters and start seeing you. And celebrity – I don’t want to be that. It would terrify me.
Do you worry that you won’t be seen as a ‘serious actress’ if you’re a celebrity?
Yeah, I guess so. And I’m the sort of person who prefers to disappear into roles. I know how naff that sounds but I do, and besides, I’m not interesting. I’m dull!
Tell us: what is it that makes Sally Hawkins so dull?!
Oh no! What have I said? (Laughs). I don’t know. I just think I’m normal. I like hiding away. I like my own privacy and my home life, and… reading. I love reading.
What was the last book you read?
I tend to flit from one thing to the next, which isn’t good. At the moment it’s a screenplay by Sid Field that I borrowed from a friend and one my mum gave me called One Day by David Nicholls. The ending’s a bit gutting, but those are the best, actually.
How else do you unwind from acting?
Painting. I love sketching and painting abstract things. I did A-level art and for a long time I didn’t know whether I wanted to go to drama school or art school, so I still hanker after it and it calms me right down.
We have to say, you are ridiculously shy for an actress!
(Laughs) I’ve always been shy and sensitive and you know, it’s probably why I went into this. It’s a way of expression. It was sort of liberating that I could be confident [as an actress]. Even now I can be on top of the world one day and another day I’m not quite so sure of myself. It doesn’t get any easier but I’m getting better. Or at least I think I am…
Made In Dagenham is out in cinemas nationwide from 1 October
Picture credit: Sarah Dunn