Anna Maxwell Martin: Ive been bullied by other women in the industry in fact more so than I have by men’

Anna Maxwell Martin: Ive been bullied by other women in the industry  in fact more so than I have by men'

September 13, 2018 | More from Food Trends | Tags: , , ,

Anna Maxwell Martin: Ive been bullied by other women in the industry in fact more so than I have by men’

When Anna Maxwell Martin is in a role, you know its going to be good, whether its Bleak House or Motherland. Here, she talks about her love of acting, industry bullies and why spoilt luvvies need to get over themselves

Anna Maxwell Martin walks into the room, in the heatwave, sits down in a stripy blue dress that crumples all around her, and says shes going to do this photoshoot in the nude. Tits out, full frontal this is it guys, she says. First time, this is it. Oh look, she adds, brightening, as someone brings over a whirring fan, I can have this for my sexy lady photoshoot, too.

Shes joking, of course, because shes not that sort of famous. But then, what sort of famous is she? Shes an actor whose name you might not know, but whose face you surely do, from many period dramas (she won the best actress Bafta for Bleak House in 2006) and, most recently, the starring role in the edgy, hysterical BBC2 comedy Motherland, in which she plays a reluctant mother who is always trying to get in with the comically awful parents of her childrens peers. The cult show has slipped into the vernacular: Its pure Motherland, a certain kind of middle-class parent will now mutter as another micro-drama unfolds at the school gates. In casting, Sharon Horgan, the shows writer, hoped for an actor who made you laugh but also made you panic inside, she says. And Anna does that. Shes one of those actors whos so naturally gifted she can just switch it on and off. Shes also a little bit nuts, which always helps.

There will be a second and third series of Motherland, but Maxwell Martin doesnt know when and is breezy about dates as she seems to be about parenting itself, having grown up near Hull and not been too exposed to the precious yummy-mummy ideals of north London, where she now lives, and which the show lampoons. Rather like her character, she isnt too bothered about the minutiae of education. She has two young daughters herself. My nine-year-old didnt do Sats because shes dyslexic, she says, so they were really sweet about it, but she still seems to be tested all the time, which makes her feel shit shes nine! Dyslexic kids are often the loveliest kids shes adorable. As long as kids can make eye contact, chat, sit round a table and have a meal with adults I dont care about anything else. She says she wants to be a potter and travel around in a VW van with other artists and I say fine. Youre fine.

I mention my own daughter, something that came up in her school report. Shes six, darling! she says, in a Yorkshire accent that seems to get stronger the longer we talk. Who gives a shit? She shouldnt even be at school!

Bedside manner: in Motherland, on the day of Ivys birthday party. Photograph: Colin Hutton/BBC/Delightful Industries/Merman

We are soon in much more serious territory, discussing a forthcoming BBC factual drama called Mothers Day in which Anna plays Wendy Parry, the Englishwoman whose 12-year-old son was killed by the IRA in the Warrington bomb of 1993. (Do not confuse Motherland with Mothers Day they could not be more distinct.) I tell her that I was sent a link to watch a press preview online and, wrapped in a towel at 7am, only clicked on it to check that it worked. I was still sitting there in my towel 90 minutes later when it ended. It got me. She nods, as if this is to be expected.

I havent felt this proud of a piece of work for a long time, she says, explaining that she cant bear those TV dramas where we see so much gratuitous snotting. In a different persons hands they would have ramped up the whole Colin and Wendy thing, the husband and wife disagreeing about speaking to the press that wouldve been a big row. But because the director, Fergus OBrien, comes from a 20-year background in making documentaries, it means he doesnt want to invent some big emotional drama. He says, Just work with what youve got. And actually, its really positive in the end.

There is such a lean economy to the drama that there is only one scene where we see her character overcome with emotion, falling on to a bed. And thats it. And I tried to cover my face so you didnt see any of that. I suddenly realise why that scene was so compelling: because it wasnt entirely given to us. Such minimalism is perhaps not the way to the Oscars, but then does Maxwell Martin have those goals? She did try LA for a bit. I went over, I didnt really like it. I nearly got a really big movie a Coen brothers film. She says she believes in her work, and I really have a lot of confidence in myself as an actor, but I dont necessarily have that same confidence in a room full of people, networking at a party. If someone said, Hey, do you want to come down to this really cool party? I would probably have said, No, I have cystitis, sorry. A wry smile is never far from Maxwell Martins face.

I dont have that same confidence, networking at a party: with her husband, director Roger Michell. Photograph: Dan Wooller/Rex/Shutterstock

Then I got into a family situation very, very early. But again I just maybe I dont have enough ambition. She is married to Roger Michell, who directed Notting Hill, and who had two children before they met. They now have two more children together. I start to say something about her fame and she interrupts me. I dont have fame Im not famous. I get, Have I met you at playgroup? The other day I got, she puts on a hoiked-bosom home counties accent, Did I play mixed doubles with you at Binningdon tennis courts? And I went No. Because I cant say, she starts to stage whisper, Im actually an aac-tresss, and then cracks up laughing.

Does anybody ever say Are you Anna Maxwell Martin?

No! Never. So no, Im not famous and maybe thats a good thing. The rule for me is, I will only work on something if a confirmed fun friend is already signed up to it. Who is the Confirmed Fun Friend? OK, Ill do it. She laughs. Im such a connoisseur, I so believe in the arts, she says sarcastically, self-mockingly. Why not? Im really lucky to do a relatively easy job. Im not a moaner, and so if Im going to work, I have to have a good time. But she quickly changes her tune when she remembers how fascinating she found Boy George on Who Do You Think You Are? Im so desperate to be famous enough to go on that programme. Im literally desperate. She becomes visibly excited, Im Inuit, and theyve never had an Inuit on that.

Maxwell Martin grew up in Beverley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and went to the local high school. Her mother was a research scientist and her father ran a pharmaceutical company. She started acting when she was a very young kid. My parents were like, Huh, who are you? But this was smalltown Yorkshire and there was no chance of getting on the telly. Id never even heard of youth theatre until I came down here. I would have loved to do that, never knew about it. I did go to a drama teacher in Beverley but really we did singing. Wed sing Whitney Houston songs dressed in crop tops. That was it.

She used to get the bus into York with her friend Sal and eat a fat rascal at Bettys, do a bit of shopping, go home. Sal was boaty and wore pearls, but I was a bit more Slaggy Bev, she says. They used to sneak into nightclubs, somewhat unaware of how dangerous Hull was at the time, but often I wouldnt get in because I looked so young. We all had fake ID but my friends would laugh at me.

That baby face came in handy, though, when she was 25 and played 12-year-old Lyra in His Dark Materials at the National Theatre her big break. We discuss the joy of ageing (shes 41), how theres no point in lying about it.

How hot is Jennifer Lopez? And shes 49. And so I think she should be going round saying shes 49, she says.

Yeah but we dont look like Jennifer Lopez.

Sitting it out: with Daniel Mays in the forthcoming factual drama Mothers Day. Photograph: Steffan Hill/BBC

Do we not? she asks. For the record, she adds, leaning over and speaking right into my Dictaphone, I do.

Before attending Lamda in London, Maxwell Martin went to Liverpool University to study history, where she made the group of female friends she has maintained for life, to add to her school friends, and with whom she cried when Geri left the Spice Girls, but I cant remember any of my degree. I really was just there to act and make friends and drink Bacardi Breezers. I think I did a lot on the First and Second World Wars, but Roger likes to quiz me about the dates at dinner parties because he knows I dont know anything. He likes to show me up in a group situation where I flounder, she says drolly.

As for the current industry upheavals, I ask if she expected to live through the #MeToo movement in her lifetime. There is the longest silence. Then she says quietly, I think I was really ignorant of what was happening. I have always been a really strong, forthright woman and never considered myself any less than a man, and thats not out of arrogance. I think thats just because I was brought up by two nice parents. So I just hadnt experienced that. Or even if I was sort of lewdly commented on, I have a really good sense of humour and so I can always bat it back. Or even if I was touched up, I could just bat it back. So I didnt really register the extent of the problem.

She stresses that she is very glad the conversation is now open, but I just want that slightly moany element taken out, where women are throwing into the pot all stories about sexual indecency and violent rape. Violent rape is very different from having your tits touched. Its very, very different, and we dont serve those women with any sense of justice if we lump all these things in together.

About eight years ago she discovered pay inequality, while doing jobs where Id be number one on the call sheet and a man would be number three, but he would be on twice my wage. But even when I then raised it with my agent at the time, that was a no-no. Unequal pay seemed like a complete brick wall. But again, she wasnt born a luvvie and she cant bear whining. When youre talking about being paid millions of dollars, you cannot moan about it. So lets move it really quickly into women in all industries who are on zero-hours contracts, women who are exploited all the time in low-wage jobs because I think we sound slightly like twats in our industry. We have a very charmed life, we get picked up in the morning, driven to work, someone brings us a cup of tea, Wheres this?, Wheres that?, The air cons not working actors can behave very badly and become infantilised very quickly. I am in the loveliest job, Im paid very well, and then I go home with a driver I mean really, she says. That last really is said in a tone that expresses full disapproval of the actors making 10 times more than her and complaining 10 times as loudly.

She isnt even sure about pinning all the problems on men. Ive been bullied by other women in the industry in fact more so than I have by men. Undermined, made to feel stupid, when theres very clear favouritism in the room from a man. Most of the men Ive worked with are good people who are totally respectful and lovely. There have been a handful who are bastards but also a handful of women who are bastards, too. She actually calls them the C-word but says not to print it because her mother will be appalled, just like she was when Anna rang her the other day to read out a poem she had written for her friends 40th birthday, in which she called her friend an old C. I like it, replied her mother, but I do not like that word.

She has been filming the period drama David Copperfield, directed by Armando Iannucci, in the heatwave and weve been wearing the full corset, then the layers of skirts, one of which is an actual duvet, outside, and its 100 degrees. You last five minutes then you rip it off but oh my God its got a brilliant cast. Tilda Swintons in it, Dev Patel. Hes brilliant. Ben Whishaw. Daisy May Cooper oh God I love her, she is just great. Hugh Laurie.

I ask about the resounding popularity of period dramas and she says it is because they are comforting. Anyone who has acted in a period drama will tell you that its the one thing you get people rushing up to you in the street to talk about, even a decade later. People love them and we havent had a cracking one for ages. This one will be different, though. Armando has done his thing on it so its pretty out there, funny, different. Hes made it ageless and colour-blind I hate that term, but it works. When you see Dev Patel playing David Copperfield he really is David Copperfield. He has a charm and an innocence about him and I think itll be a game-changer. In some ways, after doing Armandos, I look back on those ones, the all-whitey ones, and Im a bit like, God, shit, that looks a bit embarrassing now. The ones I was in or the other ones, with all-white casts that looks a bit dumb now. Because it just really didnt have to be like that.

She is playing a character in the film whos a man in the book, Mr Strong, but Im playing him as Mrs Strong.

So its not gender-blind either? Youre not playing a man?

No I would have loved to have done that. I could have dressed as a man. I would have loved that, she replies.

Why because it confounds gender expectations and frees you up to enter this whole other realm of acting that has been hitherto unavailable to you?

No! Because I wouldnt have had to wear the duvet.

Mothers Day will air in early September on BBC2

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