What initially attracted Joanna Scanlan to Deborah Haywood’s disturbing debut family drama Pin Cushion was the script.
It was only after she met Haywood herself that she realised this was a unique project:
“She’s a one-off, she’s an original, she doesn’t make things out of the box of cliché British independent cinema.
“I felt like it was a very truthful story at the same time being quite magical, and so I wanted to get on board to do her bidding.”
Most famous for her wonderful performance as civil service press secretary Terri Coverley in the award-winning series The Thick of It, Scanlan plays single mum Lyn. Her overprotective, enmeshed and over-fearful relationship with her teenage daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) resembles what a lot of parenting today can be, she says, when anxiety is a really big driver for how parents and children relate to each other.
Both Lyn and Iona are victims in what seems to be a relentless dark festival of humiliation. But what she loved most about her character, she says, was her stubborn innocence.
“She’s not sweet but she’s unaware of how cruel the world can be even though she’s a victim of it. But it hasn’t tarnished her.
“She goes on a journey during the film where she sort of has to start to speak a different language and that’s quite tough. But I love her girlishness, really.”
The film has received excellent reviews praising Scanlan’s outstanding performance, although she shakes her head saying she wasn’t thinking about how the film would be received when filming it.
She also modestly insists that its success has more to do with Deborah’s vision than anything she has done artistically:
“When you do a film like this, it’s BFI-funded so you know people believe in it as a creative product and you’re doing it because you want to make it, not because you want any end result.
“I really did do it for the playing and the process and the working with Deborah and the working with Lily, Nicola Daley and the whole excellent team. Wonderful people and it’s for the pleasure of that.
“If it then goes on to have a life after, I think that’s for me that’s a bonus. I’m happy to take a risk creatively. They don’t always pay off, but this one seems to have really done so.”
Scanlan believes people can sense when the team enjoy working together and that the film’s authenticity is what has made the audience fall in love with it.
“I’ve got a theory about film which is that what we see through a camera’s lens is the truth of what was happening in that moment. That gets called chemistry and lots of other things, but I think that when people enjoy working together, there’s some X factor which enters into the frame and I think that’s visible in this film.
“There’s a certain something that was happening in that moment between us as human beings which remains part of what we see. That’s not to do with the artifice, that’s to do with the layer which is not inhabited by the characters but by us as human beings.”
Another familiar face in the film is former Coronation Street star Bruce Jones, who plays flamboyant clairvoyant Stevie Babes. He too felt compelled to be involved after reading the script and meeting Deborah.
“When I got there [on set], I was impressed because not only she [Deborah] can write such a good script but she could direct. She’s a hell of a director and a hell of a writer,” Jones said.
He added that a story which has two women as the lead characters is something that has been a long time coming:
“Instead of having a male actor in there as the dominant force, it’s the two women who are that. I think that’s a great thing.”
Jones added that working with Scanlan was ‘lovely’ and that he felt he could relate to her on an artistic level:
“I watched her on our first day we went to shoot there and she was a bit like what I am when I get on the set on the first day. I’m nervous, I’m scared and any actor who tells you he’s not, it’s a load of lies.
“No matter what you’ve done in your life, that first day on the set, you’re scared. You’ve never met your co-stars or the people you’re gonna work with and it can be a lonely place your first day on set.
Jones took a short break from acting after he left Coronation Street but has been busy ever since he got back in the game, he says.
“I’ve done a few horror movies: The Author, Finders Keepers and Mrs Wiltshire with BadMouse Production in Birmingham. That scared the living day out of me.
“I stayed in the kitchen on my own for a week, I didn’t let anyone come near me when we were shooting. They were all going out for meals. I wouldn’t go. That’s how bad the film was.”
He added that despite the fact that he swore he’d never do television again, he’s agreed to be the lead in a new TV series filmed in Bristol:
“The lady who wrote the script – another great woman writer – wrote it for me and it took a year for me to say yes.
“I said it’s TV and I don’t want to do TV anymore. You can’t walk anywhere when you’re on TV.
“So for a year she kept sending me bits of the script and I thought, this is really good and eventually said yes.”
But why such strong feelings about TV series, I ask?
“After I left Coronation Street I said I never want to do TV again. Eleven years in there was enough. I wanted my life back.
“Took a few years but I’ve got my life back. I still get called Les sometimes but I can live with that now. I couldn’t when I first came out. I couldn’t go out. But now I can shake their hands and I now know what Les meant to a lot of people and what it still does. The most asked question I get is when am I going back? The answer to that is never. Never. I’m happy with what I’m doing.
“What I love about the films is that you get to be somebody different all the time. You’re not the same character for 11 years.”
Pin Cushion is at HOME until 23 July.