Anastasia Hille interview
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Anstasia Hille plays Jo Beckett in Channel 4's gripping new drama The Fear. Here, she reveals a little more about this remarkable project.
You play Jo in Channel 4's new drama The Fear. Explain a bit about her.
She is married to a Brighton crime boss, Richie Beckett. They've had a long history which reveals itself during the course of the drama. They have two boys, Matty and Cal. She met Richie 30 years ago - she was a bit of an It-Girl and a wild child, and she fell in love with Richie, a very fearless, charismatic individual who traded in drugs. He's become very wealthy and prestigious, and has an empire based on drugs and property in Brighton, and they've become part of the establishment. She has an art gallery, and has distanced herself from him. The darker aspects of their lives are buried beneath all of this respectability. And that's where we find them, but this starts to unravel. The boys turn to him for help to deal with a gang of Albanians who are moving in on their turf, and then it becomes apparent that Richie can't really cope anymore because he has early onset Alzheimer's. This confusion and unravelling is really the essence of the story - how someone of such power, at the height of their empire, is exposed to this disease, just as their livelihoods and their lives are under threat.
What was it that attracted you to the project?
Lots of things, really. It's so an exciting and beautifully written - Richard Cottan's done an amazing job of weaving in the different elements. It's really unusual, not at all the clichéd gangster stories, with very little of the reverences we hold for that world, from The Godfather on. This is the antidote, in a way. It's the reality of a physical demise, and one that is such a huge issue in our world. It's always kept so quiet, and yet it afflicts so many - 50 per cent of people in their 70s will experience dementia. I don't know anyone who hasn't had a connection with it. I had a parent who died recently who had Alzheimer's, so I felt very strongly about it on that level. Then there's the fact that it's a fantastic role for a woman - middle aged roles for ladies don't come up very often. It's a sad but true fact that women disappear in their 40s and come back later on as very sage characters. So it's great to have a character written with that intensity and power. And Michael [Samuels, the director] had done Any Human Heart beautifully, so I was intrigued to work with him. And, of course, Peter Mullan, the genius actor whose work I've revered over the years. So what was there not to like about this, really?
Jo's not your average gangster's moll, is she?
No she's not. She's a really tough cookie in her own right. She's no pushover. And as the story progresses, she has to take the reins a lot more, because of what's happening with Richie. And she's a good mother, and the protection issue to do with her sons becomes everything.
It's set in Brighton, and the town plays a significant role in the series, doesn't it?
Yeah, very much so. It was extraordinary filming there. We had to shoot at a variety of different locations for a while, and eventually, when we came to Brighton, everything fell into place. Brighton has a real personality about it; it's fantastically liberal-minded. And it's got this proximity to the sea that seems to have an effect on the place. It's as if everyone's slap against their own mortality all the time. We found as soon as we shot things on the front, which we had to do quite a lot, everyone opened up. It was one of these shoots that was obviously very dark and cruel, and we were all incredibly burrowed down in the midst of it, but as soon as we were working in that vista, this real openness seemed to seize everyone. I find Brighton really intriguing - there's a Green MP there, which is a very rare beast in politics - all things are possible in Brighton.
You've touched on the attraction of Peter Mullan being in it. There's a strong cast all the way through the drama - is it exciting, coming in to work with a cast of that calibre?
It's what you dream of, really. The four or five principal actors were amazing, but everyone involved in it was really beautifully cast. We were fortunate to have some time rehearsing, which was unusual, and was very helpful for exploring some of the issues within the family. Harry Lloyd is a really generous, sensitive soul, who was playing a hard, gritty character, and was having to draw on a different part of his nature entirely. Paul Nicholls is an amazingly spontaneous, creative person. He will come and live the role - they had to work fast to catch him, because he was absolutely burning bright when he was there, bang - he would just do it, and they would need to get him on the first take. That was really exciting. Michelle Bonnard was playing the cop, which is always a hard role to play, and she was joyful - she's a writer in her own right, and hugely creative - a delight to be on the set with. And Richard E Grant was a delight; he has such colour and versatility, and is also very rigorous and precise. And Peter himself draws on his own life, and can really put out a story that will silence a room. He's a great anecdotalist, and has immense experience to draw on. And he was very generous to everybody on set, involving people who might have only come in for a day, or were feeling a bit wobbly for whatever reason. He was a great figurehead for the whole thing.
It's a pretty bleak and brutal piece of work. Is that a strain to play?
Yeah, very much so. It's very difficult. I think we thrive on the challenges, but it is very difficult to occupy those places for long periods of time. You work through a scene that you might see on the screen for minutes, but we will have been working on that for days. And that is very difficult to live with. And then you get these scenes where there's an immense release of tension. I wouldn't say it was easy, it was very difficult to do on that level, but it's not going down a mine, is it? It's not as difficult as most people's lives. And you have to keep your eye on the fact that it is doing something that you think is worthwhile.
It's a beautiful piece of work to look at as well, isn't it?
Yes, absolutely. Our director of photography, Gavin Finney, has made something absolutely beautiful, image-wise. As we were making it, we could feel that that was occurring. And you feel that you're part of an epic landscape that's really significant. You're just an element in a bigger picture, and that is an antidote if you feel that what you're doing isn't right or you have anxieties. However difficult it might have been at times, we always felt it was worth it.
An enormous amount of your work has been in theatre. Do you prefer that medium?
Not really. I love the theatre, because the experience of it is live and literal and happening in the moment. That has its challenges. You feel in a way that what you're doing has a real impact. And you're performing something there and then for the audience that then disappears, and no-one else will ever know what that was like. The ephemeral nature of it is really intoxicating. I love doing that. Film-wise, projects like this are forever. The opportunities in film to make great stories and great pictures, and do something that will last, is really fascinating. It's a completely different ball game to work on. Someone described it as the difference between a thoroughbread and a dray horse: The theatre is really hard work, lugging this thing up the hill, whereas with TV, you have to arrive with a tiny focus of absolute accuracy on set, and make that element perfectly attuned and incisive.
Which actors working today do you particularly admire?
It's probably a cliché, but Judi Dench - she's a genius. Years ago I looked at some contact sheets of a photo shoot where a friend of mine took pictures of her, and in her face in every picture, she seemed to be on the edge of laughing and crying at the same time. If you looked at them, you couldn't quite tell which way she was going to go - it as the same across every image. I already loved her work, I'd seen her in films and live in the theatre, but this was astonishing somehow.
The Fear is transmitting on Channel 4 over four consecutive nights from Monday 3rd December at 10pm on Channel 4.