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Interview with Faye Marsay and Nick Blood stars of new C4 drama Shamed

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Your new drama is Shamed. What’s it all about?

Nick: It thematically explores the impact of social media on our culture, and our relationship to it. It’s about accountability and responsibility for things we’ve done in the past, and about gender politics and the inequality between men and women.

Faye: And the vulnerability of our young people, and them being influenced by a sexualised culture…

N: And that all being recorded on mobile phones. And then, essentially, story-wise, it’s about a guy who wakes up in a basement and doesn’t know why he’s there.

It’s incredibly timely, isn’t it, given recent events?

N: Yeah. Although that stuff has just been revealed now, it’s all historical stuff. At the time of shooting it, we felt it was very relevant, because it was ever thus in our culture, I think it’s been even more highlighted now because of the presence of social media. But of course, with everything that’s going on at the moment, this is very topical. I think what’s interesting about it is that it asks more questions than it answers, and I think all good drama should do that. It puts the onus on the audience to make up their minds, it doesn’t dictate to them how they should think or feel, necessarily, about the characters or their situation. It’s very much asking the audience to do that job themselves.

What attracted you to the project?

F: For me it was the relevance of what was being written about, and the idea that by doing it, we could maybe start a conversation about the themes that are in it. You look around and there are so many examples in the media of young people being shamed publicly by friends, by other social media users, and then by the press. I thought it was something that was really important to have a conversation about.

N: There’s a judgement made on people’s behaviours constantly, and it’s almost universal now because of social media, and what I felt this script did was it didn’t judge, it just told the story and allowed the audience to make up their minds. And another attraction was that it felt different to anything I’d done before, and Faye was already attached, which was also an attraction, because I wanted to work with her. And as far as my character goes, he’s morally ambiguous, and he has good and bad in him. He can be a loving, carefree fiancé, and then he is also extremely selfish, extremely individualistic, and has little regard, at times, for other people’s wellbeing. So he is a mixture of good and bad, and there’s possibly more bad in him than most of us. It was an intriguing part.

It’s a lot of story to pack in to one hour – is there something quite satisfying about shooting something with a beginning, middle and end in that time?

F: Yes! You’ve got to focus, and you know what the endpoint is, and you know what you, as an actor, and you, as a team making something, want to say. There’s quite a bit of freedom, when it’s laid out like that, you just go for it, in the amount of time you’ve got, and you do it in the best way that you possibly can. It’s very collaborative – it’s a tiring but fun set to be on, when you’re doing something like that.

N: When it’s self-contained, your journey is clear. I was fortunate as well in that I shot everything pretty much chronologically, so I was able to chart that demise in almost real time. And the nature of the way we did it, with a small crew and pretty much one location for most of the shoot, apart from one day we did in the club – we were all in this basement area. A lot of stuff, you weren’t having to make this great leap of imagination, you weren’t standing in front of a green screen having to imagine that you’re looking out across space. You’re in this basement, you’ve been stuck in there all day, it’s damp and cold and grimy and dusty and all those things.

It’s commissioned by Channel 4’s factual department, and the writer, Anthony Philipson, has a factual background. Do you think that brings a different approach to the drama?

N: In practical terms on the set, Anthony said to me pretty early on “Look, I’m not precious about the script, about dialogue and stuff, we can change things and cut things,” and we very much did that. I felt very grateful to be given the freedom to improvise and not stick to the script necessarily, and work things out together as we went along. And I think that is partly influenced by the fact that he’s used to reacting to what’s in front of him, and it not necessarily all being set in stone. And he used handheld cameras quite a lot, so they were finding us rather than us having to find them.

F: I think it’s great that we can use drama as a kind of tool to present things that are actually happening. People are going through these things, but we are using drama and actors to present that to the world, and get them to ask questions about it. And because it’s coming from the factual department, maybe that makes it a bit more real, that this is something that isn’t just a story being made up for entertainment. There are examples of this, and similar experiences happening to people, and it’s something we should be talking about.

There is one moment that is absolutely central to what plays out in this drama. Was it based on a specific incident, or an amalgam of a few different stories?

N: The latter.

F: It’s a mash-up of different experiences and people going through different things.

N: This is fictional, so the incident that happens in our story you could replace with a number of different incidents. What’s interesting about this is how Faye’s character responds to that, and the after-effects of that.

You are also rarely in the same room. What was that like? How much time did you actually have on set together?

N: Not much.

F: Two days, wasn’t it?

N: Tops. I’d say one full day, and a bit more.

F: The last day of shooting was when we did our big confrontation scene at the end. And then we had little snippets like when we were in the club and we filmed that flashback. But really I spoke to a green screen for a week and Nick spoke to the wall! That’s how we did it.

N: But from my perspective, Faye had to use the green screen and imagine stuff that she wasn’t actually seeing, but for me, it’s a mystery to Nathan who this person is and why he’s in there, so it helped in a way. When we did that final scene together, we hadn’t really spent much time together on set.

F: And when we were shooting that scene, there was no real conversation to be had there, because we were both trying to be in it, and both knackered as well.

N: Our characters are in very, very different states at that point, physically and mentally, and as Faye and Nick we were in different states. So we just ended up reacting to each other. We hadn’t rehearsed it, we hadn’t spent a lot of time together, so I had no real expectation as to what Faye was going to do.

F: It was great that scene, it was like doing a play. It was because we weren’t being stopped by Anthony at all, he just let us roll. We were just playing off each other, which is really rare when you’ve got a camera on you.

That must be the most exciting thing for an actor to do.

N: Yeah. From day one, I was thinking “This is going to be a great shoot.” I felt immediately that it was collaborative, and that’s the most fun thing about our job, really.

F: Yeah, I never felt like I couldn’t make a suggestion. Sometimes when you’re on set you just have to do as your told, and this was much freer.

Did you do anything by way of research for this, or is it all there in the script?

F: I did a bit of research – mainly just doing a lot of reading up on how these situations are out there, they do happen to people. But really, the writing is very, very good, and I think it’s pretty much all there in the script. That makes your job a lot easier.

N: Yeah, I also looked into these sorts of incidents and so on, and there are, sadly, far too many of them that you can read about. But as far as researching the characters, Nathan isn’t defined by this incident that happened ten years ago, whereas Sarah, Faye’s character, clearly is defined by it. So I just watched a lot of those Club 18-30 type of programmes and looked at the different characters that cropped up in that. So I added a little bit of that into Nathan.

This is also a rumination on the power of social media, and the vicious group mentality that can prevail. As people in the public eye, have you ever experienced that?

F: Yes. Definitely. But I’ve also experienced pleasantness in social media as well. On the one hand, social media is excellent for activism and fundraising and charity work, it has this wonderful aspect where its outreach is massive. But then it has this horrible dark side.

N: Yeah, it can give a voice to the worst aspects of humanity. And bring out the worst aspects in us all.

F: So in answer to your question, yes, but then I would also like to say that there are lots of nice people as well, and we need to have a conversation about how we treat each other online.

N: I’m lucky, I’ve never really experienced any major negativity online. But then I’m only on Instagram, and it’s more of a like-based interaction. Twitter seems to be where people are more vocal with their opinions, because I guess it’s written media not visual media. But it does make me feel uncomfortable – I’m not sure how long I’ll keep that account for. Often I think it’s those with the worst things to say that shout the loudest, and they often drown everybody else out. You get a pretty distorted view of the world, whereas in reality, when you go out of the house, people are generally reasonable and kind and thoughtful and humane.

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