Shirley Henderson interview
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Explain a little bit about EVERYDAY, and about your character.
EVERYDAY is set over five years, about a family that's separated, because the husband is in prison. The wife's at home with the four kids, who are very small. She's just a normal girl who's found herself in a situation she didn't want to be in, and is trying to deal with it. It's kind of dealt with in quite a quiet way, it's very understated. I think she's feeling everything, she's feeling as much as anybody is who would be screaming and shouting about the situation, but is just quite quiet about it. This story is just about the EVERYDAY. As time passes, he's allowed the odd day out, and the odd visit home, until he's finally released. It's just about their time apart and how they deal with it. Neither of them are perfect, it's just a little look at a slice of their lives.
What attracted you to the project?
Mainly Michael Winterbottom and John Simm. I'd worked with John before, and I'd done a few things with Michael. I didn't really know what the project was when this first started. There was never a proper script or anything, it was just an idea, so I didn't really know what I was committing to. I knew it was a love story, set over five years, and they were apart. That was as much as Michael said. I didn't know where it was going to be, or what kind of story we were going to make. I just knew that something was going to happen. I liked the mystery of that. Whenever you commit to any job with Michael, you never quite know what it's going to be, it's not necessarily what's there on the page. But I was excited enough to want to jump in there and see.
Does it help, knowing Michael and John already?
It does, yeah. But you've still got to find the character and do your research, whatever that involves. It's different for every project. It's a difficult thing to come in and create on the day. But you're physically familiar with each other, I'm very relaxed with John and Michael - but still, on the day, you're trying to find something quickly. So the tension and the nerves are still there, but it was good to have known them over a long period. And it was great that both John and I knew how Michael worked - he works very fast, and doesn't like to over-analyse or over-discuss, he'd much rather just see what happens. And you know that it's not going to be over-comfortable - you're not going to have a caravan, you're not going to have massive catering. It's just going to be a little team doing the best they can together.
You mention nerves - do you still get nervous going into a project?
Of course, yeah. It's different nerves with Michael - it's not "Oh, I've got to create this thing that's in front of me, I've got to lift this off the page." It's more "What are we going to do?" because it's not all scripted. And also, he films 360 degrees, so you can't just sit and be out of shot, you're in it all the time. And because it's not scripted, you've got to make something quickly.
There was an amazing naturalness to your relationship with the children in the film. How did you get that closeness?
I just felt that immediately, I just felt comfortable with them. The house that we filmed in was their own home. And the very first day of filming, I woke them up. I was staying with Michael - he's got a house down there - and we went to the filming house and I woke them up early in the morning, when it was still dark. I got them dressed and gave them breakfast, and we filmed it all. That was the first thing we did together on film. It was a tender moment, and they were all half-asleep. It just helped with me taking over from their own mum. And we'd already hung out with the kids. John and I took them to Wells-next-to-the-Sea, and hung about and played the slot machines and had a juice. So that helped us as well.
Did you enjoy the experience of working with the kids?
Yeah, I loved it. They're terrific. They're just ordinary wee kiddies - they get fed up, they get happy, they get hungry, they need the toilet - but there's a sensitivity there. They seemed to grasp what we were trying to create - the tenderness of it - and they just went with it.
Is the key that they're not performing lines from a script, they're just being themselves?
I think so. They did have to repeat things. Once you find something, you then go "Let's try it again." You don't have to do it exactly the same with Michael. But they got into the rhythm of it, and began to understand why we were repeating things. Even their crying they were able to do again. They seemed to be able to do stuff again without being self-conscious. I think that's because Michael is so at ease with them. He never shouts, or calls for everyone to be quiet. It's almost that filming going on, but you're not aware that filming's going on.
How often did you get together over the five years?
Every year was different. Some years it was more than others. But it would tend to be every few months, for a few days or a week. Maybe sometimes more. But we did something every year.
Was that not difficult to have to organise your career around having these few slots inked into your diary every year?
No. Michael doesn't do that. You might get a phone call saying "We're thinking of maybe gathering in October. Are you available?" And we would just wait until we were all available, and then we'd do it. There was no feeling that we had to slot in times at the beginning of the year, it was very flexible.
You're in pretty much every scene of EVERYDAY. Had you ever had a role like that before?
I don't think so. I've been the main girl before, but in most films there's other things going on, isn't there? But I wasn't really aware of that while we were doing it. The fact that it was all improvised, and the fact that it was filmed over five years, meant that I didn't really feel it.
In a quiet way, it's quite tough and harrowing. Do you feel that when you're filming something like this? Are you able to shrug it off at the end of the day?
You have to let it go. The thing with Michael is that every night we all have dinner. We either have dinner at his house, or we all go out to the pub for dinner. So he breaks it. We're all together all of the time, but we don't go through the film every night. You have to drop it.
You alluded to the importance of research earlier. What did you do in the way of research? Did you meet with wives of prisoners?
I didn't, no. I didn't know what I was aiming for at that point. But I watched a lot of documentaries about prison life, women, separation, that sort of thing. I watched a lot of different women, and just picked up on some of their traits. I found it surprising how cool and quiet and insular some of them were. They approached things very simply. "This has happened, I've got to get on with it." I was looking for clues into that sort of feeling. But at the same time, I didn't know what Michael was aiming for. So I could only do so much. A lot of it came from just doing it. Like the first time I was in the prison, in Brixton. We did the journey there properly, we went by train and by underground, dragging the children and figuring out where we were going. And a lot of the time that helps you discover more. There's only so much planning you can do. And I didn't want to copy someone else's experience of it, because everybody's got a different experience of everything.
Were the prison scenes actually filmed inside prisons?
Yeah, they were. Everything was in its real place.
What was it like filming them?
Fine. Uncomfortable. You've got to go through all the searches, the sniffer-dog checks. And the amount of time it all takes - one door's got to be closed before they can open the next one. There are so many rules. And you have to be so patient. So your emotion is held, building up while you're waiting. And then suddenly it feels quite mechanical "Oh, this is the moment, is it?" And then it's done. It's not like you can run down the corridor and grab each other.
Looking at the stuff you've done in your career, you go from fairly small independent projects to massive behemoths like the Harry Potter films. Do you like it that way, moving from one to the other?
I just do what comes, really, it's as simple as that. Sometimes you get offered stuff and sometimes you have to audition, and you just go with what's there. But I do like moving between the two. But in the end, they're all the same. If it's a big thing like Harry Potter, you're still in that little dressing room yourself, you've still got to come on the set and find your character. It doesn't matter how many people are involved, or how nice your hotel is, in the end it all amounts to your scene. You've got to come up with the goods in the end. It doesn't matter what size the film is.
Okay, but the really pressing matter is, do you get better sandwiches on the big films?
Sometimes you don't! And sometimes the production is so big, you don't even know where to find the sandwiches. At least on Michael's films, he will hand you a sandwich himself out of the bag.
What's it like having a generation of kids growing up knowing you as Moaning Myrtle (from harry Potter)?
It's great. Sometimes it's a bit odd, if you're at the supermarket and people are whispering, but on the whole, I can go about my business quite happily, nobody really notices. It's nice. The new generation of fans weren't even born when I did the first Harry Potter film.
EVERYDAY will be on Channel 4 in week 46.