Capone With Brenda Blethyn From INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS (aka CLUBLAND)!!
Published at: July 10, 2007, 9:56 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, in the midst of a busy, interview-heavy week.
When the word got out to writers in Chicago that Brenda Blethyn was available for interview, I feel confident that the local publicist did not think I would step forward and say, "Yes, please!" But how can you say no to a two-time Oscar nominee, and probably the most talented, energetic, and busy actress this side of Meryl Streep. Although she's had smaller roles in film prior, it was her role as the mother in Mike Leigh's devastating SECRETS & LIES that announced Blethyn's worth as a consummate screen actor. It's difficult to believe that film is only a little more than 10 years old.
Since then she has been in an endless stream of films, including her award-winning turn in LITTLE VOICE; RKO 289; SAVING GRACE; LOVELY & AMAZING; PUMPKIN; BEYOND THE SEA; ON A CLEAR DAY; and one of her few costume pieces, 2005's PRIDE & PREJUDICE, in which she played the busy-body Mrs. Bennet. Her latest work is the Australian dark comedy INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS (released as CLUBLAND in other parts of the world), where she plays dirty stand-up comic Jean, who is looking at what will probably be her last real shot at any fame in her career while trying to look out for her two grown sons. In Jean, Blethyn has found one of her greatest roles and listening to her work blue got me a little hot; I'll admit that. And I'll confess something else, I find Blethyn really attractive, especially when I see shots of her on various red carpets at award shows and premieres. Okay, fine, you got it out of me: I want to have Brenda Blethyn's lovechild. She's as spirited in conversation and she is often in her films, and I had an absolute blast talking to her. I even got to borrow a page from Quint's book when I asked her for her favorite dirty joke (it seemed appropriate for this film).
Here is the unstoppable and lovely Brenda Blethyn.
Capone: I really did enjoy the film, and I guess the first question I should ask is, what would you rather have me call it, CLUBLAND or INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS?
Brenda Blethyn: Hmmm. INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS, I guess, although it is called CLUBLAND in Australia.
C: Did you ever get a reason that they thought the film title needed changing?
BB: Yes, I asked the same question. And, they said they would be confused by the title [in the states], that they wouldn’t understand the world that it was set in, because it might have a different connotation. And, the title INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS instantly says it’s a family film, which it is, so there’s wisdom in that, I suppose.
C: Okay, who am I to question that kind of wisdom? The character of Jean is not an immediately, necessarily likeable character…
BB: No, she’s not. [giggles]
C: You’ve certainly played women like that before, but when you first read the script, what were the qualities in her that you found most appealing?
BB: Well, I’ll tell you what I always do when I’m looking at a script. Normally, on a script, you’re seeing people either in crisis, or some event has happened, which is why there’s a script at all. Something in their lives has happened to make it possible. So, I have to think about what the family is like normally. And, I think normally they are a pretty happy family, a little bit off the wall--she’s an unusual mom, the boys’ friends like her, [they] say, “Your mom’s great. She’s always joking. It’s easy to be with your mom.” And, they’ve all got their jobs. Tim’s got his little business up and running. And, it works well, it’s a well-oiled machine.
However, we meet them at a time, a crisis point, and in this crisis, Jean behaves badly, because she’s going through emotions that she hasn’t gone through before. She’s at a time of life--kind of a mid-life crisis, really--when her hoped-for career resurrection is not going the way she planned or dreamed. And, her beloved son is replacing her in his affections with another women. Ordinarily, I think she might be able to cope with that. But, it’s done…it’s kind of stealthy. She suddenly finds in this house, this honest household where there are no secrets, everyone’s honest with each other…But, you see, the audience meets Jill, sees what a beautiful, wonderful girl she is and how happy Tim is with her, but Jean doesn’t. Jean’s not there in the room. Jean’s having to conjure this up in her imagination. She doesn’t even know where her son is.
And, if he’s with a girl, it’s so much worse when you imagine things. It’s so much easier to be told something than to try to paint a picture for yourself. And, if that happens, if she’s replaced in his affections…and Mark also, her other son, has found romance, she’s not needed. And, it’s hard for her.
C: It does seem like a lot of her bad behavior actually is motivated by fear, more than anything else, just fear, like you said, of her career going poorly, and her family is drifting away from her.
BB: Yeah, she’s also not on home territory.
BB: She’s English living in Australia without the husband, because he had an affair some years earlier with somebody. And, although they bicker and row all the time, I think there’s still a spark there. I think that there’s still something going, you know, to argue like that, there’s got to be some sort of passion somewhere. It’s interesting that all of us, when we’re in a rage, we say things we don’t mean. All of us, you do, I do, all of us, or we do things that we’re ashamed of, all of us. And, Jean knows that she’s being unreasonable, and she knows that she’s out of order, but, you know, when you get that stab in the heart, there’s not a lot you can do about it. She’s just…it’s appalling, her behavior [laughs]. And, it’s such a joy to play. It’s just a gift for an actor.
C: Like I said before, you’ve played these sort of abrasive characters--mother characters in particular--and I’m sure a lot audience members see more than a bit of their own mothers in these characters. Do you enjoy these kinds of roles? You don’t mind that you tend to be cast in these sometimes-unlikable parts?
BB: Yeah. I love playing ordinary people [and] the emotions that every single one of goes through. I love it. I just love concentrating on that ordinariness that we can all identify with. To me, that’s more interesting than doing grand opera. I love it.
And, I’m always so fascinated, I have to say, by embarrassment. What embarrasses one person and what doesn’t embarrass someone else. And, that was interesting, when I was kind of improvising around the stand-up comedy, because I contributed a lot of the comedy to the script…and I would go home after rehearsals and work out a new routine for the next day, as Jean would do it, of course. And, Jean would try and make it as good as possible, as funny as possible, but at the same time, it wasn’t meant to be very good, so I had to find a balance between the two. Sometimes, I’d say something that was so embarrassing [giggles], and the rest of the cast…we’d be on the floor laughing. It was so-o-o-o funny in its embarrassment. Some of that’s in the film. Most of it isn’t, because it makes the film about five hours too long.
It’s interesting how people’s opinions change, how an observer’s opinion changes when they see somebody, maybe somebody they don’t like very much, in an embarrassing situation. Their whole attitude changes. Have you noticed that? And, that happens with her in that excruciating scene! [laughs] People start thinking, Aw-w-w, poor Jean. They do, because it’s so embarrassing.
C: You brought up the stand-up comedy. You’ve done comedies over the years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a person can pull off playing a stand-up comic very well. Did you have to study the rhythms and how to work a room? What was the toughest part about learning to do stand-up comedy?
BB: Well, it was trying to be fearless, to go up there, and to feel that whatever comes at you, you can wallop back again, like playing an ace in tennis, whatever comes at you from the floor, you’ve got to be able to lob something back that’s a winner. So, I would kind of work out a few put-downs, in case that would have happened--it didn’t, it turned out--but they must have nerves of steel to go up there as themselves. At least, I’m playing a character up there. But, it was fun, it was such fun to do it.
C: Now that you have these tools at your disposal, do you find you can tell a joke better?
BB: Well, I’ve always been a bit of a joke teller, I have to say. And, I do have a sense of humor. But, as far as what you were saying earlier about my playing a lot of comic roles, I always see the depths of comedy as well. They are such close things, tragedy and comedy. In fact, it’s like part of the same spectrum, as far as I’m concerned. For the height of comedy, you’ve got to know the depths of despair it comes from, and likewise, to know how low you’ve sunk, you’ve got to know how high you soared beforehand, to know how far you’ve fallen. So, I see both in everything I do.
C: One of the writers on our site always ends his interviews by asking the person he’s talking to tell their favorite dirty joke. It seems very appropriate with this film, since that's what your character is doing for a living. Do you have a favorite dirty joke?
BB: Oh, let me have a think. I have hundreds up my sleeve. [Talking to someone at her end of the phone] Michael, remind me of one of my jokes…I wish you had given me notice of this. [laughs]
C: I can ask more questions, if you’d like to think about it in the meantime.
BB: Yeah, carry on.
C: I understand that DWIGHTS writer Keith Thompson wrote this character with you in mind. Is that a first for you?
BB: Yes, he did, and yes it is. But, I didn’t know that at the time of reading it, because it would have scared me, I think, had I known that. I’d have felt the responsibility too great, I think, I don’t know. But, I’m glad I didn’t know, because I just loved it for its sake, rather than being flattered that it was for me, do you know what I mean?
C: How did you find out, or when? What was your reaction?
BB: Oh, after I’d said I’d like to do it. “That’s good, because he wrote it with you in mind.” And, I said, “Why?” And, then I discovered that he grew up only about 20 miles from me in England, and we would know the same variety places, and Jean is loosely based on his relationship with his mom. She was a musician, she was an entertainer on that variety circuit. When I was a little girl, I used to peep in the doors of these theaters and watch the acts on stage.
As you peep through the door, sometimes you see them in the wings, and it was fascinating. You’d have performing dogs, and jugglers, and ventriloquists, and singers, and somebody tap dancing, somebody playing xylophone. And, whilst the facilities all seemed a bit seedy, the performers themselves performed at the absolute best of their ability, and some of them were very good. It’s just that the demand for it was dying. And, that’s kind of what happened to Jean in this film. Her comedy is old hat. Comedy has moved on in the last 25 years, when she was going great guns. There you have it.
C: I’ve noticed in a lot of your films when you’re playing a mother character, your children are almost always women. Here, it’s two boys. Is there a different way of playing a mother of boys versus a mother of girls?
BB: I think there is a different dynamic between mother and sons. I have brothers, so I kind of know a little bit about this. I think when a girl marries, she stays within the bosom of the family, but when a son marries, he tends to be adopted by the wife’s family. And, I think the bride’s mother comes before the groom’s mother, for instance, when the baby is born, a grandchild is born. It’s just like she’s being replaced by someone else. I know my mom enjoyed my brothers, particularly one brother who was so-o-o charismatic…well, we all enjoy his company, come to that, so I don’t blame her for the favoritism, because he’s just wonderful to be around. Basically, if you’re a woman, you’ve kind of got the inside story with the daughters. With the boys, there’s still an air of mystery.
C: I’ve also noticed there’s a physicality to many of the characters you play. You don’t sit still very often…
BB: Some of them do. It depends what their raison d’etre is. This woman is always on show. It’s like she’s always performing. But, there are occasions when you see her just sitting, staring into the middle distance.
C: It seems that a lot of the film acting in general, in quieter films, it’s about talking and being still, and you sort of add movement and fluidity to it that I’m not used to seeing done that often on screen.
BB: I’ll tell you what it is…I don’t know, I’m sometimes criticized for it, but I leave the filmmaking to the filmmakers. I play the part as honestly and as truthfully as I can. If it’s too big for the shot, I think the shot’s wrong. [Laughs] That’s my take. [Laughs harder] Sorry!
C: Another reason I loved this film is that it gave you a chance to sort of glam yourself up a bit. It’s the makeup, the hair, the outfits…you look really beautiful in the film.
BB: Thank you.
C: Considering a lot of filmgoers probably got their first look at you in SECRETS & LIES, at least in this country, it was a real surprise--at least for me--to see you do the red carpet thing at the award shows that year, because you were almost unrecognizable. Do you like being able to play dress up like that?
BB: I like playing…normally, you know, I wish I’d met you in person normally. I brush up rather well, you know. [Laughs] And, before SECRETS & LIES, the roles I would play were all kind of glamorous roles, certainly in my life in the National Theater were all kind of like ladies and duchesses, and so on. It’s just that when I made [SECRETS & LIES] and because that was my introduction to the international world, if you like, when anyone sat up and took notice, and it happened to be that character, people thought that was what I was like. In fact I was at a festival in…where was it? Norway, I think…and SECRETS & LIES was shown. Somebody said to me, “What does it feel like, now that you’re an actress, now that you’re in a film?” I said, “Pardon?” She says, “Now, you’re, you know, in the movies?” I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow.” She said, “Well, you know, you worked in the box factory.” I said, “No, that’s the character.” She thought it was, like, a docudrama. She thought that was really me. I mean…terribly flattering. Gosh, that was the best compliment I’ve ever been paid, if she thought it was real.
C: I suppose so, yeah.
BB: But also, a journalist once wrote in a column [that] when I was at some party in Los Angeles, I was "swanning around" Hollywood trying to look glamorous to get away from that SECRETS & LIES image, as if I normally walk around like [her character in that film] Cynthia. [Laughs]
C: I don’t think that was a compliment.
BB: I don't think so either.
C: One of my favorite roles that you’ve done recently was in ON A CLEAR DAY. I spoke to your director on that Gaby Dellal about working with you. You’ve worked with quite a few newer directors. Is there something you look for in a new director before deciding to trust them, because they may not be as proven as some of the other people you’ve worked with? Is there something about their vision that you’re looking for?
BB: Oh, yes. I’ve got to be able to talk freely with them. I’ve got to understand what they’re talking about. If it goes above my head, there’s no point in me even going anywhere near it. I just talk in simple language.
If their vision of the film is the same as I saw in it, I’m interested, because I always think new directors bring something exciting. They don’t come with preconceived ideas, and we go on this journey of discovery of getting it right together. And, I think that’s exciting. They’re taking a chance on me as much as I am on them, because I haven’t played that role before.
Just because I got the last film right doesn’t mean I’ll get this one right. There’s a lot of trust going. And, it’s also to do with who the cinematographer is and who the other people are. In fact, on that film, I wondered how many directors there would be, because Peter Mullan was the star of the film, and he’s also a writer-director. And, I thought because Gaby was a novice, it was her first film, you know, he might have spoken up more. But, he didn’t. He did not. He did not patronize her one iota. There was only one director on that film, and that was Gaby. And, it was great. I loved working on it.
C: [A publicist tells me I have one last question] Have you thought of a joke yet, Brenda?
BB: Oh, a joke. I forgot, I forgot. Uh-h-h, oh, it’s not a rude joke…am I allowed to tell jokes about two gays?
C: [Alarm bells are going off in my head at this point.] You can say whatever you want.
BB: Can I? Well, two gay men went to the fun fair [carnival], and one of them wanted to go on the Ferris wheel, and the other one didn’t. And, he got upset. He said, “I’ll wait down here for you.” So, the first fellow got on the Ferris wheel, and he went ’round, and he went ’round, and he went ’round, and it got to the top, and he fell off. So, the other one went running over, and he said, “Oh, my goodness, are you hurt?” He said, “Hurt? I went around three times, and you never waved once.” [busts out laughing]
C: I can't think of a better way to end this. Thank you, Brenda.
BB: Thank you, dear.