On rejecting social media, making GoT and The Levelling.
(LEFT) All clothing NEIL BARRETT
(RIGHT) All clothing VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
After Ellie Kendrick departs the building, myself and the rest of the team nod in agreement that she’s probably one of the nicest people we’ve worked with. Over the course of said shoot, she’s danced along to 90s classics from Backstreet Boys to Kylie Minogue, shared her stories of wild nights out at Heaven and giggled nervously while I, a self-proclaimed GoT super-fan (who isn’t?) grilled her on all things Season 7.
Ahead of the return of Thrones this July, Kendrick’s latest offering,The Levelling, has just dropped at the movies. Directed by Hope Dickson Leach – making her feature film debut – Kendrick plays Clover, who returns to her flood-gutted hometown in Somerset following the traumatic suicide of her brother. We stole a moment with Kendrick to talk milking cows, shunning social media and the future of Game of Thrones.
Your latest project, The Levelling is out now. What attracted you to the role of Clover?
I was really interested when I read the script that Clover is so different to so many parts I normally read. So often it’s like the girl is there for eye candy, or it’s about how she can help some leading male discover some innate truth that he needs to in his life, but this was really interesting to me because the character was super flawed and complex, and there was this real vulnerability underneath which I could feel reading [the] script, which is desperate to come out but she covers it up constantly by this fierce brutal logic [that] she tries to apply to everything. So the central tension between the logic and the emotion was really interesting. I just loved her. I thought she was a really fully rounded character, and I couldn’t wait to play her. I knew it was something that was going to demand a lot of me.
It covers quite a dark subject matter. What kind of research did you have to do for the role?
So I think, what you’ve always got to start with as an actress [is] the script and what’s there, and we were really lucky with the script that Hope gave us, that it was so well written and so well rounded, there was loads to get stuck into. Every story of grief is a different one and I really like the way in which this story was approaching grief in a way that’s unconventional, it’s not just like people sitting on chairs crying and being really nice to each other. So there was so much there already. I worked for a long time to create a really complex backstory to the character so that when things are happening, she discovers things. I’m trying to think in her mind as opposed to going “Oh, this is the moment when she …”. I just spent a lot of time with Clover and trying to get to know who she was and how she would respond to any situation, creating loads of backstories and memories and things, so that was the big kind of preparation. But then of course there was all the other preparation like learning how to work on a farm, which we had to do. We made the whole thing on a working farm- we had to film it around milking times, because twice a day cows have to be milked whatever happens, even on Christmas day! So we did a lot of work there as well, in learning from the farmers how to milk and do all that stuff.
One of the scenes that kind of stuck with me was when Clover goes to see her brother’s body for the first time after his death. Are scenes like that quite emotionally draining to film?
It was totally emotional draining. It’s a weird thing as an actor, in pursuing these roles that are gonna make you feel really, pretty kind of shaken [to] the core when it’s something that’s really emotionally demanding. We had a really lovely set so Hope, who was the director and writer, she created a really calm, welcoming atmosphere on set so all this big stuff felt very safe and very controllable, but we did do things within that structure which allowed for moments of, I suppose, reality or truthfulness to come through. For example in that scene where Clover is encountering Harry’s body, I didn’t see what was underneath the sheet, Hope and I would often create a system where she would play tricks on me and wouldn’t show me things so that I would see them for the first time on camera. So in that scene when she sees his body for the first time, I didn’t know what was going to be in that room and I didn’t know what was going to be under that sheet. Our make-up designer had done all of this stuff on him that I was going to see and respond to in real time, so I think that was important to us, to sort of catch those moments of reality and discovery.
Speaking of Hope, this is her debut in a major directing role. How was that for you as an actor?
So I think, every director is different. They all have different styles and different ways of working but with Hope I was really surprised to find this was her first feature, because she’s got this real calm authority. Often when you work with people who are making their first film they’re like freaking out, they’re going “Is this going to work? Are we going to do this right?” They’re trying to control loads, whereas Hope was very open and very welcoming, and I think that’s partly because she had a fair bit of time between making her shorts and making her first feature because she had kids. And because of the world we live in, it’s quite difficult for women who have children to carry on making it in the film industry. But in Hope’s case I think it kind of doubly reminded her why she had to do this, she came into it with a real confidence and a real grounded-ness, which I could feel instantly so it was great to work with her, and she was very collaborative in the way that she worked. She knew what she wanted, but as the writer/director, she had so much control over the story that she could permit others to come in and give their own take on it.
How does making a film compare to working on a TV programme?
Great question! So a lot of the experience of filmmaking I’ve had has been on indie films, and a lot of the time they are really short shoots, so in The Levelling, we did it in four weeks, which is really short for a film which is an hour and 23 minutes long. So, that was intense! It was really fast paced, we got two or three takes for everything, the crew become really close-knit because you’re all in this place for four weeks, and we were living in this mad holiday village at the time we were doing that. I would have everyone over for dinner at the end of the week, we had this little family atmosphere, which was lovely. So on indie films it’s really fast and you all have to get really close really quickly to make sure that you create this project, whereas with TV it’s very different often the filming is more sporadic so you’ll go in and out on different days and you’ll have maybe more absences in between your shoot days as an actor, and also of course it’s more of a moveable feast, you’ve got directors coming in and out so there’s less sense of ownership or serving one vision on TV. So that was why it was really exciting to work on The Levelling, because it was so about making Hope’s film and she was so clear how she wanted it to be that we all got behind it and became and gang which is lovely.
And so off-screen, what does Ellie Hendrick do when she’s not working?
Well my day to day life changes quite a lot, but as an actor you do get these times when you’ve been working really intensely and suddenly you’re not, so I love to fill that time with cooking – I’m an obsessive cook, like I get really nerdy about making it perfect. I write as well, so I spend a lot of my day doing that. I really enjoy the potential that free time gives you; I’ll just buy a load of books and be like ‘Okay, in this period I’m going to try and learn as much as I can about like, quantum mechanics’ or, you know, the history of the way in which gender has been perceived. You can become sort of a mini, short-term, expert on something if you read up on it. So I like to cook, I like to read a lot, I like to write, and then I go and see friends and go to the theatre. I go to the theatre a lot, probably every week, because I think it’s important to keep seeing the new stuff that’s getting made. Often in theatre that’s when the kind of experimental stuff happens.
You mentioned writing, what kind of writing do you do?
I’m getting into writing for theatre and TV, which is a totally different world, it’s all like early days at the moment but I’m working with different production companies with some ideas. I sort of trained as a writer, at the Royal Court Theatre, so I’ve done a few writing programmes there.
(LEFT) Dress MCQ
(RIGHT) Coat GIVENCHY BY RICCARDO TISCI
One thing we don’t see you writing is Tweets and the like – perfect segue here right? Why is it important to steer clear of social media?
It’s a really good question, and the answer’s manyfold. Firstly, I get really distracted – really easily – so that pragmatic reason is if I was on social media, I would never get anything done! Also FOMO and you know, thinking “Oh my god, why am I not doing that thing?” Secondly, I think, as an actor, you have to navigate the line between personal and professional really carefully, and I don’t trust myself enough to continually say exactly the right thing and do exactly the right thing and not slip up. There’s this culture of constant nervousness which I sometimes sense with social media of being sure that you have to say exactly the right thing otherwise a million people that you’ve never met are going to jump down your throat, and that terrifies me because I’m someone that, I talk faster than I think, so I could so easily end up causing a Twitter chaos hurricane by saying something I didn’t necessarily mean!
Fair enough. You’re on one of arguably the biggest TV shows today, Game of Thrones. What can you tell us about the upcoming seventh season?
Look, I’m afraid I can’t, I wish I could tell you all the things, but actually, there are very few things that I do know because they often keep the scripts completely separate, so I haven’t seen what’s happening in other story lines for example. I can tell you that I’m in it, there’s been a photo release so I’m in it and I’m pulling Bran on that sled again! Past that I’m afraid that viewers will have to wait and watch!
The show always seems to be so intense in regards to its secrecy!
I always get really nervous, like right now I’m nervous I could say the wrong thing! That’s another reason why, with Twitter and Instagram, it’s good for me to stay back because I’d end up like accidentally breaking some secret that I had no idea I’m supposed to keep, so yes, I do get a bit nervous, but I think that’s part of the fun of it. That’s why we watch TV because we want to find out what happens, so that’s a part of the joy of the thing.
There are only a couple of seasons left right? How do you think you’ll find it after the show’s wrapped?
It was really lucky in that I realised I’d got that role right after I finished finals at university, so I was still kind of re-adjusting to life. Ever since I’ve been in London and out of university, it’s been this thing which has happened almost every year and I’ve sort of grown up in my 20s having that as part of it. So it’ll be funny not to have that around any more, but there’s been lots of other exciting stuff that’s been happening so it’ll be good to explore what’s next. That’s the weird thing about being an actor, you never know what’s going to be around the corner, you never know whether you’re going to have to move to Venezuela for five months and shoot a gore horror film, or whether you’re going be sitting at home cooking Ottolengi three course meals for your mates, and I love that unpredictability because I get bored really quickly, I’m kind of addicted to change and pushing myself into unfamiliar situations, or situations that make me feel bewildered or scared or interested, so for me, the continually changing nature is really exciting.
So talk us through some of your upcoming projects.
[I have] another film that’s coming out at the moment, Whiskey Galore! That’s a completely different film set in the 1940s on a remote Scottish island. It really happened – there was a shipwreck of a ship containing I think maybe 40,000 cases of whisky and it gets found, and the islanders try and hide it, and then the mainlanders come and try and get it from them; that’s got Eddie Izzard and James Cosmo and Gregor Fisher in it! I also work with a charity called Arts Emergency which is really cool, so when I’m not working as an actor or writer, I’m doing that.
‘The Levelling is out now. www.levelling-film.com’