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« Say What? Moses | Main | A Year with Kate: A Bill of Divorcement (1932) »
Wednesday
Jan012014

Interview: Sally Hawkins on Cate Blanchett, Woody Allen, and Godzilla

One of the most delightful surprises of the season was the Golden Globe Supporting Actress nomination for Sally Hawkins in Woody Allen's latest hit Blue Jasmine. While Cate Blanchett rages through the movie like a force of nature as Jasmine (née Jeanette) and has won dozens of prizes, Hawkins has the less showy but difficult task of keeping the movie grounded and the mood breezy while navigating her screen sister's stormiest weathers. Blue Jasmine, which comes to DVD and BluRay on January 21st, is yet another reminder, that Hawkins is one of the stealth MVPs of current cinema.

Sally and I had spoken once before (at length) during the Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) press tour and getting reacquainted was unusually good fun; I've rarely laughed so much during an interview. To give you a sense of the easy rapport and how delightful Sally is in person, I've included a little audio segment of my favorite bit of our conversation, when we were talking about her key directors: Woody Allen (2 films together) or Mike Leigh (3 films together) again. 

Nathaniel: So anyway… Blue Jasmine. When I first saw it I thought ‘this is good’ But then it just wouldn't leave my head. So it’s moved up in my estimation.

SALLY HAWKINS: Those films that sit and resonate with you, that you keep thinking about, are really interesting.

Do you experience that when you're reading a script? Or is that something you don’t discover until you’re on set. Like ‘oh, this one is going to be good.’ [more...]

SALLY HAWKINS: I don't know if you ever know if it’s going to be good or what the film will be like. In terms of this, I mean, it's Woody Allen. So I knew it would be special. I didn’t need to read the script to say yes. 

Nathaniel: Oh you hadn’t read it at first?

No.  Actually that’s how it worked. I went in for the interview, and the audition, callback. I got the part and then you get sent the script. It made me cry when I first read it. I would do anything for Woody.

He’s famous for not saying much to his actors on set. But this is your second film with him. Did he give you any background for your audition? Like ‘Well, Sally, it’s sort of a riff on A Streetcar Named Desire

No, no. He didn't mention Streetcar. He didn’t say anything.  You just get a scene and he goes away for 10 minutes while you prep. He watches you read and hears you. I came back the following week and read a bit more, a few more scenes. He didn’t ever say much. He gave a brief outline of who Ginger was – a bit but not much. I think he doesn’t want to put any judgment on it before you read it. He wants you to take what you take from it. I think he wants you to be it. If you're right you're right and if you're not you're not.

Okay.

He gave a brief outline when I went back of the dynamic with Jasmine and that I'd be her sister and they’re adopted sisters. That in itself got me interested.

Working with Cate and with that outline. It seems like it would be a playground for actresses.

Oh yeah.

Nathaniel: So many things you could do with it in terms of their history that's not really in the movie. Did you and Cate spitball ideas or…

SALLY HAWKINS: Yeah, we did. I wanted to get to the States as soon as I could to immerse myself in the accent and culture. Lucky I was in New York and Suzy [Suzy Bezinger], the phenomenal genius costume designer, was prepping early herself for the wardrobe. Cate was onstage at the time in Uncle Vanya at City Theater. That was the first time I saw Cate. I'm lucky that Cate is who she is, and the type of person and actor she is, that she wanted to spend that time as much as I did, talking and unravelling the script with me. It’s key. It’s fundamental to the film and if it’s not right….

Right.

Just to create a richness, to start talking about their relationship, where they started off, and putting the layers on it. It was key for me in that it gave me images of the childhood home, why Ginger felt that she was not the favorite, stuff that is just alluded to in the script but very much there. Thinking about the dynamic of when they were growing up and with the mother figure.

But Woody…

...he wasn’t… 

[At this point in the conversation Sally and I exchange looks -- are we going to talk about this? -- and if I tell you that it was the only bit of telepathy I've ever experienced in an interview, I hope that you'll believe me. We both began laughing simultaneously and though the sentences weren't finishing, we were definitely on the same page]

...No, he was probably editing his last film!!!

He works so fast.

And I love that. He has no time in that way. He’s so cool in that way. He’s constantly moving forward. He's done that, he's moving on, trying something else, putting another world up there on the screen.

Nathaniel: Let's talk about your scenes with Jasmine. It's really kind of a bruising relationship for Ginger. She seems like she is willfully ignoring all these things about the relationship that are damaging her. Was that hard to do, emotionally?

SALLY HAWKINS: No, I think it's interesting. Everyone is complex and family dynamics are complex. There are so many unresolved issues between them. When we meet them in the film, it's like they pick up from where they left off, but things were never properly resolved -- years before with the financial situation but, also, years before that in terms of their childhood. It starts always there, doesn’t it?

That's true.

You never quite know why certain things are the way they are. You fall into certain rhythms with family members. When you have complex beings and dynamics on film, it’s a challenge to grab hold of that and be asked to do that. So, yeah, You never know if it's going to work but you want to give it a good go [Laughter]. It is overwhelming, though. You’ve got Cate Blanchett, one of the greatest screen actors there is, and beyond that Woody Allen. You just want to make it as real and as rich as possible.

One thing I really like about your work is that it always feels like you’re in the scene with the other person, whereas some actors showboat.

Oh, thank you thank you.

Like, for example, your husband in Made in Dagenham...

The lovely Danny Mays.

That relationship felt very lived-in to me.

Well, he’s another Mike Leigh actor.

Sally with Daniel Mays in "Made in Dagenham"

Nathaniel: I know you didn't have six months rehearsal like you do on Leigh movies with that movie or Blue Jasmine but I’m wondering about these relationship dynamics. Are you just intuitive about that, in terms of chemistry, or...

SALLY HAWKINS: It’s a lovely compliment. I don’t know... The nature of films, sometimes you have more time sometimes you have less time. You have to -- there has to be something that feels real to you to hang on and connect to. You can only be as good as the people you're with. For me, film and stories are the relationships. The actors I love are the ones that feel real. You see the person and the character. You understand the stories behind the eyes.

But I’ve been really lucky with the people I’ve worked with as well.

As you say 'you’re only as good as the people you work with'. Soooo, what if you work with someone who’s not very good?

Well.... touch wood [Laughter]

You’re going to be in Godzilla next

I just filmed Godzilla in the summer. I was lucky enough to be beside Ken Watanabe, another great, [looks up, making prayer gesture] 'Thank you!'  

Sally in the Godzilla teaserBut you have scenes with Godzilla, right? Green screen.

I had one moment where I think I saw him through a window, his eye or the back of his head, maybe?

You had to picture something large and monstrous.

I had to do a whole preparation...

...really dig into your character's history [Laughter]

Godzilla, actually, he was good. I have to say that. Even though it was a green screen, he was good.

His performance was spot on!

Yeah, there's only one star in that film [Laughter]

With people like Mike Leigh and Woody Allen who do use the same actors a lot, do they -- do you get any sense whether you're going to be used again when a movie is over? 

You don’t really. Maybe I think -- maybe because they don’t know what they’re going to do next. And the way they work.

So Woody’s not like 'See you next year, Sally!'

NO! [Laughter]. That would be lovely. I would be 'HERE, SIGN THIS!' 

I wish that would happen. In one parallel world and dimension I’m sure it does. Mike's the same. He never knows. He starts the film not really knowing what he's going to do and whether he’s going to really use actors a lot. I think that's probably the only way to work. It’s always changing and you never know what’s going to happen.

Do you think the size of your Blue Jasmine part is going to spoil you? Sometimes you’re in these tiny little parts and I’m like “That’s ALL I get ?!?”

Bless you. You're so lovely. I'm going to have my agent talk to you. [Laughter]  I never see it in terms of big or small. I know that’s a cliché but I don’t. If I really like the script or the director or if it’s a role you think you can do something with, even if it’s just a few scenes.

Nathaniel: I have a What If scenario for you, Sally. What if you win the Golden Globe again? Do you think you'd be more composed this time?

SALLY HAWKINS: No! I mean to be in that position. It's a magical place to be. You've got all those people looking you in that room. It doesn’t get more overwhelming than that. I'd probably be worse. I hope not. I hope I'm a little more together. I'd broken my collarbone at the time. My arm was coming in and out of the sling. I didn’t know -- that was a dream. I'm not quite sure it happened.

Oh, it really did!

It’s there on YouTube so I know it happened.

Can't you just STRUT in this time, like 'I've worked with Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen!'?

No, no. If I do, smack me. [Laughter]

previous interviews | more on Blue Jasmine

 

Hawkins on future projects with Woody Allen

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Reader Comments (20)

Oh Nathaniel you are so lucky - and Sally comes across as such a delightful person.

Fingers crossed she gets an Oscar nom for Blue Jasmine. Sure Cate steals the movie but sometimes the Academy does recognise the non-flashy performances that are essential to a film. And IMO - Sally's American accent is better than Cates. (Blasphemy I know).

A nomination for Sally is the right thing to happen. A lovely actress and an oscar worthy performance... again.

January 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

I thought Hawkins was perfect as Ginger. One of the best perfs of the year imo. Actually, I thought almost everyone in that film was cast brilliantly. Only one I really didn't like was the diplomat, so much so I've blocked the actors name.

January 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I love Emma Thompson genuinely offering to help Sally Hawkins. I cannot wait for an awards season filled with Emma.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

for an second there i thought you were suggesting her made in dagenham husband was a showboat; that would've been awkward...

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

She seems really sweet and candid.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I want to watch Happy Go Lucky again right now!!

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

There are some other people I'd like to see nominated in supporting actress, but she'd be very deserving. I thought she was perfect in Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett had the showy performance and was amazing, but Sally, as you said, really grounded the film and did such a great job.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Oh my god I. LOVE. HER!

Meantime, I'm a little bit disappointed how nearly all of my favourite (read: snobbier) critics have more or less dismissed Blue Jasmine come year-end lists. I'm with the plebs on this one. (Insofar as everyone I speak to in real life is still gushing over it.) Admittedly I still have a lot left to see (12 Years, Llewyn, Her), but it's not likely to budge from my Top 5. A Woody Allen film hasn't overwhelmed in this way since Husbands and Wives. And few things in general are more overwhelming to me than a great Woody Allen movie.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Aww, that was lovely, Nathaniel. I'm so happy for you, and for the wonderful Sally as well. I've been thinking about her a bit lately, especially about Poppy; it's a performance that will stay with me for a long time, I think, and I feel warm and comforted just thinking about it.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

Sally's American accent is better than Cates.

Blasphemy. ;-) Cate is doing an excellent imitation of Lauren Bacall ca. 1968 and while that's not a "typical" accent, it's a pretty smart choice for a New York socialite like Jasmine.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

What a way to start 2014! I adore Sally in general and in Blue Jasmine in particular. I think she's the best thing in it. I wish Woody would slow down, at least in pre-production. More rehearsals and a few re-writings and Blue Jasmine wouldn't be that uneven.

Love that you mentioned Daniel Mays, a great actor no one seems to discuss anywhere. Watch him in Vera Drake if you don't believe me.

I really need to get used to the idea that I'll have to sit through Godzilla this year. I mean Sally + Binoche...

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

She's adorable! I'm still debating whether I'd put Blue Jasmine in my top ten of the year, but her performance is definitely one of the year's best. I still get sad thinking about how she lost out on a nomination the first time around, it seems even less likely this year but she's so deserving. I'd love for her to sneak in there.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I thought Blanchett's accent in Blue Jasmine was very high-end, self-consciously posh American. She's hinted that in interviews.

Sally, on the other hand, sounded very typically American.

More proof that the two ladies did their homework in that pre-shooting period where they got together and extensively exchanged ideas about their characters and background stories.

They couldn't have made the sisters more different, could they? And they really are extremely different, they are neither biologically linked, nor did they spend much time together as Ginger fled from home, after that they were geographically and socially in completely different spheres.

My sister and I have different accents, yet we are biologically connected and grew up together.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

If Jeff Bridges can push Maggie Gyllenhaal in, Cate will manage to bring Sally along. At least I'm hoping.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

Yay for the mention of MADE IN DAGENHAM. Also, I would LOVE to see Sally and Emma Thompson in another movie together as co-leads. She's adorable.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Great interview! I adore Sally Hawkins and hope that 'Blue Jasmine' opens up more doors for her. Her performance in 'Happy-Go-Lucky' is one of my all-time favorites.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Cate's American accent very much sounded like Judy Davis' American accent.

Anyway, #JusticeforPoppy

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

She plays a great part in Blue Jasmine and she seems to be such a nice person. Really deserves a nomination for the Oscars. Personally, I even think she is way better than Oprah in The Butler. I loved she is now a double GG nominee.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndres F.

Great job!!!! My biggest Oscar wish this year is a Sally nomination... I'd even trade it for a Cate win... She's the best and her work in Blue Jasmine is so deserving....

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBraz

Aaaaaah I love her I love her I love her. The performance in Blue Jasmine was tops. It would have been easy for a lesser actress to be felled by the tidal wave of Blanchett but she was such a perfect counterpoint and a vivid, lovely presence.

CMG I squealed aloud at your hashtag. #JusticeForPoppy, indeed!

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

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