Lesley Manville tells me about her new film, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, which is much more heartfelt. It's nice to do a film that's a crowd-pleaser.
The audience is enthralled by Mrs. Harris and her Dior Dream right from the start. And so was Manville. I loved her fighting spirit, as the actor remarks. She's really pushing forward and striving to make the best of her life. As Manville, 66, states, the feel-good film is an ideal remedy for the past two years we've had to endure as a group.
Manville got her start on television in 1974, portraying Rosemary Kendall on the long-running British soap Emmerdale Farm (now just Emmerdale). She honed her craft in plays such as Caryl Churchill's Top Girls and Shakespeare's As You Like It. In recent years, she has become a household name in film and television, particularly for her performance opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in the period drama Phantom Thread.
Manville is excited to announce her next big project, which includes a series of BBC Ones Sherwood, which has been released. In November, shell makes her big-screen debut in Netflixs The Crown, portraying Princess Margaret, a role previously led by Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter. You can tell by the experience that the whole thing is a centre of excellence.
Manville contemplates whether or not she felt any obligation in portraying a real-life public figure before returning to film for the final series. It's not a documentary, according to the actor. At the end of the day, what we're doing is a drama, not a documentary. I read many books about her, and it sort of sunk in by osmosis.
Manville, a mum-of-one, has always enjoyed spending time with her family away from the screen. In 1989, she married fellow actor Gary Oldman, who then married Uma Thurman, who she later married later that year.
Manville discusses her faith in her slow-burning career, the ups and downs of dating life, and finding her voice.
Bring me back to 1984, where were you born?
I was living in a house in Chiswick, London, where I was really having a great time working with brilliant directors and writers. For much of that decade, I was in the fortunate position of doing a lot of work at the Royal Court Theatre in London, as well as doing a little TV here and there.
At what age were you concerned about love and relationships?
I was flitting around, doing what 20-somethings do. You're hopping from one to the other, and thinking, Is this person right? [Laughs] It wasn't long after that [my 28th year] that I met the guy that I married [actor Gary Oldman].
Mrs. Harris has great dreams of going to Paris and purchasing herself a Dior dress. What was your greatest fantasies back then?
I knew I wanted to raise children, and I imagined that this would be a life-long friendship with somebody. I also wanted to have a great career, but not in a terrible, overburdened manner. I just wanted to continue doing the work I was doing. There were so many plays I wanted to do and companies I wanted to work for, and a lot of them came to fruition.
I certainly did not desire to be rewarded with 15 minutes of fame. I appreciated that my career, even then, was a temporary one. That's the best way for it to be. Let your success come slowly, because you've earned it.
In 1985, you were the first person listed in the film Dance With A Stranger. At the age of 28, were you considering making a name for yourself on the big screen?
Im grateful for my career at the time, but in hindsight, I'm even more grateful for it. Comparing it to what young actors go through today, I'm not enthused.
Do you feel like you are emotionally fulfilled?
Im not sure. I wasnt unfulfilled, lets put it that way, and I wasnt harmed, thankfully. Ive always been a rational and clear-sighted person. Yes, I went through the painful experiences of break-ups and other similar situations, but I eventually recovered.
What was your greatest challenge at the age of 28?
I had a lot of money earning from television, so I had my own house to live. The problem was, I suppose, that I had to make sure I had enough money to pay the mortgage. I've always been grateful that I had the chance. At that point, men were the only problems in my life that I've had, and if I'd had the ability to deal with them now, I'd have gotten rid of them.
In 1984, what social issues were you a campaigning for?
Sherwood is a television series focusing on people who were involved in the 1984 miners strike. I was invited, through the Royal Court Theatre, to interview a pro-strike group called the Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures. I also went on the picket line, which was scary. I didnt like it very much.
The Royal Court Theatre is famous for being left-field, so a lot of my work was politicised. I didnt go to university at the time and, at first, I felt out of my depth there. I didnt believe that, intellectually, I was up to the standards of the people around me. But in a way, my time at the Royal Court was very enriching and felt like my education.
What was your favorite song from your 28th year?
Always a lot of Motown, it's been a constant. And I remember singing along to Kate Bush a lot. And if I needed a good cry, I'd stick to a bit of Barbra Streisand.
What advice would you give your 28-year-old self?
Don't allow yourself to be chuffed with so much crap from boyfriends. I had forgotten how to slam my own ego with boyfriends [then] to say: Enough. Youre out!
I grew up in a loving household, but I couldnt say that my mother was a feminist by any stretch of the imagination. I didnt grow up in a society where women were taught to appreciate that their voice was important and that they didnt have to endure anything. I had to learn that very slowly.
This article was first published on July 18, 2022.