So, here’s some good news for the culture-starved. Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – the playwright’s hilarious and heartbreaking monologues from the ’80s and ’90s (and stalwarts of A Level and GSCE exam papers) – are returning to BBC primetime. Remade in the middle of lockdown with a new, all-star lineup, they will land on iPlayer on 23 June before being rolled out piecemeal on BBC One in the coming weeks. With socially-distanced crews and actors doing their own hair and make-up (monologues are the ideal Covid set-up, aren’t they?), 10 of Bennett’s seminal dozen were re-filmed last month with the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas, Harriet Walter, Lucian Msamati, Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton. (He has even penned two new instalments for Sarah Lancashire and Monica Dolan.)
Naturally, we have a Zoom to talk everything from Bennett to what she’s planning to wear to the socially-distanced TV BAFTAs next month. Dialling in ahead of her daily pilates session (remote, naturally), the 27-year-old is at home and in good spirits, with her shaken out hair at maximum volume, to say nothing of some excellent minimalist athleisurewear.
So, first things first. Did you actually have to do your own make-up?
“Yes! It was fun actually. We tried to make sure it had the ’80s feel while being a little more stripped back. I was a bit worried, as sometimes when you’re getting your last hair and make-up checks on set, that’s your little quiet minute to get in the zone. So I was worried that doing it myself, being self-conscious in that way – making sure I looked okay – would be a bit distracting for getting into character. But I made it all part of Lesley. We did a smoky eye.”
Is it true you only had three weeks to learn it all?
“It all happened very quickly, which means I couldn’t overthink it too much at least. I got the email from my agent and within a few days me and Josie were rehearsing on Skype in the mornings. Then we shot it in a day and there was only one person on set with me at any given time. It was completely silent apart from me talking. All day down the barrel of the lens.”
Are you good at learning lines?
“Well, I like to think I generally am [laughs]. But with a text that big it’s so much more difficult.”
Forty minutes of non-stop, very precise script delivery. Ouch…
“The challenge was we shot every scene in just one take. If ever I fluffed a line, I had to take a deep breath and go back to the beginning.”
What was the most number of takes you had to do?
“Scene three, when she’s waiting to go on set. It was four or five-o-clock in the afternoon by that point.”
Three takes? Five?
“[Laughing] Definitely more like that, yes. Just missing a word! The crew were very patient.”
Has it made you want to do theatre?
“I would love to do theatre! It terrifies me, the thought of it. Because I haven’t been to drama school – though of course I have my process – I’ve always thought I was lacking a little bit in detail. But working with Josie was incredible. We ripped the script apart and she helped me bring to life so many things beyond the page.”
So when might we see you on stage?
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone for so many theatre auditions [in the past] and been told that I’m not experienced enough. I wouldn’t say it was malicious, but maybe there was a little bit of a snobbery there. And the insecurity with me is that I’m not theatre trained. I’ve always been waiting for the perfect moment. I actually got sent an amazing play which I’m probably not allowed to talk about…”
Did you call Alan Bennett before you took on Lesley?
“I didn’t. I was too nervous. Josie spoke to him and said, ‘He said if you want to call him and ask him any questions, he’s happy to do that.’ But I was so terrified to do it justice and said I wouldn’t because of nerves. But I definitely would love to now. Once they’ve been out and he’s seen them, I would love to ring him and say thank you for trusting me.”
It is laugh-out-loud funny. What line from it makes you giggle most?
“There are so many good bits. It’s all the mundane little parts that make me really laugh. I love the bit where she just goes: ‘When the phone went telling me I got the part I assumed it was Simon, so I said, ‘Hello Simon!’ He said: ‘Try Nigel.’ So I said, ‘Well Nigel….’”
And the line that breaks your heart?
“Whenever I get to the last paragraph and she just says: ‘Acting is giving.’ I always want to cry. That final paragraph is so emotional for me.”
What has lockdown meant for the next series of Killing Eve?
“They were planning to go on time, but with everything shut down you can’t do location scouting and things like that, so everything is very much up in the air. I was halfway through The Last Duel, and we don’t have very much left on that.”
How’s the quiet life?
“Yeah, it’s good. I’m up in Liverpool. Obviously I’m itching to get back to some sort of normal. Now when I have to leave the house for something it feels like the biggest thing ever. I’ve been watching a lot of telly.”
“Ozark, each season gets stronger and stronger. It’s incredible how they continue to keep raising the bar.”
Noted. And congratulations on the third BAFTA nomination for Killing Eve next month. How do you think the socially-distanced ceremony is going to work?
“I guess like this… on a Zoom! [Laughs] And what’s the dress code?”
Have they given any guidance?
“Not yet. But it might be quite nice. I might just do a flashy top and wear my pyjamas on the bottom. That way I can say I wore my pyjamas to the BAFTAs.”
Talking Heads will be available on BBC iPlayer from 23 June and Jodie’s monologue, Her Last Chance, will air on BBC One on 29 June at 8:45pm