RT Interview: Golden Globe Winner Sally Hawkins

The Happy-Go-Lucky star on Mike Leigh, acting, and her controversially-upbeat character, Poppy.

by | February 3, 2009 | Comments

Sally Hawkins Jordan Strauss/WireImage.com

After winning Best Actress from the Berlin Film Festival, the Golden Globes, and a score of critics’ circles for her ebullient performance in Mike Leigh‘s Happy-Go-Lucky, actress Sally Hawkins seemed a lock for an Oscar nomination — or in the least, a BAFTA nod. Instead, in this awards season’s most shocking oversight, the crowd-pleasing comedy only won Leigh an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Somebody call the Oscar police: Sally Hawkins has been robbed.

Before the Academy overlooked one of the most memorable characters and vibrant performances of 2008, Rotten Tomatoes met Hawkins in Los Angeles to discuss her role in the critically-acclaimed Happy-Go-Lucky. A broken collarbone had prevented Hawkins from her original press tour, but on the mend she had returned riding a new wave of awards season buzz; the excitement was palpable, and Hawkins — like her eternally-optimistic character, Poppy — was a bundle of positivity, thrilled just to learn that their film had gone Certified Fresh (it sits currently at 93 percent, among the best-reviewed films of the year).

Below, Sally Hawkins describes working with Mike Leigh (“creating characters out of thin air”), whose Best Screenplay Nomination surely belongs in some part to the devoted cast with whom he spent months developing characters and story.  This being Hawkins’ third Leigh film, the actress has keen insights on Leigh’s infamously focused filmmaking process (“he’s almost like a doctor…dissecting different worlds”) and volunteers that even his abortion-themed Vera Drake (in which Hawkins and Happy-Go-Lucky’s Eddie Marsan also appeared) would seem to the auteur a delicate mixture of drama and comedy.  Finally, Hawkins pays respects to the real-life Poppys of the world, teachers to us all.


Happy-Go-Lucky is such an effervescent movie…

Sally Hawkins: It’s a lovely movie, I’m really proud of it. To think back to where it began, because it started from nothing…the way Mike [Leigh] works, every film he sort of starts from nothing and doesn’t have a script, or characters. You don’t have a character. You’re working in collaboration with him and creating characters together, out of thin air. It’s quite magical.

How does that process work? Does he start with an idea for a character first?

SH: No, he doesn’t know where he’s going to end up, or what it’s going to be about, or the journey that’s going to unfold. It’s both incredibly exciting and terrifying, because you just don’t know. He leaves it up to the gods, really. I don’t know how he does it; he’s extraordinary in that way, an extraordinary brain. Pulling all these different threads together to create a story, and an entertaining one, and an incredibly real, rich world.  He’s honed his process for over 20 years now and refined it. He’s interested in creating very real characters and going into their world, and exploring their world, and their minds, and what makes them tick. That’s probably why he’s developed the process that he’s developed.

He has described it as “investigating.”

SH: Yes, it is! Exploring. He’s almost like a doctor in some ways; he’s sort of dissecting different worlds and putting them up on the screen for everyone to see. He’s interested in unraveling; pulling a thread and seeing what happens.

Next: On comedy in Vera Drake, and Hawkins on Oscar-nominated writer-director Leigh


Some were surprised that Mike Leigh was making such a departure from his previous work, films that are much heavier.

SH: When you speak to Mike about that, he’ll say, “All my films have a degree of comedy in them, and all my films have a degree of tragedy.” And that can be said for Happy-Go-Lucky as well. It’s not just up there, it’s about many different things — there are quite serious notes and serious subject matters. Because of the nature of Poppy and her energy, it sort of leans more towards positivity. Capturing that energy and that essence and that bubble…he’ll say that even in Vera Drake there are moments of comedy! Usually when Eddie Marsan’s involved. There’s the beautiful moment that’s both incredibly poignant and also incredibly funny at the same time in Vera Drake with Eddie; he’s very good at doing that dual aspect sort of thing. Happy-Go-Lucky is more of a comedy than of late, for Mike. But he’ll say that all of his films are funny and tragic.

Considering that much of the script and characters was improvised and workshopped by the cast, do you see a lot of Mike Leigh’s impact in this movie?

SH: You do, and I don’t think you can work with Mike and not. He demands so much of his actors. He demands you to sort of explore places that you wouldn’t necessarily explore — he’s sort of tapping into your brain as it were. Because you’re with it for such a long period of time, you invest so much in it. It becomes even more of a personal journey than it perhaps would with other films, because you’re attached for so long. You are asked to invest so much, and you do give so much. Mike, being who he is, puts his heart and soul into all of his films. Hearing him speak about this film in particular, he’ll say that this is quite important for him. I think each film he does is important, but this film is for him about so many different things, and ultimately about love, and what he thinks about love, which is rather lovely. [Laughs] It’s quite beautiful in that way.


Is Poppy a character that Mike saw in you, and drew out during the film’s development? And do you think people like Poppy really exist?

SH: I would love to hope so, and I think they do. I think there are aspects of Poppy that exist in people. I certainly know people who have a similar outlook on life, and a similar energy. I think there are definitely people just getting on with life and dealing with it, especially teachers; because of the nature of their work, they have to. Dealing with kids. Good teachers. If they’re not dealing with life and dealing with kids in a good way, and in an upbeat, positive way, and being inspiring and creative and open, then they’re not being good teachers and they’re not doing their job.

Going back to the question of what Mike saw — I think she’s definitely a character and she’s definitely different from me, but there are different aspects of yourself that you stretch, and there are some that you repress. For each role that you do, you kind of go, “That’s quite like me, and I have no idea how I will be able to do that, but I suppose that’s quite like how I do this, and perhaps if I stretch that part of myself…” And sometimes you just have to take the leap. I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I’m just going to close my eyes and jump and hope for the best! With Poppy, there were certain elements that were easy, and certain things that I learned from her. I think she’s an extraordinary person. Although she’s up there, she’s incredibly grounded as well, which is what I love about her. She’s got a great integrity, and humanity.

Read more on Happy-Go-Lucky here.

Tag Cloud

Masterpiece Tumblr WGN President dramedy crossover cinemax ESPN Freeform CW Seed Rocky miniseries Action Toys Food Network werewolf Valentine's Day PBS 007 Sundance Now halloween political drama slashers Dark Horse Comics quibi Lionsgate Film Festival E! Winter TV Mudbound DirecTV Awards Tour children's TV Sci-Fi Polls and Games 20th Century Fox zero dark thirty The CW south america Awards TCM batman comiccon Oscars Martial Arts Horror BBC America Mindy Kaling Film streaming Showtime See It Skip It romance TIFF Reality Competition Box Office TNT Classic Film Cosplay spider-man Nickelodeon renewed TV shows Writers Guild of America 2016 spy thriller ITV MTV directors joker Arrowverse Netflix Elton John sequel Vudu New York Comic Con blaxploitation Lifetime screen actors guild TCA Turner Classic Movies Music theme song green book canceled TV shows YouTube Country Fantasy travel adaptation Hallmark Christmas movies OneApp historical drama IFC politics Calendar revenge doctor who TLC Disney streaming service First Look Kids & Family San Diego Comic-Con RT21 ABC Family Rocketman USA nature IFC Films CNN Pirates VH1 romantic comedy Discovery Channel cooking sitcom CBS E3 Universal science fiction canceled DC streaming service Disney+ Disney Plus Best and Worst Holidays indie television Biopics war Epix versus Apple breaking bad Pixar name the review finale YouTube Red Spike BBC Syfy spain Stephen King Trophy Talk Esquire Ghostbusters Pop hispanic GIFs 2017 cancelled TV shows toy story WarnerMedia Tomatazos Thanksgiving Comic Book Musicals witnail A24 cancelled TV series Logo Starz disaster Superheroes Marathons Certified Fresh 24 frames SundanceTV GLAAD crime Reality sag awards Chernobyl Marvel Television game show Emmy Nominations CBS All Access Interview TBS cars CMT Amazon Prime Video richard e. Grant zombie Grammys dceu Marvel 2015 mockumentary Superheroe Song of Ice and Fire Star Trek Summer The Witch award winner Creative Arts Emmys Podcast APB anime psycho Election binge Women's History Month Disney Channel Sundance period drama SDCC TCA Winter 2020 Walt Disney Pictures crime thriller natural history composers cancelled television Video Games crime drama Peacock Crackle screenings strong female leads supernatural dc Musical American Society of Cinematographers thriller Paramount Network Holiday Columbia Pictures National Geographic Opinion Captain marvel Television Academy social media hist Shudder facebook Mary Tyler Moore 2020 Pet Sematary DC Comics OWN biography Sundance TV foreign Mary Poppins Returns Infographic Animation Marvel Studios medical drama 71st Emmy Awards singing competition vampires serial killer Cannes Watching Series discovery Sony Pictures PaleyFest diversity Cartoon Network Amazon Prime game of thrones harry potter stand-up comedy aliens The Walking Dead NBC ghosts golden globes rotten movies we love Acorn TV reboot Schedule cults Black Mirror LGBT Fall TV festivals Disney Plus christmas movies Shondaland cats Apple TV+ Teen MSNBC casting cops Character Guide Brie Larson Hulu Year in Review TCA 2017 based on movie Crunchyroll animated Ellie Kemper USA Network Quiz justice league Photos RT History TV Land zombies LGBTQ YA police drama Extras Tarantino true crime Avengers independent A&E movies docudrama cancelled Chilling Adventures of Sabrina NYCC series Disney SXSW Rock transformers cartoon Rom-Com BET GoT Endgame adventure Premiere Dates Apple TV Plus Family History Bravo Turner Trailer DGA comic FOX DC Universe Countdown El Rey space blockbuster dragons sports free movies TV 2019 Red Carpet Nat Geo 21st Century Fox X-Men spinoff comics Warner Bros. Spectrum Originals Drama TruTV Western Adult Swim ratings Winners Amazon mutant Ovation Heroines ABC Mary poppins video robots Netflix Christmas movies what to watch YouTube Premium Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tubi boxoffice Binge Guide 2018 HBO Max 45 talk show Fox News psychological thriller anthology Paramount The Purge First Reviews Anna Paquin kids book MCU Lucasfilm unscripted HBO elevated horror Sneak Peek Spring TV Trivia spanish language Christmas FX TV renewals Mystery Pride Month Nominations Academy Awards tv talk technology Lifetime Christmas movies Super Bowl latino teaser The Arrangement AMC Star Wars Emmys Set visit Hallmark Britbox FXX Comedy Comics on TV Comedy Central Baby Yoda VICE jamie lee curtis