If you were an immense fan of both Sally Hawkins and her first starring movie 'Happy-Go-Lucky,' you could mistake her for Poppy, the effusive schoolteacher with the wide smile and warm nature. She's quick to laugh, she's generous with compliments, and even hugged a near stranger -- or, worse, a journalist -- good-bye. Even with a voice hoarse from promoting her new movie, 'Made in Dagenham,' her wit and intelligence doesn't waver. It's hard not to be enamored of her.
Hawkins's latest role showcases all those talents and more, including but not limited to political savvy and the big brass ovaries her character Rita pulls out of seemingly nowhere to become an advocate for her fellow underpaid and overworked seamstresses. As Rita, Hawkins transforms herself from a housewife who happens to also work in a Ford factory to a firebrand speaking up to union bosses and Ford employees while the women's strike brings work at the factory to a standstill. Culturally relevant, touching, and funny (and, yes, full of cool '60s styles, including a very swanky Biba dress), 'Made in Dagenham' could be the key to Hawkins's first Oscar nod.
She sat down to talk with Cinematical in New York City earlier this week to discuss feminism, being a soothsayer of sorts, and her roles in the upcoming films 'Jane Eyre' and 'Submarine.'
So the F word -- feminism. Let's talk about that. I've been reading a few reviews that are saying, "Well, it's about feminism... but it's funny!"
What does that mean?
I guess, "You think it's gonna be stodgy, but it's funny, so it's okay."
Right, I see. That's very interesting. So is it men that have written these reviews? [laughs]
Some of them, yes.
Well, I hope it is! God, I would be very worried if I was a woman that said that. But can't feminists be funny? I don't know how women can exist and... not claim to be a feminist? I don't understand how that works. You can't be a woman and not be a feminist, I don't think. If you care about the world and the world you exist in and your rights... But yes, it is. It's got touches of humor, and women can be funny. Yeah, it's just something we're very, very good at, I think. We can be very funny and bright and all the things that men can do very well, we can do.
For some reason, it's rated R.
What is an R rating?
It's for adults, not like X, but it's like a lot of cursing or something, but it's interesting because in a way it does stunt the viewing audience.
It does, and that is a shame. I didn't know, actually, that, and I didn't realize what R meant. I wasn't actually aware of the rating. Maybe it's different in London. But that is a shame because I think it is like you say or hinted at; I think it's something that girls -- not just girls, younger generations should go and see it and learn about it. That's who you want to see [it] more than anybody else, really. We weren't aware of this point in history and what these women did in the UK, and not a lot of people do know about them and their work and their fight, and I think that's sad, and I hope that now with all this -- the film and the press and the interest that's been generated around the film and subject matter, you hope that more people will become aware -- but that is sad if it's got an adult rating and it sort of narrows the adult audience that would see it. That is a shame.
Well, it's like 17 and up. It's not terrible.
Yeah, I think you want young teenagers to see this. It's very important.
What your first experience with realizing, well, okay, things aren't fair?
As a woman, I always had a very good education and my parents worked very hard in order to give my brother and me an education or opportunities that they didn't have. They're from working class backgrounds, [and] they worked very hard at making sure that that was instilled in me and my brother, so we were very lucky in that way. And I do remember being so shocked by the real world when I came out of school and having had this beautiful lovely protective bubble that is school and a lovely education, to come out into the real world as a young woman and having to fend for yourself and realize, actually, the reality of how people were and treated you in an everyday situation, whether on the bus, in the street, or even with friends.
It was quite shocking to me, actually, in the way I was spoken to or treated to a greater or lesser extent in the workplace or even, like I said, in an everyday situation, even in shops... I couldn't quite believe that some people were speaking to me in certain ways and speaking to men in different ways. I mean, that's still the case, but it's something that we will have to deal with for a long time. It's just the way the world is, and we've come a long way, but there's so much more to do. And it can be quite disturbing when you face that. When we don't talk about it, that's when it just keeps going on and on and on, and that's when it's dangerous.
I feel like a lot of your most recent roles have been a sort of truth-teller. Even if it's a small part like in 'An Education,' you come in and you say, this is how it is, and you leave. Do you think of yourself that way in real life?
Oh, well I think I'd be flattering myself if I thought of myself that way! [laughs] It would be a lovely role to take on in real life. You always like to think of yourself as speaking the truth and only the truth and speaking with integrity and your real voice. I hope that I do that in life. You'd probably have to ask my friends and family. You'd probably get my mom on the phone and she'd let you know. I hadn't thought of my recent roles like that, but actually you're right. There is a theme in that way that's quite nice in a way, to be the soothsayer in the film... I don't know whether it's just my face -- I have a soothsayer face, maybe, I don't know -- but you're right.
In 'Never Let Me Go,' there is a similar thing there where it's saying how it is and telling them the truth and the reality of their situation, but I do see them as completely different [roles]. But there is a theme, you are right. So I thought I wasn't cornering a market, but perhaps I am. I'm cornering the soothsayer market! I like that.
What do you think of the Oscar rumblings for your role in 'Made in Dagenham'? Some of us think you were robbed before for 'Happy-Go-Lucky,' and it's especially time now with this movie.
Well, you sort of have to take it with a pinch of salt, really. I mean, there are so many films out there and so many amazing performances, and with its own hype behind it, and so I don't really know what is truth [laughs]. You don't know. You go, you do your bit, and you just hope that you do your bit well and that you speak with the integrity of the character and that you are close to that character as you can be, and at the end of the day, it has an affect on people. That's just all that I want, really. It's just a lovely position to be in as an actor. But you never know the film that you're making at the end of the day, because you're doing your own little bit. But it's lovely, I have to say.
He's a very good friend of mine. He's a really clever, brilliant man. And it's a brilliant film. You'll love it.
Well, let's talk about Mrs. Reed first. She's a tough cookie, to say the least. What was your experience on 'Jane Eyre?'
She's definitely not a truth-sayer! She's quite a terrifying character, and it was a comparatively small part but she's quite a powerful character and force of nature. I sort of fall in love with every character I do; you have to to understand how they became what they've become, whether they're the ugly kind or the very beautiful kinds of characters. So she's gone through various things in her life, and as people do, it makes them become twisted in some ways and distorted and damaged and see the world in a very narrow, small blinkered way, and she's one of those people. And I felt incredibly sorry for her.
Jane Eyre, her youth, her vitality, her beauty, it's more than she can bear, and everything that Jane is, for Mrs. Reed, reminds her of what she isn't, and it's terrifying to her and destroys [her]. It saddens her, and she can't really deal with those types of emotions, and so she goes to the other extreme, which people do. When they're angry, the root of that is fear, and that's who she is. And she's a very scared woman who is hanging on and right to the end when you see her on her deathbed, she's hanging on to that -- all she knows in life is hate and anger, and to let that go would destroy her, I think, even though she's on the point of death.
I grew up with 'Jane Eyre,' reading it at school, and it's one of those, I think, for a lot of women, a lot of girls, it's the iconic story and so many girls relate to Jane Eyre and her character... The Bronte sisters -- they really speak to young girls in their writing. It's timeless and their stories will go on forever and ever and ever because they're great storytellers.
So I haven't gotten a chance to see 'Submarine' --
You'll love it.
I love 'The IT Crowd' and 'The Mighty Boosh,' so if you could just tell me a little bit about the movie...
Well, Richard Ayoade, I've known him for several years; he's a very good friend of mine. He's done music videos, he's a phenomenal filmmaker [and] person who's been writing and doing his own, like you say, comedy for years, but it's a lovely film. It's a coming of age story. It's like a modern 'Catcher in the Rye' set in Wales, and the young actors are phenomenal. But it's Richard's eye, and the way he tells stories, he's a master filmmaker. He already is that. He is that. He was born that, and born to do what he is now doing, and it was a gift that he gave, you know, to ask me to be in his film. I was so flattered and excited, I'd do it for nothing.
Do you have a large part?
A tiny part. But I would sweep the floor in the back of Richard's film!
'Made in Dagenham' is directed by Nigel Cole and costars Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Geraldine James andRosamund Pike. It opens this Friday in Los Angeles and New York City.