Exclusive Interview with Actress Aimee Lou Wood
Q: I don’t know if you saw Akira Kurosawa’s version of “Ikiru,” but I thought Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay was brilliant. What was your first impression of reading his script?
AL-W: I just fell in love with it straightaway. It was during lock-down and I got the script. I just cried so much. Also, my actor brain didn’t really kick in [at first]. Usually when I get a script, I’m thinking straight away, “Okay, what’s my part and what can I do with it?” With this script, I just let it wash over me. I read the whole thing. I was completely absorbed by it. He’s one of the greatest writers ever and so distinctive; the world he creates is so him.
And they’re just so beautiful, I think he is one of the most incredible writers — the way that he captures characters and humans so accurately. I just knew who Margaret was within the first line of dialogue that she had. I was like, “I know who this person is.” What he can do so well is evoke the world and the character and everything — and he can do this in one sentence. It’s there. The dialogue is very sparse in this film. There isn’t actually like that much that’s said. A lot of it is unsaid. But every line of dialogue means something and is important and just beautifully constructed. I loved it.
Q: Even though director Oliver Hermanus grew up in Cape Town South Africa and made some films in South Africa, he really captured the setting of England and English mannerisms in the 1950s. Was there anything that surprised you about his direction?
AL-W: When we were having our first talks about it, we would meet one-on-one and chat. For example, I asked him about whether I should speak in my accent or whether he wanted me to do a different accent. He couldn’t really hear it because he’s not from here, and my accent was different. I’m from the north of England and so my voice sounds very different from say, Bill’s, Alex’s or Hubert’s — the other people in the film. It was really interesting, he very much was like, “No, I want you to speak in your own voice, in your own accent.” We did. It was kind of cool, having someone who was able to see things from a completely different perspective. I think he enjoyed looking from the outside in and seeing everything in a way that maybe some of us are too close to see. Sometimes when you’re too close to something, you can’t actually see it very clearly. Sometimes it takes that distance, that perspective, to be able to realize something accurately and clearly. I think he approached it very much on a human level — what is this story? Who are these people? He’s an incredible director who creates the most brilliant atmosphere on set. It’s so focused, so respectful, that he manages to get these performances out of people because the the environment that he creates is just so conducive to these great scenes.
Everyone, all the crew members, the cast, liked doing their best work, because he creates that environment. I loved it because he didn’t have that English over-politeness, apologetic like, “Oh, sorry, you know” — he had a lot more [behind it]. In a great way, he is a lot more assertive. It meant that we could really be very focused. It was great to have a different vibe there from him, he’s just wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
Q: Your character Margaret and Bill Nighy’s character Mr. Williams haven’t spoken to each other until they run into each other on the street. How carefully prepared the sequence when Mr. Williams revealed that he has cancer. What kind of conversation did you have with Oliver and Bill to prepare those very emotional scenes?
AL-W: I spoke a lot to Oliver about it, and Bill spoke a lot to Oliver separately, but Bill and I hadn’t really had that much conversation around it. I think that that was a really good thing because it meant that when we got to do the scene that day, it was surprising. We were both kind of surprised by each other and it felt very new and fresh. I think I was really reacting to what Bill was giving me at that moment. It was very authentic. I didn’t really need to act. I literally just had to listen to Bill and respond to what he was saying. Again, Oliver created the most respectful environment and it felt so intimate. We were so connected. I remember reading the script and thinking I can’t wait to see Bill do that bit. It’s beautifully written. Also, my character barely says anything, even though she’s the talker. Up until that point, she’s the one who does all the talking in their relationship. Then, all of a sudden, it switches and just pours out of him. She just sits back and listens. She gives him the space to talk. That’s just so kind. It’s the kindness in that scene which is abundant, It’s so beautiful. It really was about being connected to Bill and responding to what he was saying. There was no acting required at all. I was very upset. I was crying so much that they kept having to bring tissues every two seconds. It was a lot.
Q: In the film, Margaret has nicknames for her office co-workers. She called Mr. Willams a zombie. If you were to create the nickname for Bill Nighy and director Oliver Hermanus what would that nickname be?
AL-W: That’s such a good question. I would call Bill, Mr. Magic. And what would I call Oliver? I think I would call him Mr. Visionary. Yeah, I think he is, I genuinely think that he is a genius.
Q: What I liked about the characters Margaret and Mr. Williams is that they see each other in a different light. They see each other more than you know. How did you collaborate with Bill to show that kind of element and on the set, did you see Bill Nighy as an actor in a different light?
AL-W: Oh, it was amazing. Oliver said that he wanted it to feel like a black and white film, even though it was in color. They achieved that. In the opening, the bit where they’re all in the office, all the men are just wearing different shades of gray. Then Oliver specifically said Margaret is the only one who can wear bright colors because that’s what she is in the story. Arriving on that first day when we were doing the office scenes and seeing this set that was this world — all of a sudden it was tangible. It was real. When I was there I was transported completely. The costume designer Sandy [Powell] was incredible. Instantly I felt different when I put those costumes on. I felt more confident, more like Margaret straight away. That’s why Helen [Scott, production designer] and Sandy are both so brilliant at their jobs. When they do what they do it changes you instantly. They know exactly how to create that world and create that feeling and sense of character, place, and time. With even the smallest details — the fact that the paper was all stacked up in the office — even the things that were written on the paper helped me access that world. The littlest things like the detail of what earrings Margaret wore, everything just helped build this character and build this world and they’re just both absolutely incredible.
Here’s the trailer of the film.