Interview: Maxine Peake On Appearing In Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Maxine Peake plays Miss Fozzard in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, in the new Alan Bennett series Talking Heads. It airs as part of the new series starting on Tuesday 23 June on BBC One. Watch it here, where all episodes are now available.
 

What were your first thoughts when you were asked to play Miss Fozzard in a new production of Talking Heads?

Panic! These are classic pieces of writing performed originally by the best in the business. I said yes straight away then spent the next few weeks in a state of high anxiety. The magnificent Patricia Routledge is unsurpassable and also I’m 20 years younger than when Patricia did it so I didn’t know if I could convince people I’m a suitable Miss Fozzard.

How would you describe Miss Fozzard? Do you think you’d get on with each other if you met in real life?

She’s precise and a snob in many ways. I don’t think we would have got on. I would imagine I’d be the Estelle Metcalf in the relationship!

My mum, Glenys, worked part time in a Department Store in Bolton called Whitehead’s when I was growing up. My mum was in the clothing department. It was family-run business so I could remember clearly women like Miss Fozzard who worked alongside my mum and the politics of department store life.

Did you discuss the role/story with Alan Bennett ahead of/during rehearsals?

I did give Alan a call. More because I’m a huge admirer of his work so I wanted to say hello. He was delightful! So complimentary and encouraging. It was definitely a career highlight for me.

Do you have any memories of watching the original Talking Heads series?

I do indeed, I grew up with them. I had the original Talking Heads book and would find any opportunity to have a go. I used to roll out Her Big Chance for my drama school auditions early on. It’s a fabulous piece. I don’t think I got any of the nuances. No wonder it took me three years to get in anywhere!

On a practical level, can you tell us about the preparations for the role that were done remotely, and how you found them?

Sarah (Frankcom) and I rehearsed over FaceTime. It’s great for breaking down the script and discussing ideas about performance, but I found the actual performing of it to an iPad really difficult. I’m a proud technophobe… I’ve done too much apologising for my shortcomings.

I found not being in a proper rehearsal space or able to get onto the set till the camera was rolling a challenge. I suppose it’s like most things, you just have to adapt and get used to new ways of working. It was exciting to be working with Sarah on her first TV project, she’s a natural! The costume and make-up sessions were done in the same way. I was very nervous about doing my own make-up but Naomi Donne was so enabling and patient, it actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

Jaqueline Durran I had worked with before and knew how brilliant and collaborative she is. We started off digging everything out of my wardrobe. Jaqueline had a look and suggested some tweaks and found some brilliant key pieces for the character. Both her and Naomi weren’t precious and gently guided you in the right direction.

How did filming under social distancing guidelines differ to that of work on a regular British TV drama ? Do you feel it affected your performance in any way, or created any specific challenges/enhancements?

The restrictions suited the piece perfectly, in a strange way. One performer in a quiet space with minimal crew. It gave an intensity to it and allowed you to own the space a little more than normal. The crew were amazing and stuck rigorously to the guidelines.

I have to say though I did miss the bustle of a large crew, especially when you are on a TV drama for any length of time it’s great to have this new family around you, but for one day and the nature of the piece it worked very well. I did miss having someone doing make-up checks, which I never thought I’d say. Trying to keep your fly-away hair in check was a challenge. TV and film production is a team game as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, why do you think people should watch Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet?

Because Alan Bennett is a master craftsman.

 

Interview supplied by BBC.

 

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