Production Notes: The cast comments...
Emma Griffiths Malin, as Fleur | Lee Williams, as Jon
Damian Lewis, as Soames | Gina McKee, as Irene
Rupert Graves, as Young Jolyon
Emma Griffiths Malin, "Fleur"
Emma Griffiths Malin's film credits include Lolita, Hills like White Elephants, Gangster No.1, Opium Wars and Mary Reilly. She played Louise in Masterpiece Theatre's The Cazalets. Her step-grandfather, John Le Mesurier, starred in Dad's Army (1971) and Brideshead Revisited (1981).
Fleur is very headstrong and passionate about what she wants and maybe a little bit spoilt by her father Soames. She is a teenager in love who wants everyone to be happy and agree with her idea of running away with Jon. She doesn't understand what has happened in the past, because nobody mentions it. She's not a vindictive person, but she is very inquisitive and she does a lot of digging about and asking questions to find out what happened in the past.
She loves her father very much. Up until the point when he puts a block on her chances of staying with Jon, by having an argument with him, she thinks he's the bee's knees. And I think that Fleur is someone who Soames can love purely without any strings attached or money involved or anything else. I think most girls will be able to relate to the fact that they get on with their father. I get on really well with my Dad. I think most kids go through a difficult stage, but I think dads and daughters often have a special bond.
I think Fleur has the upper hand in her relationship with Jon and is emotionally tougher than him. He gets caught up in a whirlwind of Fleur. The way in which they plan to marry proves this in that he's not adverse to the idea but it's more her idea to elope; I think she's rebelling.
I'm fascinated with filmmaking, the whole production, direction, editing etc. A group of friends of mine and I have started our own film company and we make horror movies.
I'm 23 years old and live in West London near Portobello. I was born and bred in London but also spent a lot of time in Spain with my grandmother who runs a guesthouse there. I'm very close to her and that's the theatrical side of the family. My grandfather is an actor and my late step-grandfather, John Le Mesurier, played Sergeant Wilson in Dad's Army. My grandfather is Mark Eden who played Alan Bradley in Coronation Street.
I didn't go to drama school but I started acting at primary school. It was so much fun! I loved it. I was in the film Lolita when I was 16 and it was fantastic. The book Lolita was written because of a poem called Annabel Leigh and that is who I played. Although it wasn't a big part, it was a wonderful part to play, because I'm a big fan of poetry.
Lee Williams, "Jon"
Lee Williams has recently appeared in The Debt for the BBC. He starred in No Night Is Too Long (BBC2) and played Tom in the film Billy Elliott. Other film credits include Me Without You, Falling, Elephant Juice and Still Crazy. Theater credits include Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Tartuffe and The Troubadour and Loot at The Lost Theatre.
I'd heard all about The Forsyte Saga before it came out from my friend Amanda Ryan who plays Holly.
I was out of the country so I missed the program and the impact it made in the UK with the huge press attention. When I was invited in to meet the casting director for the first time and then invited back to read, I bought the series on DVD and had a Forsyte weekend. I thought it was just amazing. It was great because I was cast quite quickly and I was really pleased to get the part. I'd always been a fan of Gina's and I knew Rupert's work too. I enjoyed working with them. I learned so much from them both.
I thought the part was really good because, although it's a period piece, it's a story that affects everyone the world over -- it's about a boy and a girl who fall desperately in love.
Jon has had an idyllic life and a very stable upbringing at home. His parents are very loving and he also knows how much his parents love each other. It's a very artistic household and a very good environment. It's all quite simple for him, really. He's not driven by money and wants more than anything to be a farmer, but then he meets Fleur. He falls in love and thinks everything will be okay, but then the past comes out and it can't be. Jon changes so much over the three-month period these episodes are set around. He goes from being an innocent boy to seeing the darker side of life and by the end of it we see him lose a lot of his innocence. He's quite broken.
I think the costumes and props really help you to get into character. I remember some of the first scenes we shot which were in the middle of a cornfield and we had lots of extras there and it's a real help to you to get into the part. You are sort of already halfway there. It looked like a painting in the cornfields and it's easy to lose yourself... but then you see the crew and someone asks you if you fancy going for a break and you are straight back down to earth!
The story was easy to lose yourself in as well because it's a universal thing. A boy and girl fall in love and the family disapproves. It's a story that will go on forever more. It's a love story and all about emotions.
I've seen some of the rushes and it just looks amazing and obviously quite a lot different as it is set in the '20s. I thought it was great playing a part from the '20s, because it was the time when things started to relax and the mood was lighter. There's lots of comedy too with the new character of Prosper Profond played by Michael Maloney.
Damian Lewis, "Soames"
Damian Lewis is a London native who has become particularly well known in the US for playing an American -- Major Richard Winters in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. He received a Golden Globe nomination in 2002 for his performance. His recent film credits include the horror/sci-fi film Dreamcatcher, based on the novel by Stephen King, and Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished Life (with Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford).
The second series is quite different from the first. It's become more of a romance between the two children -- my child and Irene's child and it's about us preventing them from coming together. There's a lot of bitterness and animosity getting in the way.
Soames is still pretty repressed and caught up in himself and motivated by self-interest. But he has been softened a little bit by his daughter... softened in the way that she can wrap him round her little finger and he enjoys letting her do that.
Beyond that, he's in a loveless marriage. There is respect in their marriage but there is very little love, because he is still in love with Irene. He has changed in his attitude in that there is another woman in his life that he loves and that's his daughter. Otherwise he remains the same.
The first series was such a huge hit. I love it because it's a different type of drama. It doesn't follow a formula quite so much. It's usually a story of young despairing love and a villain and the best friend falls in love with the wrong man and then the man runs off with the heroine. The Forsyte Saga is different because it concentrates on the whole family and then it takes you through the generations and everyone is featured strongly.
People compare it to a soap opera and it does have soap elements in it in the way that the plot intertwines with different characters. It's not just about young lovers - it's about middle-age love and old love as well. In the first series, if you were to call anyone a villain, it would be Soames -- when actually it is a big love story between him and Irene. So that breaks the mold straight away.
You should always love your characters. I don't think I would like Soames if I met him. But I love playing him! And there is no way I'm anything like him!
Read an interview with Damian Lewis from The Forsyte Saga, Series I site.
Gina Mckee, "Irene"
Gina McKee may be best known for her character Mary Cox in the television drama Our Friends in The North for which she won a BAFTA for Best Television Actress in 1996, and a BPG Television and Radio Award. She went on to be nominated for Best Actress in 1999 at the British Independent Film Awards for her performance in Wonderland. Gina appears in The Lost Prince, the critically acclaimed television drama written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, scheduled to air on Masterpiece Theatre early in 2004.
Irene has been on an incredible journey. Her marriage to Soames made her desperately unhappy. It killed her spirit and that, coupled with Bosinney's death, was a severe blow. Bosinney represented hope for her future, as she often felt isolated and alone. Then she was truly alone. Through Old Jolyon's generosity and friendship we saw a gradual growth in her confidence and ability to appreciate life and love. We ended the first series watching the early years of her wonderful relationship with Young Jolyon.
Young Jolyon gives Irene the perfect gift: he allows her to be herself. If they have differences, he would celebrate them. He has a calm confidence that their love is alive. He doesn't need to build walls to contain Irene or possess her. His love for her is a complete antidote to Soames.
Their life as a family at Robin Hill has been idyllic and safe. As Jon grows into his early adult years this world cannot be contained so easily. Jon's appetite for life outside his family directly threatens their idyll when Jon finds himself attracted to Fleur. As a result both Irene and Young Jolyon are forced to face the past.
Irene is desperate to keep Jon and Fleur apart because of fear of her past when she was totally alone. She fears losing Jon. By trying to control this situation, she turns herself and Jolyon into hypocrites. Eventually, after struggling to keep control, she faces her fears and learns to let go. Knowing the value of unconditional love helps Irene reconcile Jon's love for Fleur.
At the end of this series she understands she can stop being fearful of Soames. She stops giving him that power. There is recognition that they have both endured this journey and now it's over.
Irene is an interesting woman. Her spirit and independence is evident throughout both series. When she is young she doesn't understand the power this spirit gives her, she doesn't understand it directly threatens Soames. She almost gives her strength away. After struggling alone, with no income, she survives despite society's constraints and rules. Her struggle helps her to see the broader picture -- women of different social classes having more difficult lives than her own. As soon as society relaxed its constraints on women Irene could celebrate this new freedom.
It was great returning to Manchester to shoot Series II because we had many people on the crew from Series I. It means everyone is familiar with each other and you shortcut getting to know a new vibe on set. You can relax a bit and we picked up where we left off. The cast and crew were great to work with -- good humored, professional and supportive. It was a very happy shoot.
Rupert Graves, "Young Jolyon"
Rupert Graves has appeared in various films including The Madness of King George, Maurice, A Room With A View and Intimate Relations (for which he won Best Actor at the 1996 Montreal World Film Festival). He is at work on a live-action drama for the BBC about a pride of lions which also features voice roles by Sean Bean, Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet.
For Young Jolyon, To Let is all about his dilemma of loving his son Jon whilst being in love with his wife Irene who he desperately wants to protect from the past. So although he may come across as an old crust, he's actually following his romantic love for his wife rather than his paternal love for his son. However, the new romantic thrust of these episodes ironically becomes a hindrance for young love.
Young Jolyon is still very much like the person he was in the first episodes but he's definitely not as open. He's got an illness and he doesn't tell his family about it. He's not told his wife but he does end up telling his oldest daughter June. He's always been fairly selfish and he followed his heart at the expense of his first wife. But now he doesn't want Irene worrying about him.
The most interesting part about coming back and working on The Forsyte Saga again is that the young ones last time are the old ones this time! It's an interesting acting exercise because you're playing a different stage of a life. You see how they change and it's quite interesting to observe the inconsistencies in the character. There are certainly things Young Jolyon does now which he wouldn't have done in Series I.
It was fair to say that Jolyon was the nearest thing The Forsyte Saga had to a romantic hero, and that audiences responded warmly to the relationship that he developed with Irene in later episodes. He's one of the few characters who actually learns lessons from life and grows up in the course of the story.
But now there is the great hypocrisy of him trying to thwart his son's love, when he did everything to pursue his own love when he was that age. That's a most interesting irony yet it's still very believable.
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