Actress Sally Hawkins

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Golden Globe-winning actress discusses her newest project and explains why she was drawn to the story of the women strikers portrayed in the film.

Before British actress Sally Hawkins achieved fame across the pond, she was a familiar face in films and on TV and stage in her native country. She's had a varied series of roles in projects from BBC dramas to comedy series to features like Vera Drake, The Painted Veil and Made in Dagenham. Hawkins began landing roles soon after graduating from the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and hit the big time with her star-making role in the comedy Happy-Go-Lucky, for which she won several international awards, including a Golden Globe.


Tavis: Sally Hawkins is a Golden Globe-winning actress whose film credits include “Happy Go Lucky” and of course “An Education.” Her latest is called “Made in Dagenham.” The film is based on a real-life factory worker story at the Ford Motor plant in England. Here now, a scene from “Made in Dagenham.”
Tavis: In Hollywood pitch meetings, you always have to make a comparison when you’re trying to sell the new project, so this has a “Norma Rae” -ish kind of feel. Good comparison?
Sally Hawkins: I think it’s a lovely comparison. It’s a huge compliment. I love Sally Field in that performance. I didn’t actually see – I made a point of not seeing the film until we finished, because I knew that there was a similarity in the fact that the difficult working circumstances and the fact that it’s about worker’s rights and the factory. But yeah, that’s hugely flattering. (Laughs)
Tavis: Tell me more about this particular story, though, because there are two different stories, so tell me more about the storyline.
Hawkins: It’s 1968, and it’s from – it actually happened. These women in the Ford plant in Dagenham, east London, they went on strike. They were campaigning for equal rights and to be re-graded as skilled workers. They were initially graded as unskilled workers, and getting a tiny percentage of the equivalent male percentage. I think they were being paid less than the boy who swept the factory floor.
It was about there when we introduce the film. It’s the beginnings of that, the stirrings of unrest in the factory, and their fight and how it spread like wildfire across the world. So we’re having an affect in the U.S., and the U.S. getting involved, as you see in the film.
When the workers on the ground levels, like the pyramid, start to peel away, it all comes crumbling down pretty quickly, and yeah, the whole plant came to a grinding halt, the whole of Ford was rocked. It was cool.
Tavis: Are you attracted to a role like this first as a woman, or because you’re a woman, or because you’re an actor and you just saw a wonderful, complex storyline here, or a combination of both?
Hawkins: I think it’s – that’s a really interesting question. I think it’s probably – thinking about it, I think it’s probably a combination of both. You respond, you can’t help but respond as a woman, and the issues that are being brought up that we’re still dealing with today, sadly, and probably will for a long time.
You just can’t help but it touched something quite profound in me, so I – but I think it was – there are so many different levels that you respond to a project, and when they go in tandem with something that has such integrity and truth behind it, and when it’s based in reality, it just gives you – I just find it incredibly exciting and a bit of a gift, really.
You can’t help by get fired up by that kind of thing. I think it’s not – I don’t really know which, what overtook or what overtakes one more than the other. I think it’s definitely the character in the script and then it’s sort of rediscovering history that I wasn’t aware of, and rediscovering it.
Tavis: To your point about discovering or rediscovering history that you weren’t aware of, I think so many of us take for granted the rights and the privileges that we enjoy that have come our way courtesy of working class people – people every day who get on their grind to make England a better place to live and work, to make this country a better place to live and work.
So I assume – you tell me if I’m right or wrong here – that you take something away from a project like this that you get a chance to discover.
Hawkins: Absolutely. You can’t help but be affected by it and become more involved. You can’t help – your world expands, in a way. It’s like you say – it’s how we progress in the world of people that are out there working incredibly hard at those levels, and the ground roots, and it’s a story that speaks for us all.
When we recognize those stories today or we read about them in the past, they speak directly to us. It’s not just dealing with women’s issues; it’s about discrimination and about human rights. But yes, it does – you do have a responsibility and you do feel very – I feel very proud to be representing this and speaking to people like you on this sort of stage. It’s a real privilege, and you do feel a responsibility.
Tavis: I appreciate the compliment, thank you, but feeling proud is one thing to represent in this way. Did you feel any pressure to represent these women’s stories in the film?
Hawkins: Absolutely. You have to let that go when you’re in it and just deal with the moment and the characterization and making that as real as you can, as rich as possible. I did feel a slight weight of that responsibility, but I also knew that it wasn’t just on my shoulders, and it wasn’t.
It was we were making a project together, it was this ensemble, this great ensemble cast of wonderful women and then Bob Hoskins was our little – is our mascot. (Laughs) So yeah, you do but you also just – yeah, anyway.
Tavis: I like Bob Hoskins as a mascot.
Hawkins: I think he loved that, yeah. (Laughter) He was very proud of that role.
Tavis: Nice little word, the mascot.
Hawkins: He took on that role. (Laughter)
Tavis: Without giving too much of the storyline away, what happens to these women’s lives? Because this is a struggle that they’re engaged in at work, what happens to the women, to their lives?
Hawkins: Well, I think different things. At the end of the day they went back to work, they went back to Dagenham, but this fight, it wasn’t – this is the very beginning of the fight. It spanned 20 years in all, and although through their work, through what they did and what they stood up for, they got to the Houses of Parliament and spoke to Barbara Castle and without them there would have been no Equal Pay Act in 1972 in the U.K.
They weren’t able to benefit from that Equal Pay Act – the equal pay after 1972 until 20 years later, when they actually got the re-grade, but I think it had an effect on who they were and how they saw the world. It can’t help but influence you. You see it reflected in this script and in this film and the way that Rita and her domestic life and her husband and their relationship.
I think that’s probably – although that’s fictional and that’s artistic license, I think that’s something that was probably happening – well, yeah, it’s sort of happening at the time, and I think could only have an effect and having a personal impact and being able to relate the issues to their personal lives as well. I think it can only help make you think about that kind of – how it affects you in that way.
Tavis: Let me offer this as the exit question. I suspect, and you can tell me if I’m wrong here – I suspect that when there is a story that is this powerful, a piece of history that so many people are unaware of all these years later, that there’s a particular sense of pride that one takes in being able to bring this story to the fore, to the front.
Hawkins: So much so. I feel incredibly proud. There were several moments during filming, and I do now, to have this kind of response to a film that is about these issues is incredible and important, because we need to keep talking about these things, to keep moving forward and keep progressing.
It’s when they’re not talked about is when we have to worry, so there are several moments during filming where I was overtaken by the emotion of it, because it does speak to every one of us. It’s very – speaks to our core, and I couldn’t help being affected by that and especially when there’s a moment where Rita is looking out across the sea of suits of the trade unionists and seeing all those men and her speaking for these women.
I couldn’t be – I just – it was – I was in sync with Rita at that point. It was a very powerful – yeah, it’s something that you can’t really put in words, but it’s a basic human right and they were just speaking with that truth. Yeah, so I do, I feel immensely proud.
Tavis: And you should.
Hawkins: Thank you so much.
Tavis: I think every thespian wants to work, obviously, but every thespian wants to do good work, work that’s meaningful, and this is a good piece of work. Sally Hawkins stars in “Made in Dagenham.” Sally, congratulations. Good to have you on the program.
Hawkins: It’s lovely to be here. Thank you so much for speaking to me. Thank you.
Tavis: My pleasure.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm