Interview: Guilt and Endeavour Actor Sara Vickers
Scottish actor Sara Vickers, well known to Endeavour fans as Morse’s first (and forever?) love, Joan Thursday, returned to our screens in Season 2 of the black comedy, Guilt. In her interview with MASTERPIECE, Vickers talked about playing the reluctant daughter of Guilt‘s resident gangster, filming Endeavour Season 9 six weeks after giving birth, and saying goodbye to Joan Thursday…and Endeavour‘s cast.
First off, congratulations on the birth of your second child!
Thank you! I know, it’s been absolutely nuts. He’s three and a half months, so early doors, early doors. It’s a full-on experience, but he’s an absolute dream. I had him in the middle of May when they were shooting Endeavour, so I went back six weeks after giving birth. Absolutely crazy, right? They said, “We’re going to shoot Endeavour.” And I said, “Well, I’m pregnant, I’m unrecognizable.” And they were like, “Right, well we’ll hold off and see if we can just shoot you [later], ” because they were filming Episode 1 and I was still very heavily pregnant. So they used me from six weeks [after the birth] onwards. We’ve been going back and forth—I had my mom and my husband coming down with me, so it was a family affair, which was lovely because it meant they got to visit the set and see what I’ve been up to for the last 10 years, just before it all finishes. It was pretty full-on. But I did it, and I felt amazing for having done it.
In Guilt Season 2, you play Erin, the estranged daughter of (reformed?) gangster Roy Lynch. I loved the moment when Roy tells Erin that she was forged from steel. What can you share about that aspect of her character, and him calling it out?
An interesting thing about family is that often, when you see something you don’t like in a family member, you are constantly trying to fight against it. I think Erin has that [vein of steel], but she doesn’t want to own it or claim it because it’s something she wants to dismiss from her life. So it was an interesting thing for me as an actor, because she doesn’t want that side of her to be there, but you can’t help it; you have no control over it.
It was important for me to try not to make her a stereotypical kind of “gangster’s daughter,” because that’s what she was trying to shirk away from. So it’s a fine line of trying to pitch it right, in the sense that she is trying to side step away from all that stuff, where she actually finds that she can deploy it to her own advantage. And she does. She’s got her eye on the prize, and she’s not easily swayed. And in that sense, there was a lot of chat about the similarities between [Mark Bonnar’s character] Max and Erin, the fact that they both have that single track mind and both find themselves with that joint purpose. So they can stick together—they know that each other won’t be wavering. Obviously, they have that common purpose for different reasons, and that starts to unpick itself slightly as we go through the story.
What was it like working with the immensely talented Mark Bonnar?
He is just pure joy. I think everybody enjoys being on set with Mark, the cast and the crew. He’s so funny—we had such a laugh. Obviously, it’s all about murder and a dark subject, and we were very much steered by the writer and director that although it’s a black comedy, we had to try and stick to the drama, so the comedy comes through not trying to play it. But he just brought such energy and light relief to the whole thing. You really do cherish that when you’re doing long days on set, just having an absolute giggle. And we really did. I mean, there were some takes we just couldn’t keep a straight face! When someone says to me, “What do you remember about working with Mark?” it’s always the fact that he would burst out in song, just randomly, some show number, kind of jazz hands. And that just properly cracked me up.
He has that amazing ability to mess around, and then when cameras are on, he is just absolutely with it. He’s got a freedom and an energy and a playfulness that I think is crucial for an actor—that ability to play—and he’s got that in abundance.
Our viewers know and love Phyllis Logan from her role as Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey. What was it like working with her in Guilt, and had you previously known her from Downton Abbey as well?
Oh yes, yes, absolutely! Because when we first watched it, I was like, “Oh, a lovely Scottish character,” and she was just so good. She’s like the fabric of the show, wasn’t she, because when someone like her is running the house, you know you’re in safe hands. She did it so beautifully that when I met her, I was like, “You are that character.” But oh, she’s just so lovely—you couldn’t get a nicer person, really down to earth. And we had a right giggle. We were staying in the same hotel for a few nights as well, so we had dinner together and it just made that whole mother/daughter thing very easy to play. She’s a dream, so she is.
What do you think makes Guilt uniquely Scottish?
Well, you know you’ve struck gold when the people who a show is based around love it, and the Scottish audiences, the city of Edinburgh, absolutely love it. They’re happy to claim this as their own because it’s not stereotypical—it’s very nuanced and it’s very Scottish, but not done in a way that the locals often go, “Oh, we’re not like that.” And I know from speaking to people who I see in the street, my friends, family, everybody loves it. And that was me, included, when I watched the first series! I watched it when I got the audition, and I thought, “Oh no. I really like it. I really love it” because those are always the [parts] you never get, when you really like them. So I was so pleased when they told me I’d got the part.” I was like, “Oh, this never happens.”
It’s just very Edinburgh. It’s got lots of colloquialisms in it, and it makes the local audiences titter. But it’s universal in the same sense that everyone can watch it, enjoy it. Maybe they don’t know where Pelton is or they might not get the references, but we watch plenty of American programs where we don’t know…You’ve never been before and you don’t know the place, but you get that sense, and I think that’s great. I think what the Scottish audiences like is the fact that it isn’t spoon-feeding audiences Scottishness—it’s not your tartans and your this and that…There’s the odd mention, like in one of the scenes, we’ve got a can of Irn-Bru, but it’s not shoved down your throat. And I think that’s what makes it unique in the sense that it’s struck that chord perfectly.
Family relationships figure prominently in Guilt, and being a daughter shapes Erin’s character. For our viewers who know and love you already from Endeavour, where you also play a daughter, Joan Thursday, what do you think Erin and Joan might have in common?
Interesting. I’ve never thought about it, but I suppose that in Endeavour they always go on about how much she’s like her dad—it’s always saying, “Sam [her brother] is more like Win [their mother].” And Fred [Thursday, their dad] is always saying to Joan, “Oh, you’re just like me.” And in Guilt, they were very keen to have that similarity between Roy and his daughter, even although she’s trying to shirk away from it. So I suppose the dads have more of an influence over their daughters and that is where that similarity lies. And they’re both very independent and fair, strong minded. But I’d say Joan’s probably had a slightly easier life than Erin, more of a stable life. And obviously, throughout the seasons, Joan has been on very much a journey of self-discovery, with real ups and downs and not-nice experiences.
But I’d say we meet Joan knowing more who she is and where she fits in, and Erin less who she is—or trying to get away from that—and not sure about where she’s come from or that she fits in anywhere. And I think deep down, Joan knows what she wants, whereas I don’t think Erin really knows. She thinks she knows what she wants, but that all obviously unravels…and you will see why in the end of Episode 4.
Was it as wonderful as one imagines, having Fred Thursday as your TV dad all those years on Endeavour?
Oh yeah, I was super proud. I was always like, “I’m Joan Thursday. I’m Fred‘s daughter,” and he was so cool with his hat and his brilliant one-liners. And there was an ease about him, but also you wouldn’t mess with him, you know what I mean? I know Joan would kind of go, “Oh God, Dad!” especially in the early days, but come on—who wouldn’t want Fred Thursday as their dad? He’s the ultimate protector, as well. You know you’ll be in safe hands.
How does it feel to have finished filming Season 9, the final season of Endeavour?
Yeah, we’re all finished. I hung her little jacket up and put her little jewelry in her jewelry box for the last time, and oh, it was sad. It was sad. Definitely the end of an era. And unbelievable as well, because obviously, just having a baby, your head is crazy anyway. So I just was thinking, “I can’t take any of this in, I can’t believe it…” But I think maybe it’s a good thing that I couldn’t really process it at the time, because I would’ve been an absolute emotional wreck. I kept telling people that I’ll process it when it comes around next year and I don’t get that call to do it again, or when it airs for the last time and I see that last shot of Joan and I’ll think, “Oh, that’s the last time I’ll see her.”
She’s just been such a big part of my life. She’s one of the first jobs I got out of drama school, and here I am, married with two kids, and I think about how I’ve been portraying her alongside my own life and how that’s changed, and how she’s changed. All her trials and tribulations of what do I want to be? and who do I want to end up with? The joy of having that amount of time with a character is that you can do it beat by beat and not rush through it. Hopefully, people have seen her have, I suppose, a lifelike journey in the sense that it’s not been rushed. We’ve taken it year by year as the years pass. And as she’s looking older, I’m looking older, obviously, because that’s life. And I can see myself looking different to when I first opened that door to Morse back ten years ago. A very different character in Joan, and different actress than me. Playing a character for that amount of time, that’s really rare.
So do you feel as though you’ve said goodbye to Shaun Evans and Roger Allam and the rest of the cast?
Well, it’s such a shame. Because I have a little baby, I didn’t make the wrap party, and I didn’t make it to a dinner they were having as well. I was like, “Oh, I can’t make any of these things,” but you know what? I have my little baby, so that’s better, you know what I mean? It’s funny, because the whole time when I was young and free and easy, I was always asking, “Can we have an Endeavour party?” “Can we have an Endeavour party?” but it never happened. And of course, now I can’t go to them, and it seems like they’re having them constantly!
Goodbyes—I’m not really a fan of goodbyes, so I tried not to think about it too much. Caroline [O’Neill], the woman who plays my mom, she came up to me all teary and I was like, “Don’t!” But it’s not too sad, because I’m hoping all of our paths will cross again, we’ll see each other again. That would be nice.