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Cast Interview: Sophie Okonedo as Margaret

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses HENRY VI (PART I) Photographer: Robert Viglasky © 2015 Carnival Film & Television Ltd Sophie Okonedo (as MARGARET)

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, HENRY VI (PART I), Photographer: Robert Viglasky, © 2015 Carnival Film & Television Ltd, Sophie Okonedo (as MARGARET)

How were you approached about taking part in The Hollow Crown?
I’ve known Dominic Cooke for a long time and have worked with him before. He asked me if I wanted to play Margaret. I had seen Richard II from the first series and loved it. I’d never read the original plays until I got Ben Power’s adapted scripts. What attracted me is the power of the stories and the words. It was a no-brainer.

What did you think of Margaret?
I was surprised I didn’t know about the character before. I don’t have a huge knowledge of Shakespeare – I’ve done a bit but not loads. I’m more familiar with the famous plays. I was amazed that there was such an extraordinary character. She becomes extraordinary throughout the whole cycle but one play on its own wouldn’t give you a sense of how she really is.

What role does she play in the stories?
She’s quite strong in the beginning but she doesn’t realize how Henry is going to behave until she gets to England and spends some time there. She realizes that she has to take charge all the time because he’s got quite a spiritual nature and finds it hard to be forceful. The crown was thrust upon him at a very young age, so he’s very different from his father. She’s had to fill the gap and steer the ship to what she feels is the rightful place – Henry on the throne and the Yorks in charge.

Is she frustrated with the politics of the day?
She is particularly frustrated at the beginning because Gloucester seems to have such a powerful influence and Henry is treated like a child. They’re married so she feels he should be allowed to rule, with her alongside him. She feels a lot of the people around him are unruly and don’t treat him like a King, as they would have done with Henry V. She’s very unhappy about the situation she finds herself in. It’s not what she dreamt when she was on the boat coming to marry the King. She’s very savvy and has a quick instinct. She’s fearless, particularly for that time as a woman. She’s… got balls.

What’s it been like being on location?
It’s been very helpful going around all the castles in England and Wales. The words give you everything though. I could be on a bare stage and give you the words.

We’ve been like traveling gypsies. There’s a different energy to each film. I’ve got The Hollow Crown Episode One people, the Episode Two people, and the Episode Three people. They’re each quite separate groups and I’m in each group. There’ve been lots of really good nights out around the country in different hotels. Sam Troughton did a quiz night, which was really good.

The War of the Roses is essentially a family feud, with intensely familial relationships.
That’s always the case with Shakespeare, or at least with the bits that I’ve done. People are always the same, no matter what the period is. The same thoughts and feelings, inconsistencies and ambiguities still occur and Shakespeare goes to the heart of that.

What do you think Dominic’s brought to the table?
Dominic is my all-time favorite director anyway, so working with him on his first TV film is fantastic. I’ve seen his previous projects and I’m a massive fan of his theater work. He’s a person that I would say yes to absolutely anything he asked me to do.  Also, he gave me the top part in this, so it was a double whammy! He’s intensely intelligent, coupled with a great instinct for humanity and what it is to be human, the human condition. He pours all that into his work. It’s always done with the utmost authenticity. He’s also a decent chap and quite a laugh. All of those qualities are probably why he’s got the cast he has, because a lot of people know him. I just can’t imagine another director getting this cast, but it’s because a lot of people simply want to work with him. First of all, it’s Shakespeare, Ben Power adapted it and it was very well received last time. You know when you do this that so many people will see it around the world because people study Shakespeare and they’ll be doing it for another generation. And Dominic doing it makes it incredibly exciting.

I’m glad we’re doing the whole thing. It’s a whole story. My character is the only one that runs through all three films so it’s great to have that continuity of having the same director. Benedict was saying it has been great for him to play Richard all the way through. It’s not often you get to do that. You can really get to see who he was and how he started. The same is true of Margaret. In a scene that’s often cut, in Richard III, you see her as a madwoman running along, but you don’t see how she got to that place.

Did you look at the real history?
With this, it was all about the words. I didn’t look into the real history because it was so different. I just made sure I understood all the words. The words give you the character. I looked at things about war and battles and the stress of battles and of death. I looked a little at the meaning of royalty in those days. But I really just went with the text and made sure I really understood everything about every word I said. I let the words and the energy of them guide me.

Did you go back to the play after reading Ben’s adaptation?
Occasionally I went to a speech of mine in the original, just to see what happened between the lines and see the imagery that was used. Mostly I just stuck with Ben’s script and didn’t get caught up in the history.

Does it inspire you when you’re working with actors of this caliber?
I think it brings quite a lot of relaxation. Everyone knows what they’re doing and they’re at the stage in their career when they’re no longer trying to prove things. It’s a relaxed atmosphere because you’re working with the best, and everybody is there to serve the play. It’s quite a laugh too which is important to me – I love the work but it’s important to have a laugh as well. It’s been brilliant working with Benedict. I’ve known him for years anyway and have worked with him before. He’s pretty much the same as he was back then. He’s a great actor and really good casting for Richard III.

Have you worked with Tom Sturridge before?
No but I love working with him. He’s brilliant and a genius actor. We have a really good working relationship – I can throw anything at him and he’s really loose. That’s the way I like to work. I like things to be free. We get on very well and suit each other.

It’s a difficult part to play, challenging, but he makes it look really easy. He makes it look like there’s no other way of playing it, which is when you know someone’s really good. I believe everything he does. It’s a really interesting part, especially the way they’ve shaped it with Benedict. I don’t know how it was in the original. I think he’s got an interesting journey. The way I’m playing Margaret, she really loves him and is just a bit disappointed sometimes with his behavior. I do try to put love into every character I play.

What are your hopes for the audience and introducing it to new viewers?
I just really hope people watch it. That’s the main thing. I hope that people watch it who perhaps wouldn’t have watched it the last time round. Another good thing about Benedict is that he’ll bring a whole audience that wasn’t there before. I hope they watch the ones before he comes in!