Muddy meets: Phoebe Dynevor & Kerry Fox
The hottest new UK actress and the queen of indie film star in the new Sky Original biopic The Colour Room. They talk kissing protocol, brave film choices and 1920s girl power.
Congratulations on The Colour Room – Muddy loves it! Did you know much about Clarice Cliff and her story before you read the script?
Phoebe Dynevor: My dad loves Clarice Cliff pottery, and I was living at home with my parents at the time during lockdown, so I was literally looking at her jugs every day whilst reading the script! So it kind of seemed like a sign, I was like, “Hmmm, I feel like I might have to do this.” I definitely felt connected to the story right from the beginning, particularly since my mum [Coronation St actress Sally Dynevor] was working class and grew up in Oldham – that sense of coming from a place where there’s nothing set up for you at all and being able to make something of yourself.
Kerry Fox: Clarice Cliff’s pottery is really popular in New Zealand and Australia – a huge amount of her stuff is sold there – so I was aware of her but I didn’t really know her story, nor about Stoke-on-Trent which actually was the most interesting part to me – this tiny, insular community with its very specific accent, using words that aren’t used anywhere else in the world, and all the women in that community working together.
What was it like shooting a film in the middle of COVID?
Phoebe: It was really hard. The read through was really bizarre. It was in March, in this freezing cold, massive room where they kept all the windows open. And we all had to sit and do the read through in our masks. It was a bit worrying, I think all of us in the room were like, “Oh, is this setting the precedent for how the rest of this shoot will be”? I’d just come off a job in New York in the middle of the pandemic where we not only wore masks in the read through but in rehearsal too – we could only take them off when they said, “Shoot”, which was crazy, because my storyline was that I had a new boyfriend and I had to kiss him in the scene. And I didn’t see his face until they said “Action”. That was weird.
Kerry: Oh, my God! That’s so creepy.
Phoebe: It was so bizarre! Although actually, it was a nice surprise [laughs]. So I’d come off that job thinking, “Oh, God, I really hope The Colour Room is going to be a little bit better”. Thankfully, we were able to rehearse without masks on, so that helped.
Kerry: I remember finding it really shocking doing a scene in the workshop with all the pottery girls because it was the first time I’d been with that number of people for so long. Suddenly everyone was there. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by it.
It must be hard to make a connection with fellow actors when you’re doing a read-through in masks
Kerry: The read-through was awful! All read throughs are though. You’re terrified, you think you’re going to sound terrible, that’s when they’re going to realise you can’t act. And then they’ll fire you, and nobody else is going to like you. And you have to try to remember everyone’s name.
Phoebe: Yeah! I will say the mask did help a bit because, you know, you could hide behind the mask at least if you wanted to muffle through your dialogue.
Kerry: We’d all had all these accent lessons, and I thought: “Jesus. This is an impossible accent, I can’t speak it!”
Kerry, you’ve been working solidly for 30 years with the most feted directors and actors. Is it fun for you still to be on film sets, or are you just like, ‘Oh, God, not another one?
Kerry: I’ve got worse – you know, I can’t take anything seriously. And being peri-menopausal, I can’t remember a fucking line to save myself. The worst thing now is you do 20 takes and then on the 21st take, it’s just gone, I can’t remember what the line was!
You play mother and daughter in the film. What did you make of the relationship between Clarice and her mum?
Kerry: I really wanted my character to have an arc, and also I wanted to fight against the stereotype of, ‘old grumpy mum’, she’s poor and her husband’s dead, she’s got to bring up two daughters by herself, and one of them is a naughty monkey. That’s not my experience of reality. It was something I thought about a lot when I was working on Bright Star [the John Keats biopic directed by Jane Campion] – the presentation of motherhood and how to really avoid the stereotypes and dig for the reality. Because I don’t believe that genius springs from desperation; I believe genius springs from support and love and encouragement and strength. I tried to move stuff that way, and really put that spirit of joy into Clarice’s journey.
Phoebe: Within the potteries and the research I did, there was such an obvious path for women at that time – they’d train in one specific skill, and they’d do that their whole lives. This was definitely the expectation that people had, and Clarice was never going to meet that, so there’s a level of Clarice knowing that her mother isn’t going to understand, and the fear of that, as well the relief that her mother is, of course, supportive. I think Clarice really needed that quality in her mother and in the other women she worked with too. In the end that’s the story – women supporting women and bringing each other up.
How important was it to you to be involved in Sky’s commissioned Triple F film?
Kerry: What does Triple F mean?
FFF means you have a female director and writer (or producer) and also female lead characters. So it’s a marker that a film is created primarily by women.
Kerry: Somebody said recently – was it on this film, even? – that it’s the first time they’ve been directed by a woman. I was absolutely gobsmacked by that. Because, you know, I’ve worked with women throughout my career, and it’s extraordinary to me that people haven’t had that experience. Some male directors are too frightened to work with me! You know, it’s only brave men who are really clever, and great filmmakers, that actually have the balls to work with me. Most mediocre directors don’t want to go near me. I think that women who work in this industry are naturally braver, because they’ve had to push so much harder to get where they’re at. And so those are more likely sort of people who are going to want to work with me — the inventors, the shockers, the people willing to take risks, and to delve, and to put themselves out there, and expose their beliefs and feelings for the audience.
Phoebe: I worked with a female director on Bridgerton, but I did things in my early career when I didn’t have much agency as an actor that were very male driven. And I had a weird experience because of that – it was men writing for women; it was men directing women. And I’ve personally had that experience, and it’s not been positive. So having a female director was a strong draw for me. I really want to work with more women, filmmakers and producers. It’s really important for me personally.
What else have you been working on?
Kerry: Well, I directed a short film called Topping Out, about two scaffolders on the 13th floor of a building sharing their secrets, but to be honest, COVID has really screwed it all over. I think it’s been a real victim of timing. So it’s thrown me a bit, to be honest. It’s pulled the rug out from under me. The thing is, it’s a really good film! But it was in festivals that then weren’t screened, or got cancelled and then it was deferred for a year, so then it was ineligible for other festivals… It’s unfortunate. Everything moves forward, you know? But I’ve just finished filming the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends with Lenny Abramson, and I’m in a young adult Netflix series where I play a witch.
Phoebe: Nothing at the moment, but I’ve just finished Bridgerton Season Two which is coming out soon. Simone [Ashley] and Jonathan [Bailey]are amazing leads and people are going to keep falling in love with the new characters, basically that show is set up for success! There’s a film I’m starting next year, and I’m exec-producing a TV series for Amazon for the first time, which I’m so excited about.
The Colour Room premieres this week [12 Nov]. What do you think viewers will think most special about Clarice?
Phoebe: I think her drive. And also her individuality – no-one has set the tone for her. She’s not following in anyone’s footsteps. She’s really just following her own instincts and her drive to succeed. The thing that I found the most fascinating and brilliant about Clarice was she never really took no for an answer. She kept going. She really did believe in what she had to offer the world.
Kerry: It’s her vision that was so amazing, wasn’t it? She changed —most literally — the shape of pottery. Such an expression of personality, and life and spirit and femininity. People had been drinking out of round cups for centuries. And then this woman in Stoke on Trent decides to give us hexagons never been seen or done, – like going to the moon! Just joyous.
The Colour Room, a Sky Original film, is in cinemas and on Sky Cinema 12 November.