You would think that portraying a role similar to yourself, and embodying the sensibilities of a figure that resonates with you, would make for a rather straightforward performance for an actor. Yet to emotionally connect with a likeminded character, and subsequently present that on screen, was one of the biggest challenges that gifted newcomer Lily Newmark faced when taking on her first leading role in Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion.
“Iona as a character is very much like myself, I actually found it slightly unnerving how similar we are,” she told us during a brief moment on the set of the film, which we visited on a brisk Derbyshire afternoon. “It doesn’t take a lot of preparation to be that character but it’s a challenge in a sense that it’s difficult to show such a true side to yourself. Everything that Iona expresses in this film I have expressed myself, a lot of what she has been through I have been through, so it’s really hard to play that out in front of people.”
The film tells the story of a Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and her daughter Iona moving to a new town, a remarkably close kinship shared, yet both are struggling to settle in to their new surroundings independently of one another. It’s not just Newmark who relates to the story, as one she feels will resonate with anybody.
“It’s totally relatable in a sense that it’s about a new start. It’s being a teenager, which everyone can relate to, and going to school which everyone can relate to,” she said.
What’s refreshing about this tale, is not only is it a female-driven story, but it’s one that has been told by a woman herself, as writer/director Haywood helms the production. For Newmark this was a huge bonus, as she feels it’s a tale that had to be told by a woman.
“A man could totally direct this, but it wouldn’t be the same because the character wouldn’t actually be him. There’s a part of Deborah in all the characters, and I don’t know if a man would give away parts of himself, in a way she has. Perhaps woman are giving of themselves than men are.”
The actress went on to describe her close relationship with the director, as the pair seemed to have developed a real shorthand on set.
“I think Deborah and I had a connection as soon as we met. I just tried to express how deeply the story resonated with me. I think she was apprehensive at first because she thought maybe it was a ploy to get the role, but genuinely I couldn’t believe how a story could be so close to my life, and from then on, the deal was sealed.”
“Me and Deborah have an unspoken connection on set, where if someone thing is going right or wrong, we just meet eyes and we’re always there with each other, through thick and thin. There have been a lot of highs and lows during filming but we’ve always stuck together throughout the whole process,” she continued. “Because we understand exactly what we both want from the story, there’s not a lot of direction, in a sense that I know what she’s going to say before she says it.”
Only problem is for Newmark, was ensuring everybody else was on the same page…. “It’s been exhausting, as I’ve wanted everyone else to be as invested in it as I am, which is not always going to happen. I just try my hardest to keep up the connection with everyone, which is emotionally exhausting.”
One actress you can certainly rely on, is Chanel Cresswell, who plays the rather difficult neighbour Belinda, who strikes up a conflict with Lyn. Unlike Newmark, the actress felt it was a role entirely different from herself.
“I love my role because I’m not like that at all,” Cresswell said, as we spoke in a makeshift interview space; a small bedroom in a house being used on location.
“Me and Lily have had time talking off set, we’ve hung out quite a bit and she’s lovely and we’ve had a laugh. She has a very interesting look about her and she has her own thing going on. She’s so interesting to look at, there’s something intriguing about her face, she’s as cool as anything. I can’t wait to watch her.”
Cresswell has been in the industry a number of years now, but admits she is enjoying the new role in being one of the more experienced members of the cast, mentoring young actresses in the same way she too had been when she first started out.
“I remember I used to look up to certain people,” she said. “Shane Meadows, for example, always made sure we helped each other on set. So I’ve done the same thing. It’s quite daunting, I think it’s important to guide them, help them and give them advice, because they need it and want it because you see the nerves in them, it’s important to help and I do make sure that I do that.”
She’s not quite the most experienced however, with Scanlan taking on that role – and it was with the British actress that Cresswell shares most of her screen time with. Turns out, they hit it off on the set, too.
“I’ve just taught Joanna how to voice note on Whatsapp so she’s literally sending voice notes to everyone, her husband, her brother and her niece already,” she laughed.
This was emblematic of a set that was evidently a happy one, with a calm, passionate atmosphere, with lots of people working hard in unison to fulfil Haywood’s vision on screen. For Cresswell, who comes from the Shane Meadows school of filmmaking, this was a great relief, for her experiences on This is England may have presented a somewhat unrealistic picture of what the industry is truly like, for on that celebrated series, the characters shared a quite special, unique bond.
“You know not to expect that sort of way of working with everything that you do, because if you did you’d find it difficult to work on other projects. But this is six weeks, it’s a one-off, then you go off and do your own thing, like starting a new school. But we do still really get on, we gel and have a laugh, but that’s it really. But it’s nice, you come and go.” A little bit, in that regard, like we did. A fleeting, yet fully enjoyable visit.
Pin Cushion is released on July 13th.