How did you get involved in Peaches?
Well, I had never actually heard of Peaches, which is terrible, because it was a play beforehand. I should have known it because I'm more of a theatre buff than a film buff. But it was on at the Royal Court, I think in 1995, so I have quite a good excuse because I was probably only 14, something like that. The script was sent to me, you just go up for the audition like you do for most jobs. It was a nice character but I thought it would just be a small arthouse film, never to be seen. But we had two weeks rehearsal, we had a great cast, and Nick Grosso who wrote and directed it, so everyone kind of threw themselves into it. I think I spent most of my time on that job laughing, because all the boys Matthew Rhys, Matthew Dunster and Justin Salinger were just hilarious. It was a really lovely, lovely shoot to do with the company, but it was quite a hard, short shoot. We had about four weeks to shoot everything. It was just manic.
Matthew Rhys has said elsewhere that the small budget meant it was a hard shoot.
It was hard only because it was relentless, especially for Matthew because he was in every single scene. For me it was less so but its very character-driven and theres so much dialogue. Most of the scenes are just one or two or three people sitting around and talking, and these scenes go on for a lot longer than they usually do in films.
Had you done anything like this before? Having been in theatre you must have been used to this type of thing.
Yes. This was my second film, at the time, and Id never played the sort of young female kind of lead, so it was really exciting that Id got it. I was thrilled to get it because it was just such a nice, quirky, charming little script. I just knew we could have some fun with it, and we certainly did.
Can you comment on the characters? Yours is the only performance, it seems to me, that shows restraint in the film, and because of that you appear the most natural.
I dont think the characters were underwritten, in a bad sense, by any means. What I mean is the boys all had stronger characters and Cherry, in the fact her character is understated. The boys are larky and loud, they all have agendas and issues. Cherrys quite patient. She just sits and listens and puts them right when she needs to. For a female it was nice to play a strong character who wasnt in your face - shes just her own girl. I also think shes an ordinary girl. I know lots of Cherries because shes one of those girls that can be a friend with the lads but be her own woman. Shes doing her studies and she has this mad crush on her friend, Frank, and he spends two hours of the film freaking out about it and making an arse of himself. By the time he sees sense, she says, Too late, mate, Im going off to University. You had your chance, Ill write to you. So youre kind of going gung-ho for the girl.
In your experience are the women usually the more assured, the men flaky?
When I was at school, yeah, I think so. Its not always the case. Its lovely to have friendships with guys and I think that comes across really well in the film. Rather than it being an all boys or an all girls flick, I think the girls will enjoy getting inside young mens heads.
Have you ever found yourself in the position that she finds herself in with Frank?
Having a crush on somebody? Oh Im sure I have, lots of times. Im sure Ive got drunk one night and told somebody that Ive had a huge crush on them and woken up the next morning saying, I really wish I hadnt done that. But, you know, youve go to do that, havent you? Youve got to put yourself out there or youll never know [laughs infectiously].
Have you ever been the object of a crush, wanted or otherwise?
Oh I think you can always tell if someones got a bit of a crush on you, you know what I mean? Ive never been completely gobsmacked when a friend has suddenly turned around with, Well actually Im mad about you.
When you heard this was going to be an Irish film about London life, what did you think?
Well I did suddenly think, Well this interesting that its got Irish money, because usually theyre proud to make Irish films about Irish people. Its not about young people in London, its just about young people so I think people can relate to it and take what they want from it. Its not trying to teach you lessons or morals, its just what it is and you can laugh at these characters with their downfalls, idiosyncrasies and their charm just like you do with your mates. So I think thats pretty much universal.
People have said this is the Irish getting their own back on the Brits for all those Oirish films.
Well we had an English director, a very London director, and all the cast were from London, apart from Matthew Rhys, but we never actually thought of it being an English film and it was great to be in Ireland pretending were in North London.
Did it make you wonder how that was going to work?
Well they did all the exteriors in London, which there arent that many of. Theyre usually in pubs so what better place to be than in Dublin. The thing is we didnt get to enjoy much of Dublin because we were working every day and we were put up in apartments at opposite ends of the city. I think they were trying to keep us apart.
Was there any opportunity to hang out?
It was just so easy. Theyre all such good actors. You have to bounce the script off people and Matthew, who I had most of my stuff with, is a great friend, we had a riot really and tried things out. When you trust somebody's talent you throw them the ball and you know theyll throw it back at you. I think Nick was up for bringing as much of your input to it as possible and we spent two weeks rehearsing and talking about these characters. So by the time we got to Dublin we couldnt wait to get into it and just do it.
Is this the first time youve worked with Matthew?
That was the first time I had worked with him and then after that I went on to do The Graduate with him in the West End. We were both in the original cast. He was Benjamin and I was Elaine but it was a complete fluke. I had actually got the part of Elaine while I was doing Peaches and I remember the director, Terry Johnston, saying to me, Were casting Benjamin, have you got any ideas of young blokes because we want to see everybody and we dont know who we want. I remember saying to Terry, Youve got to see this guy Im working with called Matthew Rhys and I think hes amazing. A few weeks later he got a meeting and before he knew it he was meeting Kathleen Turner. He rang me up and said, Youll never guess what, Kell, Im doing it!. So it was great, there we were back together again.
The film version is such a classic, did you feel any trepidation?
I dont know. It was such a classic and I think you do have a responsibility because peoples expectations were massive at the time. Especially the first cast and I'm not sure if many thought it would work. I think you have to just block all that out and think youre playing a character for the first time. Terry, I believe, had made it a successful stage adaptation.
People say, why? But who cares why. It makes a good play and its entertaining.
Did you watch the film?
No I didnt, but Katherine Ross who played Elaine in the film is nothing more than a cipher. Shes this beautiful woman who walks around crying a lot and looking pretty. You dont know why Benjamin falls for her, and thats what Terry wanted to bring out more in the play. So we had much more of a comic kind of double-act going on, and a certain mutual respect. He made her a little bit more quirky, a bit more interesting and a bit smarter, but in an off-the-wall way, whereas Benjamin is academically sharp and quick, and suddenly this girl comes in and hes, Oh my God! It hits him for six that shes so intelligent.
You mention her intelligence. Is there a certain type of woman that you like playing, because I felt that your intelligence was what really came across in Peaches?
Well I think Cherry was just kind of sorted. She could have good laugh, she could go out and have a drink, but she wouldn't tear herself up about her life or what she wanted to do. She was motivated but she wasnt power hungry or desperately ambitious. She was just kind of a girl with a good head on her shoulders and didnt take any rubbish but who could be up for a laugh. Shes your ideal best mate, I think.
Compared to all the other characters she stood out because theyre all off in their own worlds when shes in the middle holding things together. When I talk about Elaines intelligence, thats completely different. Hers was more instinctive and emotional. It was more on the side, a kind of left-hand kick, you know what I mean? No, Its not rational sense. Theyre always girls in their own skin. You cant play someone who isnt, I dont think.
Do you have to like the characters you play?
I do, yeah. If theyre horrible you cant just play horrible, you have to find something that makes them human."
I spoke to someone recently who said they always looked for a characters weakness.
Yeah thats right. I think youve got to try and find everything about them that balances them out. If theyre written as the pretty kind of soft-spoken little girl youve go to find something that gives her a little bit of a kick, otherwise shes bland, and vice versa. Otherwise theyre not very interesting.
Out of all the characters you've played, which is the one you found you identified with most?
Catch me different days of the week and its very different. Whenever youre working on something you have to find something of yourself, but you have to be completely different. So many characters I have played have been very different, which I feel very privileged to be able to play such a wide range of characters. But theyre always characters, theyre never plot driven. Its not about somebody who just tells a story. So I dont know what I find most empathy with. I find different aspects of different characters that I can empathise with but there's no whole character that I can say Im most like. But Cherry I think I probably am very similar to. I like that she's easy going and the fact that she can have a sense of humour about these lads, but not patronise.