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Interview: Keeley Hawes

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In celebration of this week’s release of The Casual Vacancy on DVD and Blue-ray, we chatted to Keeley Hawes about her role as Samantha Mollison.

Can you tell us about your character?

Samantha is married to Miles, and they’ve been bringing up their twin girls under the shadow of Howard and Shirley, Miles’ parents.

Shirley absolutely despises Samantha, she hates her. Samantha feels pretty much the same way about her, which was such good fun to play as I couldn’t feel more differently myself towards Julia McKenzie, who I am totally in love with. It’s awful really to play those scenes with pure hatred, and there is this little bit of you that is actually appreciating the brilliant work that Julia is doing.

Miles and Samantha are not in a great place when we meet them; their marriage is in a very bad way. That’s really down to his relationship with his mother and his father. He is a mummy’s boy, but he’s gone too far and now they are using him and pushing him forward in this election. It’s probably a good thing because it does bring everything to a head, between them.

It’s a fantastic script; what did you think when you first read it?

Sarah Phelps has done such an amazing job; it’s such a wonderful script to read. I really feel there’s nothing I don’t know about these people. It’s so brilliant, because we’ve got this tapestry of thoughts and memories that have been created by these wonderful scenes that are in the series but aren’t in the book. It’s so beautifully written that all the tiny details of their lives are all in there. It’s a bit like curtain-twitching, on the telly. The situations these characters find themselves in are very real. There’s humour at moments where there really shouldn’t be, at funerals and events and places where people should be seen to be behaving a certain way. Underneath that there are all these other emotions and other relationships going on, and that is how life is.

How do you approach the look and feel of Sam’s character? 

When I read the books I was very keen that she should be very large-breasted. I think that’s a major part of Sam’s personality. She’s probably gone to these lengths at some point, when keeping things alive, when she started her underwear boutique. It’s all part of this look. They’re not in keeping with the rest of her, in the same way that she’s not in keeping really with the rest of Pagford. I was very keen on keeping that from the book. The outfits Samantha wears are all very top-end but it looks very cheap.

In the book she’s perma-tanned. She’s got stained hands where she’s just constantly rubbing fake tan all over her at every available opportunity. That was quite difficult to maintain and I was also finishing off another job where I couldn’t be perma-tanned, so the logistics of that were too difficult. 

Did you find yourself having sympathy with Samantha?

I’ve got so much sympathy for her. She’s really stuck. She loves her husband and it is something still worth saving. It’s not a total loss. She’s just being railroaded at every turn by these very strong characters. They live in a house which has been owned by Miles’ parents. Even the house they live in is down to them. They live in a house that’s beyond their means, but only because of Howard and Shirley. We have a scene where Miles and Samantha are having a conversation in the kitchen. There’s a ring on the doorbell and they know it’s going to be Howard and Shirley. This is what happens every day, Shirley just lets herself in all day long. It would drive you mad.

Miles has been brainwashed to the extent that he can’t see any bad in his mother.  He is like a giant baby; he couldn’t fend for himself on that council estate, he wouldn’t last two minutes.  I like to think Sam’s a bit more savvy than that.

THE CASUAL VACANCY is available on Blu-ray™ and DVD now.




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