Play­ing the game of two halves

The ac­tress on com­ing of age, the North-south di­vide and flea bites

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Tara Fitzger­ald talks to Jack Watkins about get­ting older and the 20th an­niver­sary of Brassed Off

WE’RE in a room in the Royal Al­bert Hall with an el­e­vated view across to Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens, where Tara Fitzger­ald is re­flect­ing on a mo­men­tous pe­riod in her life. Just over 20 years ago, she was here film­ing the scenes of the Bri­tish film Brassed Off, in which she was a flugel­horn­play­ing mem­ber of a York­shire col­liery brass band. She’s re­turned to talk about that, and other things, be­fore the gala cel­e­bra­tion of the film next month.

Although Miss Fitzger­ald seemed, then, to be one of Bri­tain’s ris­ing stars, she ad­mits that, un­der­neath her gamine poise, she was bat­tling with un­cer­tainty. ‘Like a lot of young peo­ple, I had this du­al­ity. I was in­cred­i­bly ex­cited be­cause I was mak­ing lots of films and yet I was re­ally fright­ened be­cause I had no frame of ref­er­ence,’ she con­fesses. ‘I was self-crit­i­cal in terms of how I looked and in­se­cure about my tal­ents. As you get older, you be­come more philo­soph­i­cal about that.’

Brassed Off was a tragi­com­edy that hu­man­ised the plight of min­ing com­mu­ni­ties who, a decade ear­lier, had been sim­plis­ti­cally painted as mil­i­tant thugs be­ing led over a cliff by Marx­ist-sym­pa­this­ing union lead­ers in that ma­lignly di­vi­sive way that the main­stream me­dia can have when faced with dif­fi­cult is­sues. The ac­tress, Sus­sex-born to an Ir­ish mother and an Ital­ian fa­ther, saw a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Most of the film was shot on lo­ca­tion in Grimethorpe, where the mine had closed in 1993.

‘They’d ba­si­cally had every­thing stripped away from them, with no al­ter­na­tive pre­sented,’ she re­calls. ‘The South, in gen­eral, is a much more priv­i­leged re­gion than the North and it wasn’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated how things such as a col­liery band were some­thing that went right into the jugu­lar. As some­one once said, you need three things in life—some­thing to work on, some­one to love, or love you, and some­thing to look for­ward to— and I think they felt they’d been de­nied most of those things.’

In the film, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the strug­gle for dig­nity in the face of ad­ver­sity was the late Pete Postleth­waite. ‘Ah, Peter,’ she says, in wist­ful re­mem­brance. ‘He was so easy to work with. When some­one’s that good at their job, you don’t even have to think about it. You just re­act to what they’re giv­ing you and stop feel­ing self-con­scious.’

He was one of the ‘older male ac­tors’ she feels for­tu­nate to have worked with, in­clud­ing Peter O’toole, John Hurt and Al­bert Fin­ney, in each of whom she seems to have drawn out gen­tle, pro­tec­tive in­stincts. She ap­peared with Mr Fin­ney a cou­ple of years be­fore Brassed Off in a mi­nor char­ac­ter com­edy, A Man Of No Im­por­tance, in which he starred as an Os­car Wilde-quot­ing Dublin bus con­duc­tor. When I men­tion how much I en­joyed it, she seems pleased. ‘It was a del­i­cate work that went slightly un­der the radar. I haven’t met many peo­ple who know it, but those who do much ap­pre­ci­ate it.

‘For the shoot, I rented this old cot­tage with my friend Ru­fus Sewell, with­out know­ing it had a flea epi­demic. I was so badly bit­ten and there was a love scene com­ing up and I was afraid the bites would show. Al­bert ar­ranged for me to be put up for two nights in a ho­tel prior to the shoot­ing. He was so el­e­gant and dis­creet about it, be­cause I didn’t dis­cover that it was him un­til much later.’

For a time, Hollywood seemed to beckon, but Miss Fitzger­ald ad­mits: ‘I just didn’t feel com­fort­able there. I’ve never had a ca­reer plan, but al­ways felt more connected to this coun­try and Europe—the sen­si­bil­i­ties we at­tribute to the land­mass and the film tra­di­tions— although the mar­ket has be­come much more glob­ally co­he­sive now, so that peo­ple are aware of what an Ira­nian film di­rec­tor is do­ing, for in­stance.’

With­out ne­glect­ing her home base or her stage ori­gins— she played Lady Mac­beth at Shake­speare’s Globe last sum­mer—miss Fitzger­ald’s in­ter­na­tional stand­ing was helped by be­ing cast in the hit drama Game Of Thrones. ‘That’s been a real gamechanger,’ she says. ‘Be­ing part of that global phe­nom­e­non has helped my pro­file, be­cause peo­ple are so pas­sion­ate about it.’ She gets fan­mail from all over the world.

Miss Fitzger­ald has also taken her first steps as a di­rec­tor. Af­ter di­rect­ing a short, which did well on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit, she’s in the process of edit­ing a sec­ond, based on a Shirley Jackson story, The Lottery. She’s also plan­ning a full-length fea­ture film about two women in their fifties who are re­united af­ter 30 years, which she ex­pects to shoot next year.

There are two rea­sons to wish the project suc­cess. First, there should be more Bri­tish fe­male di­rec­tors and, sec­ond, the film’s pro­tag­o­nists are from the ‘grey pound’ de­mo­graphic, one that’s be­ing al­most en­tirely missed by film-makers, de­spite the im­mense hunger among that age group for the cinema.

‘A woman in her fifties is vir­tu­ally ig­nored,’ says Miss Fitzger­ald, who will be 50 in Septem­ber. ‘In films, she might reap­pear in her six­ties, but then as a ma­tri­arch fig­ure and de­picted only in re­la­tion to some­one else—un­less they’re play­ing a queen. And there’s this huge pool of tal­ented ac­tresses in that age group who are not be­ing cap­i­talised on. [Span­ish film maker] Pe­dro Almod­ó­var uses women in all their ages and is dar­ing enough to put an older woman in the lead.’

It’s a point that needs mak­ing and that Miss Fitzger­ald is well placed to de­liver. Let’s hope she suc­ceeds. The in­se­cure young ac­tress of two decades ago is find­ing her­self by let­ting her in­de­pen­dent-minded spirit shine through. Jack Watkins

I was self­crit­i­cal about how I looked and in­se­cure about my tal­ents

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