Interview: Elizabeth Healey

We had a chance to speak to the actress, writer and director about her career so far and the film Across the River.

Elizabeth Healey has an outstanding career in both TV and film and more recently a role in the blockbuster Doctor Strange (2016). It was a pleasure to speak to her about her career so far, including the romantic drama Across The River, which she also co-wrote.

What first attracted you to the role of Emma in Across the River? 

Well the unique thing about Across The River is that it was completely improvised – I had done some improvisation before but nothing on this scale so that was definitely a draw. It is very rare you get this kind of opportunity and it was one I couldn’t let slip by. And I found I really loved working this way – it was a totally collaborative process from beginning to end and was a fabulously creative project to be involved in.

As a character I think Emma reminds me of many women today – she works very hard, has achieved great things personally and professionally but is busy juggling and feeling guilty about it all. In the film she gets an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be childlike again and be carefree – that was fun to play.

Across the river is an experimental film with a majority of the dialogue improvised, what sort of preparation did you do for the role?

Because the film was to be totally improvised the rehearsal was a bit different from any other film I’ve been involved in. Warren Malone, the director, Keir Charles who played Ryan and I talked through together in detail what the storyline was and what was happening at any point in the timeline of the film. We then walked the route, through London that we would be taking during filming.

In terms of my preparation I did what I would normally do when preparing for a role – I did my homework on the character ie. Emma’s back story – her history, how she sees the world and her place in it etc. – before I got to set, but once there all that preparation gets left to the side. Because there is no set script there are no lines to learn so my job really was to really get inside the skin of Emma and then listen to the other actors and react truthfully whilst all the while keeping the arch of the story in mind.

Did you find the freedom of improvisation easier or more difficult than if you had followed a set script?

The film is pretty much a two-hander and because it was all improvised Keir and I really had to be able to work well together. Once we were shooting it was totally up to Keir and I how the scene played out, so we effectively created the script in the moment, which is why it feels so real and fresh I think. Being able to trust one another was particularly important on this project, without it I don’t think it would have worked.

What did you dislike about the process of filming Across the River?

Early starts are always a challenge but apart from that nothing comes to mind.

The technique of improvisation is often used to create a more natural interaction between the characters. Did you find yourselves retaking certain scenes to make them stronger or did you try to keep the original takes to make it more authentic?

Every take is different of course, we sometimes did another take but never more than three, and that was very rare.

With the dialogue being improvised, do you feel that you may have brought some of your own personality into the role?

Working this way I think it is sort of inevitable that the two worlds sometimes merge slightly but only very occasionally. As long as you have a good understanding of the character then really it isn’t an issue.

Did filming in a busy capital city such as London cause any issues?

Not really, occasionally we had the odd issue with a passerby stopping to watch the filming but generally people leave you alone.

Across the River has been chosen to play at Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival with the short film For My Next Trick playing directly before. Can you tell us a little about this film?

I’m very excited that both are playing on the same evening! The short film is called For My Next Trick – it is about a lonely young girl in a sleepy seaside town who loses herself in a quest to become a master magician with cuddly toys as her only audience. I play her busy and distracted mother. Poppy dreams of escape from her emotional solitude and she begins to discover her magic skills are more than an illusion. It has got a rather mysterious and slightly unsettling end… I won’t say anymore or I’ll spoil the surprise!

Having worked in independent films and blockbusters such Doctor Strange how would you compare the two experiences?

Both films are obviously very different in terms of scale and budget but to be honest in terms of what I do my approach to any character is pretty similar – I always try and be truthful to the character I’m playing whatever project I am working on.

When did you first decide you wanted to get into acting as a career?

It was something I had wanted to do from a young age, but I actually didn’t pursue it seriously until I had left university.

Who have been your biggest influences throughout your career?

That is a hard question but if I am thinking professionally then going by what kind of films I’m drawn to then directors like Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier, David Lean, Andrea Arnold and Danny Boyle come immediately to mind. I guess what I love about all of their work is how brave it is. In terms of actors, Juliette Binoche is just incredible. Everything she does rings true and her emotional honesty on screen is second to none.

Do you have any other projects in production or coming out soon?

Across the River is continuing to gather momentum and Mum’s List, with Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox is just out on DVD as is BBC’s One Of Us. Caleb is another lovely short film that is gathering lots of recognition on the festival circuit plus there is a super project that I can’t talk about yet but hopefully will be able to soon. I wrote and directed my first film recently called The Angel of Hull so I am busy with the post-production on that too.

Across the River screens on August 7th at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival.

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