Were you aware of the true story that Military Wives is based on, before you signed on?
No, I wasn’t aware then, and I don’t know how I missed it because it was a bit of a phenomenon, and that song that they recorded did get to number one. It was like the Christmas number one. It was a big deal. And they did play at the Royal Albert Hall. It was enormously successful. It went past me but once I realised I was going to do the film, I jumped in and watched and it was great. It’s just a beautiful story.
What drew you to it?
I met with Peter [Cattaneo] and I knew him not just from The Full Monty but from his TV comedy work as well. We just got on really well, and he talked to me about his vision for it and what he wanted to do. And then when I heard that Kristin Scott Thomas was in it, I immediately said yes after that. I think I could see that it could be a big popular movie. It’s really warm, heartfelt and funny. I’m used to doing shows that are smaller and therefore they have a smaller audience. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that there’s more people watching.
The sort of tone that Peter brought to The Full Monty wasn’t one that was cheesy. He approached it in the right way and I kind of felt like there was a chance that, even though this is a moving story, it can’t be too heavy-handed in that way, or it’s just too much. I felt like he’d bring the right tone to it. Of course, it’s completely different, men stripping, female choir… But at the same time, they’re just like regular women who when they get together, they can be loud and brash and a bit disgusting. And I really loved that about it. They’re not painted as wifeys. They’re just real women in a difficult situation and they’re trying to make the best of it.
Are you musical?
No, I’m really not. And that was part of the thing when I first met Peter, it was more just to tell him that I wasn’t going to do it. I’m not a singer and how would that work? And his whole pitch was that they shouldn’t be singers. They’re just real women who needed this thing to give them a distraction. And, actually, we were all in the same boat, and all of the actresses felt like they weren’t all that good, apart from Jess, who’s supposed to have this beautiful voice she kind of finds. But the thing is, when you put everyone together and you learn how to harmonise, it sounds good anyway, and which is what the film is about in a way; that you’re stronger together.
One voice isn’t very impressive on its own. But you put 30 of them together and they harmonise the right way, it sounds good. It was actually really fun and it’s how we all met each other initially as well. Kristin and I had met a few times, but all the other actresses, we all met for the first time in this recording studio, just belting out the songs. You start off all feeling a bit vulnerable, but you lose that and so you’re learning something new together. And it meant that we were able to develop a camaraderie very quickly, because you’re encouraging each other and you sound better together. It really helped doing that for us before we began the movie.
How’s the experience of working with an almost all female cast?
It was amazing. We just ended up hanging out together a lot and getting drunk together. And they were just a really great bunch of girls actually, and it really helped the sort of sense of camaraderie in the film. I hope it comes across because we really did enjoy spending time together. But at the same time, we were all very different. I kind of miss them.
What would you say is the most important thing you learned from this movie?
I think it was just to do things that you’re scared of. I know everyone says that, but it’s hard to put into practice. I almost didn’t do it because I was scared of singing and putting myself out there in that way. And I’m scared of performing opposite of Kristin because she’s so fucking good. I think it’s a good thing to do things that aren’t necessarily in your comfort zone because you always learn something and it stops you repeating yourself. If you’re always going to do the thing that you know you’re good at, then you don’t really kind of learn anything.
Maybe someone would say that the ideal audience for this film is centered on women or mostly women. If a man would watch this film, what could he learn about women?
I think most of the stuff that I do has strong women at the heart of it, and hopefully it always reveals something to them. I think how we talk when we’re not around men is always a surprise. That we can be as raucous and rude and awful… But I don’t know what they could learn about women… That we’re really good at getting on with shit. We’re really good at just getting on with the situation that we’re dealt and making it work. That we’re incredibly strong and very good at doing many things at once. That’s our superpower.
What would be your go to song just to make you feel better? What’s the one that you belt out in the shower?
To make me feel better? I’m quite the opposite. I don’t really listen to music to make me feel better. I listen to music that makes me sad. I like listening to a lot of Lou Reed and that kind of thing. And Leonard Cohen at the moment, I kind of need to get out of that because that really does kind of bring you down; earlier kind of grim stuff, a lot of Joy Division I’m listening to at the moment.
Can you discuss your contribution to the Amazon series, Modern Love?
I was directing Tina Fey and John Slattery. John Carney, who is the show runner of the show got in touch with me and I was aware of the New York Times letters, stories. And he sent me a few of those stories and he sent me the scripts that he had written, and I was just really drawn to that one particular story. And he asked me would I adapt it and I did. I sent him the script and then he said, ‘Will you come over and direct it?’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t. I’m too busy.’ And then they literally did everything they could to make my life easy so that I could come and do it. Because I was ready to start filming this film. And so yeah, they let me do a lot of my prep from the UK. And we have this remote edit that when I was able to go back to London and do it from there and they just made it impossible to turn down. And then once Tina said yes, I was just so thrilled. I’m such a massive fan and then Slattery signed on. It was just a joy.
Two comedy queens together…
Well, she’s my idol. She’s my hero. I was really nervous, but I didn’t need to be, because she’s just the most generous, gorgeous person.
You never seem to fit into those cliches of how we imagine that people that do comedy for a living, inwardly tortured and depressed, you don’t seem that person at all.
That’s because I’m really good at disguising my tortured nature. I think a lot of people who sit or create or write or perform do give themselves a hard time because you are putting yourself out there and showing your work to the world saying, ‘please like me, really.’ So, that’s not healthy. I’m just good at putting on a yellow suit and disguising it, I think.
Military Wives is in cinemas on March 12, 2020