Samantha Morton On Class, The Arts & Mental Health

Samantha Morton is far from her Midlands home, where she moved from London seven years ago. She’s in Georgia, filming The Walking Dead, where she’s playing lead baddie, the cunning and sadistic Alpha. But the actress, who has won both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, and stars in Minority Report and Jane Eyre, shares seemingly few of the characteristics of Alpha – the leader of a group of survivors who dress in zombie skin and shun civilisation and humanity. "Sorry, can you hear the lawnmower behind me?" she apologises. We are here to talk about her new film, Two For Joy. Written and directed by Tom Beard, it’s a delicate and unnervingly intimate portrait of a family’s trip to the seaside. The film – Beard’s debut – tells the story of Aisha (Morton), a woman who is suffering from grief, anxiety and depression following the death of her partner, and her two kids – thoughtful and sweet Vi (played by Emilia Jones), who is seemingly constantly plugged into Duolingo, and her younger brother Troy, who is navigating the tumultuous beginnings of puberty. Vi begs Aisha to take her to the seaside for a weekend break in their late dad’s caravan, as if getting away from their gritty council house, where Aisha struggles with each minute of the day under a heavy blanket of medication, will provide an escape into normality. It doesn’t really but what it does provide them with is a transgressive experience; here they meet Lias, the site manager of the caravan park, his sister, Lillah, played by Billie Piper, and her daughter Miranda, who begins a friendship with Troy that ultimately becomes destructive.
What initially drew you to the script?
Tom approached me with a first draft of his script and I read it and it was really special and incredibly beautiful. That was a long time ago, and I said please stay in touch, and he did. By special, I mean it’s something you may not have come across before, there’s sincerity to it. It was obviously something he wanted to say, he was being earnest, and that is really nice. Nice is not always a nice word but from a female perspective, if a young man is writing a film and you go, 'Oh I wasn’t expecting that,' it’s really beautiful. The experience of making it with him was really special, and I can only imagine he’s happy with it.
There’s a real delicacy to the film, it’s very thoughtful.
He really got to the vein of it – grief, mental health, depression. I thought it was very accurate, and unusual for a man writing the character of a mother. It wasn’t a drama that had to be explained all the time, it was very intimate. And having known his photography, I always knew it was going to look very good. It might have been his first film but he had a natural instinct that often it takes people many, many years to work out. He has a flair for cutting through the bullshit really.
Was the fact that it was Tom’s debut film something you took into consideration when you took on the role?
I wasn’t apprehensive about it. For the simple reason, when you’re taking a photograph, you have to have a way of communicating with the subjects voyeuristically, invisibly, and he’s very good at that. You don’t become very good at it without an ability of looking through the camera and knowing what you want and knowing how to get that. The dialogue prior to shooting was really liberating. We had little money and little time, but it was very intimate. All I ever asked for was a private rehearsal and to shoot it as quickly as possible so those feelings don’t disappear. And he was really respectful of that.

We are expected in society to be great at everything, to bounce out of bed and get it right. We are not allowed to fail.

Samantha Morton
The film was produced by Blonde to Black Pictures – Sadie Frost and Emma Comley’s production company...
There are a lot of female producers, but we are lacking in the female gaze: you need more female directors and female writers. What great female producers do is that they support their directors and their vision. Emma and Sadie provided a complete blank canvas for Tom. You had the sense that they just wanted to protect his vision at all costs.
There’s such a taboo about medication and I really wish there wasn’t, but also there’s no singular experience of mental health, is there?
For the character of Aisha, it was clear that the medication wasn’t helping her and because of the cutbacks in the mental health system she wasn’t being put into therapy to deal with panic attacks, anxiety, agoraphobia. For her children it must have been tough. It’s insane the levels that the mental health crisis has been allowed to go to. Aisha has suffered grief, has been given medication, but hasn’t even had a proper appointment. We are expected in society to be great at everything, to bounce out of bed and get it right but we are not allowed to fail.
And a lot of that pressure comes from social media.
I am so lucky that I have never been part of that for many reasons! I’ve got normal anxieties that women might have – my children, a healthy level of financial anxiety – but I think for young people now it must be insane how their brains juggle everything. I don’t let my 10-year-old on social media but my 18-year-old I have to let on.

I hate to bring it back to the class system in the UK but certainly with this government and the coalition government preceding it, they have set out to decimate the integrity of the working classes.

Samantha Morton
How do you think being a young director or actress or writer is different since your career started?
I didn’t realise it was a career when I was a child, it was something I loved and then wound up doing. I think it’s really tough now. The whole landscape has changed. It’s harder. I hate to bring it back to the class system in the UK but certainly with this government and the coalition government preceding it, they have set out to decimate the integrity of the working classes. To not be creative, not to feel anything, not to write anything, not to rise out of the ashes of anything. Grants, young enterprise schemes – it's all gone. The decimation of young people and poverty and the mental health aspect of this can’t be underestimated. Also in families that are seemingly okay, debt is a huge problem. Creativity is always there, it will always burn through, it’s like the weed at the side of the road. But in a general sense we live in a time where there’s no love for the arts even though it's a multibillion dollar industry. You have to do things for the love of the craft. It’s not easy.
Do you do things for the love of the craft or do you do them for the mortgage?
Everything that’s come my way at the time it’s come my way has been a combination of the two – I’m a working mother, I have three children and a mortgage. So you have to make decisions that are part of a bigger picture. I'm very lucky because I seem to get offered the parts that are juicy and require a lot of thought and depth. And I live quite frugally, I live up north – once I was offered a movie in China, I couldn’t even understand the script, it was an action movie. It was a million dollars to get on a plane and go and discuss it, that was the opening offer. But I didn’t understand it. So, no, luckily, I haven’t ever done anything for money. I’ve maintained integrity but I’ve had to keep grafting. But I love the grafting. I love work.

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