Film

Joanne Froggatt: "A bit of humanity goes a long way"

Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt on making A Street Cat Named Bob and showcasing the complex issues of homelessness and addiction to a wider audience

Joanne Froggatt is known the world over for her Golden Globe-winning role as Downton Abbey’s Anna Bates, who she played from 2010-15.

The 36-year-old first found fame in Coronation Street as a teenager and has appeared in everything from hard-hitting Bafta-winner See No Evil: The Moors Murders to Life On Mars, Robin Hood and The Royle Family, as well as playing serial killer Mary Ann Cotton in recent ITV thriller Dark Angel.

In A Street Cat Named Bob, Froggatt plays former Big Issue vendor James Bowen’s keyworker Val (pictured with Luke Treadaway as James), who helps him through some of his toughest times…

The Big Issue: What drew you to James and Bob’s story?

It is just the most amazing human story. Incredibly inspirational. I thought it would make a wonderful feelgood film that we could tell in a very real, grown up way. How fantastic that this guy has changed his life around from meeting a cat and being needed. Wow. We all need to be needed, to have a role in somebody’s life. And James, in his darkest hour, finds a role in Bob’s life.

Tell us about how your character Val fits into the story…

For dramatic purposes, Val is an amalgamation of two people from the book – James’ housing worker and drugs counsellor. As part of our research, Luke, Ruta [Gudmintas, co-star], Roger [Spottiswoode, director, pictured below with Luke] and myself went to a treatment centre and sat in with a group session for recovering addicts. They were really candid about their experiences. And I sat with counsellors and social workers, discussed their day-to-day life and their tough love policy. It was so helpful for me.

What did you learn about the relationship between counsellors and their clients?

For most people it is a long process. Not that I’m an expert, but I haven’t heard a story of anybody who just decides to change their life and it all happens smoothly. For most people it is a long process and often two steps forward, one step back. Val is trying to support James in getting used to dealing with his emotions again, rather than self-medicating. The people I met were so grateful for their keyworkers. And for those keyworkers, it is a vocation, they do it because they care. They get to know the people they work with intimately, emotionally, because they need to know what has brought them to this dark place and help them work through issues in their life to try to regain control. It is an intense relationship. I have huge respect for them.

Did you spend time with James during filming?

James and Bob were in every day and I spent many hours chatting with James. It is their story, so it is right that they should have ownership of it. It is their life. Filming was a special experience because they were there. If I had questions, James was very candid. I asked about the first scene for my character, who visits James in hospital after he’s had an overdose. She is quite hard on him. James told me not to mother him, that counsellors are very kind, but that tough love is what people need on certain days.

Our 2020 Impact Report

The Big Issue has given more than £1 million support to Big Issue vendors struggling due to the lockdown restrictions. To mark the significant milestone, we have published an impact report, documenting the seismic shift the organisation has undergone in the past 12 months.

View Report

What did you make of Luke Treadaway’s performance as James?

Luke has done such an impressive job in this film. He and James had a close relationship and Luke slept out one night with James and they went busking together – so he really threw himself into the role and did a great job. He had a lot to deal with, with the cats and stuff. What is it they say about never working with children or animals? Well, his co-star for most of the film is a cat, but Luke took it in his stride. I had a couple of scenes with Bob. And, like most of the film it was real Bob.

Joanne Froggatt as Downton Abbey’s Anna Bates.

Has making the film changed your outlook on homelessness?

When you do a story like this you become hyper aware of homelessness and the presence of Big Issue sellers. I hope I never just walk past and ignore someone anyway. If I have already bought a Big Issue, I will say so, if I genuinely haven’t got the cash, I will say – but if not I will always buy one. Luke said the overwhelming thing doing his research was the feeling of being invisible. I hope I would never make anyone feel like that. I always give everyone the time of day. A bit of politeness and humanity goes a long way.

Who do you hope sees the film?

I want everybody to see it! It is a serious story, but also uplifting, lovely and accessible to a wide age range. It has an audience from the people who have read the books but I hope this opens it up to an even wider audience. Roger the director has hit a really great note with it, in terms of accessibility but still having serious moments and humour. I am very proud of it. It is an important story and a great film.

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