The film feels timely in many ways.
It does feel quite timely! What must it have taken, on a personal and a political level, to build something that has actually given us over 70 years of peace? Obviously there is the Cold War in there, so it is not quite as simple as that, but what they built afterwards was the longest period of peace that Europe has ever known.
It is easy to demonise somebody when you don’t understand what they are saying,
Do you think the film also speaks to how hard it is to live with hate and suspicion when faced with a real person?
It is much easier to demonise somebody when they are just “the Other”. And it is easy to demonise somebody when you don’t understand what they are saying. Suddenly looking at your enemy, hearing them speak your language, and seeing them as a human being must be something you can’t ignore.
Who needs to see this film – to hear that message that we have more in common?
Obviously, everyone! But I think people have to be careful of their rhetoric and we should be thinking of the consequences of our actions. Particularly right now. We should be thinking about what we want to smash apart – because we need to be thinking about exactly what we want it to look like afterwards.
Are you talking about Europe and Brexit?
I’m talking about everything, really. Everything in general. [laughs] What is the plan afterwards? Because what they managed to do after the Second World War is that they understood the lessons from the First World War, and how badly that Treaty of Versailles treated Germany. That should have been the war to end all wars and yet, 20 years later, you had another catastrophic war. So they made sure the rebuilding of Europe was different from the first time. So what is the plan?
If I knew that, if anyone knew that… but we should all be thinking about that, shouldn’t we? We should be going: this is what has been put in place to keep this peace, so what is the plan when it goes? Stories always reflect the time you are in – and how you perceive a certain point in time says a lot about the age that you are in.
Your character is so full of hate at the beginning. Was it important to get into that headspace, to really feel it?
What, was I really horrible to Alexander and every German member of the crew?! No, but it was a very powerful thing to realise. We can all be susceptible to fear and we are all slaves to our emotions. Her child was killed in a bombing raid. A bomb is faceless. Therefore you blame every single person you see. So although it is vile, it is also completely understandable. Again, the redemptive quality is that she does suddenly have to think of that enemy as a human being who has also experienced loss, and is not just this demon.
Coming out of the cinema, it struck me that just 15 years later The Beatles were going to walk into Hamburg
Yeah! What must it have been like then? These leather-clad young people arrive. It is absolutely extraordinary. Where was it that they played all the concerts, it was one of the bunkers, wasn’t it, where everyone would go mad? And again, that generation was extraordinary, wasn’t it? Maybe that is what has to happen.
Some kind of youth-led revolution?
Yeah. Hi guys! I think they are doing quite well at the moment, aren’t they?
Where does this role fit in with what you are looking for at the moment?
I am always looking for complex characters and stories that make me question things. She is not always likeable. And I am always interested in female rage. We see a lot of male rage but female rage is a taboo and treated differently – so I am interested in looking at it. More angry women coming up!
We are celebrating World Book Day this week – is there a book that changed your life?
I am reading Earthly Powers at the moment, which is the Anthony Burgess book. And I am completely loving it. But a book that has changed my life? The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. I had a real Jeanette Winterson obsession so I have read every single one of her books. But The Passion is one I could read again and again and again. It is that magical realism, the world that she creates, I just love it.
The Aftermath is in cinemas now