Film

Ruta Gedmintas: "It's our duty not to live within a bubble"

English actress Ruta Gedmintas remembers when she first came across James Bowen and Street Cat Bob in London – and why everyone should see the film adaptation

Ruta Gedmintas plays Betty in A Street Cat Named Bob. Initially beguiled by Street Cat Bob, Betty strikes a bond with new neighbour James Bowen – played by Luke Treadaway, pictured with Gedmintas – and becomes his closest ally.

Her biggest roles to date have come in US sci-fi series The Strain (incidentally the real life James Bowen’s favourite television show), The Borgias and Lip Service. The Big Issue caught up with her in the dressing room at London’s Found111 theatre during her critically acclaimed recent run in Unfaithful…

When did you first hear about James and Bob?

I had never met James before I got the role, but I had seen James and Bob at Angel Station, and I was immediately drawn to them. I didn’t make the connection at first. I’d seen the Big Issue seller with the cat on his shoulder, which I love. I am a big animal lover, so any time I see an animal, I’m like: “Oh my god, that’s amazing!”

What drew you to your character of Betty?

I like her hope. She has had a lot of darkness in her life and there are two roads you can go down – but she takes the road where everything is bright and colourful. It’s as though if she lets herself feel any darkness, she might fall into it. It is about filling her world with kindness and compassion. She is an animal lover too, so when I got offered the role, my agent said: “well, it’s just you, isn’t it?”

What is it about James and Bob that has caught the imagination, do you think?

The connection between a human and an animal is so pure, because animals don’t have the complications that humans have. We connect with animals in different ways, it is the absolute baseline of compassion, that love and caring. And maybe people connect with this story because people want to feel that connection, but life seems to get in the way sometimes. And that is a shame, because we can make that choice to give someone a cuddle, stop and have a chat, or indeed to buy a Big Issue. Even if I don’t have the money to buy The Big Issue now I will now stop to have a chat. Or if I am in a rush, I’m never in too much of a rush that I can’t make eye contact and say hello. The purest and simplest form of connection – having eye contact with someone – can be the only thing that will make someone smile that day. A couple of people said to us, while we were doing research, that they can go for days without anyone looking at them and it makes them feel they are not part of humanity.

How did you enjoy having James on set?

It was so lovely having James around. It brings a poignancy to what you are doing. If on a day it is 4am and you are exhausted, it is raining, you are doing a scene outside and James walks along – you think: This is why we are here. This man and his story – and he is telling this story for all the other people who are in the situation he was in. That was wonderful. It was also hilarious. I would be playing a scene with Luke, who embodies James so well, while the real James was just off camera. It was a bit trippy!

Working with Bob must have been a thrill for you, as an animal lover?

There is no other cat like Bob. We had stunt cats. One could run away quickly and jump on the bus, one could be scrappy. But none had this presence that Bob does – the Bobness, the human quality. He is so smart. It feels like he knows far more than you about everything! He was probably the calmest person on set. The calmest thing on set. For the crowd scenes where Luke was busking in Covent Garden, sometimes in the middle of the day, big crowds would be watching. For that reason, we used real Bob a lot because that was his world and he was used to it. One of the main things we all wanted to make sure was any animals on set were treated with the most care. No stress for the animals. I was big into that!

James Bowen meets Luke Treadaway and Ruta Gedmintas while filming A Street Cat Named Bob

Why do you think the film is important?

I think it is our duty to be aware of what is happening within our society and not live within a bubble. This film opened my eyes, especially to issues around addiction. If the books didn’t exist, you had never heard of James and Bob, and saw James on the street years ago, you might make assumptions. That seems to be what people do. But James is wonderful. He has such a kind heart. And this film reminds us to stop and talk and get to know people. It has been such a pleasure meeting James. He has become a good friend. When I first met him it took about 20 minutes then he blurted out that he is a big fan of The Strain! He always tries to get spoilers out of me, which is fun. He wants a souvenir from the next series. I will try to get him something. But it has been such a pleasure meeting him and I am so pleased his life is where it is now.

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