Working on new Netflix film Mank – charting the behind-the-scenes drama as screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) writes Citizen Kane under heavy pressure from Orson Welles (Tom Burke) – left actor Tuppence Middleton with two contrasting emotions.
On the one hand, she felt awe at the glamour and glory of golden era Hollywood, and entertained a wish to return to the privacy its stars enjoyed then. But on the other, the 33-year-old star felt relief and gratitude to be working in the modern film industry as it moves towards equality and diversity.
I finished Mank two weeks before lockdown, flew back from LA, got to see family and friends, then the country locked down
Middleton, who plays Sara Mankiewicz in the film, tells this week’s Big Issue: “If you work in this industry, it makes you think two polarised thoughts. ‘Oh, wow, the glamour, didn’t everything look so beautiful and wasn’t it great when our private lives were more mysterious?’
“But at the same time – it wasn’t all roses, you see the corruption, the ways we’ve moved on as an industry and society. So it is a stark reminder that although we consider those the golden days of Hollywood, many things are much better now.”
This is especially so, she says, for women in the film industry.
“I feel grateful to live in an era of Hollywood which is post-MeToo and is a world of intimacy directors and moving towards equal pay, equality and diversity.”
Like many, in her industry and beyond, Middleton has been unable to work much this year. But she is one of the lucky ones. Middleton, whose range shone in roles as disparate as wealthy Russian temptress Helena in War & Peace and haunted Icelandic raver Riley in sci-fi smash Sense8, went into lockdown with three projects in the can.
So while she was in lockdown in London, her latest work was being polished and primed in hastily configured editing suites. It is now ready for public consumption, starting with Netflix’s Mank.
Shot in black and white, steeped in the iconography of classic Hollywood, it’s a heartfelt hymn to the movies.
“I was so lucky. I finished Mank two weeks before lockdown, flew back from Los Angeles, got to see family and friends, then the country locked down. It was being edited during lockdown – as was Shadowplay, which we shot in Prague, and Possessor, which was filmed in Canada. Situations change, funding is sparse, and COVID effects everything. So I was very lucky these projects were done and dusted.”
But is there an irony in this paean to Hollywood and the magic of the movies being made by Netflix?
“Netflix is such a player now in the film world, but I’m happy when their releases go to cinema first,” says Middleton. “Because it’s a shame to lose that experience. It is one of my favourite things to do.
“What’s happening to so many independent cinemas makes me sad, because nothing beats that as an experience. And a film like this sort of has to be seen on the big screen as well.”
Middleton has been a long-standing supporter of The Big Issue. She has spoken of her fondness for her former local vendor (in our 25th anniversary film, above) and written for us about her love of Leonard Cohen.
She ends the interview – which can be read in full in this week’s magazine – with a message of solidarity for vendors across the country, many of whom are still unable to sell the magazine on the street at the moment.
“I really understand what it is to not be able to do your job at this time. It’s frustrating and lonely and uncertain. And on top of that as, as a Big Issue vendor, it’s not just about your work, it’s about your life. So I encourage people to subscribe if they can’t buy from their vendor, because it’s such a wonderful, supportive community. We can’t lose that. We have to support vendors now more than ever.”
Mank is on Netflix from December 4 and in some cinemas now.