BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Why Joanna Scanlan’s new role is no laughing matter

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Joanna Scanlan is usually fine at undressing on the screen, but when she had to do that for her latest movie, she was ‘a little nervous’.

We know Scanlan best for playing the lively inspector Viv Deering in No Offense; or perhaps ward Den Flixter in Getting On; or Terri Coverley, the unfortunate government press officer in The Thick Of It.

But Mary, the woman she lives in in director Aleem Khan’s movie After Love, isn’t from a box we’ve seen before.

She is a Muslim convert and lives a comfortable life in Dover with her husband Ahmed, a ferry captain, until he suddenly dies – within the opening frames of the film.

And then Mary discovers that the man she’d been in love with from the age of fourteen was living a double life with another woman in Calais.

And so she sets sail across the Channel to discover the truth.

Joanna Scanlan at the 2016 world premiere of Bridget Jones’ Baby in London. We know Scanlan best for playing the lively detective Inspector Viv Deering in No Offense; or perhaps ward Den Flixter in Getting On

Mary (pictured), the woman she lives in in director Aleem Khan's After Love photo, is not from a box we've seen before

Mary (pictured), the woman she lives in in director Aleem Khan’s After Love photo, is not from a box we’ve seen before

In Calais, she finds Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) who, when she sees Mary in her hijab, assumes she is a cleaner responding to a job opening. “You know, that French hauteur,” Scanlan said. “Mary feels diminished by that.”

She is hired by Genevieve, who does not know her true identity. The two women – the secular Republican and the Muslim woman of the faith – are opposites in almost every way. ‘There is the tall blonde and the short brunette; the thin and the fat, ”Scanlan said.

There is a moment when Mary examines herself in the mirror. ‘We look at her stretch marks and the way her body tells a story. The body bears the scars of our life. We look at the naked and the clothed, and she tries to protect herself from the threat – and the threat at that point in the story is the other woman. ‘

Scanlan said she was asked to take off her clothes for roles quite often; and most of the time she feels comfortable doing so. But not this time. “I was a little nervous about actually inviting someone to examine your physical flaws,” she said. ‘

Scanlan knows where to look for vulnerability, as evidenced by her scene-stealing moment in The Invisible Woman, in which she portrayed Charles Dickens' wife Catherine (pictured) opposite Ralph Fiennes

Scanlan knows where to look for vulnerability, as evidenced by her scene-stealing moment in The Invisible Woman, in which she portrayed Charles Dickens’ wife Catherine (pictured) opposite Ralph Fiennes

Steve Coogan with Scanlan In The Loop in 2009. Scanlan, 59, got into acting professionally late because 'it took me a long time to grow up'

Steve Coogan with Scanlan In The Loop in 2009. Scanlan, 59, got into acting professionally late because ‘it took me a long time to grow up’

Scarlett Johansson with Scanlan in Girl With a Pearl Earring in 2003

Scarlett Johansson with Scanlan in Girl With a Pearl Earring in 2003

The Thick Of It with Scanlan as Terri Coverley

The Thick Of It with Scanlan as Terri Coverley

Mary and Genevieve must overcome their prejudices against each other, and how they do this takes place against the backdrop of Brexit and the plight of refugees. Neither topic is mentioned directly; but they are there, in the stunning images … right down to pictures of the White Cliffs Of Dover crumbling into the sea.

Aleem Khan, whose debut film this is, developed the picture together with the British Film Institute and BBC Film. And while Scanlan has become one of our most celebrated stars, she still had to go through a rigorous audition process.

Once selected, she went into homework mode. Khan gave her a crash course in Islamic teachings, while his mother gave tips on how to dress for the role.

She took a walk in London for a few days in a hijab and salwar kameez, to see if people treated her differently. Nobody did. “You could be dressed in a ball gown on Oxford Street and people don’t care,” she said dryly. ‘Although I felt different in myself. I felt very comfortable; and felt that, strangely enough, I was not going to receive unwanted attention. ‘

Aleem Khan, whose debut film this is, developed the picture together with the British Film Institute and BBC Film.  And while Scanlan has become one of our most celebrated stars, she still had to go through a rigorous audition process.  Pictured, Scanlan as Mary

Aleem Khan, whose debut film this is, developed the picture together with the British Film Institute and BBC Film. And while Scanlan has become one of our most celebrated stars, she still had to go through a rigorous audition process. Pictured, Scanlan as Mary

Once selected, she went into homework mode.  Khan gave her a crash course in Islamic teachings while his mother gave tips on how to dress for the role

Once selected, she went into homework mode. Khan gave her a crash course in Islamic teachings while his mother gave tips on how to dress for the role

She went for a walk in London for a few days in a hijab and salwar kameez, to see if people treated her differently

She went for a walk in London for a few days in a hijab and salwar kameez, to see if people treated her differently

Scanlan's parents are strict Roman Catholics, and she grew up praying in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  So the pious practices that Mary practices were well known

Scanlan’s parents are strict Roman Catholics, and she grew up praying in the morning, afternoon, and evening. So the pious practices that Mary practices were well known

She also visited the central mosque in Regent’s Park and attended various ceremonies. Scanlan’s parents are strict Roman Catholics, and she grew up praying in the morning, afternoon, and evening. So the pious practices that Mary practices were well known

Scanlan, 59, got into acting professionally late because ‘it took me a long time to grow up’, even though acting was a passion from an early age. “I had to work on myself, in terms of confidence,” she told me. It took me four years to get to the point where I could launch myself – to a place where there could be no safety net. ‘

But those difficult years were invaluable. She knows where to look for vulnerability, as evidenced by her scene-stealing moment in The Invisible Woman, in which she portrayed Charles Dickens’ wife Catherine, opposite Ralph Fiennes.

She credits Fiennes with teaching her “ the art of close-up, ” a secret she believes is not hers to reveal.

Sarah Alexander, Michelle Pfeiffer and Scanlan in Stardust

Sarah Alexander, Michelle Pfeiffer and Scanlan in Stardust

Scanlan as Terri Coverley in The Thick Of It

Scanlan as Terri Coverley in The Thick Of It

She currently plays Ma Larkin in a television adaptation of HE Bates’ The Larkins novels. For every shot ‘I had to say to myself,’ She’s a happy woman! How many stories do we get about happy women ?! ‘

There are plans to adapt the Puppy Love series she starred (and wrote) in with Vicki Pepperdine, possibly for Netflix. The pair are also adapting Lisa Evans’ book Old Baggage for US TV, and she hopes to star in it.

Scanlan categorized herself as “under the radar” for much of her career – although not in my book. She said when she goes shopping, no one ever says, ‘Are you Viv from No Offense? Or Terri from The Thick Of It? And she was not surprised. “Small, fat woman, no makeup, in an old anorak, doesn’t get much attention.”

But actually, she added happily, under the radar ‘this is the right place to be’.

  • After Love opens in theaters next Friday.

Beware of …

Kate Winslett, who gives a vanity-free performance for all ages in the blood-curdling murder series Mare Of Easttown.

The Oscar-winning actress plays the title character, Mare Sheehan, a beer-guzzling, hot dog-chugging, constantly PO’d homicide detective in a small town.

Easttown mare.  Mare Sheehan (pictured) interrogates suspects in a gruesome murder case and welcomes Colin Zabel, a district detective who has been called to assist.

Easttown mare. Mare Sheehan (pictured) interrogates suspects in a gruesome murder case and welcomes Colin Zabel, a district detective who has been called to assist.

There are unfounded rumors about a second season.  But unfortunately, my information is that no more Mare is happening

There are unfounded rumors about a second season. But unfortunately, my information is that no more Mare is happening

Mare (pictured) is a beer-guzzling, hot dog-chugging, constantly PO'd homicide detective in a small town

Mare (pictured) is a beer-guzzling, hot dog-chugging, constantly PO’d homicide detective in a small town

The seventh and final episode will be broadcast Monday on Sky and NOWTV. I’ve watched the whole thrillingly intense show and I can confirm it’s an A +, a TV not to be missed.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler when I quote a line spoken by one character: ‘It’s Mare! She knows !! ‘

There are unfounded rumors about a second season. But unfortunately, my information is that no more Mare is happening.

Still, like the show itself, life is full of twists and turns. Now, if only Kate and writer Brad Ingelsby could be persuaded …

.