‘Phantom Thread’ Star Lesley Manville: “It’s so easy to make someone bad look good on film. In theatre, there’s no hiding place”

“Filming is different. You’re getting a moment right. You can go in and create something very good, very quickly. That’s a different challenge to having five, six weeks to rehearse a play.” – Lesley Manville

Many Oscar-watchers might not be familiar with Lesley Manville, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. However, Manville has had a stellar career in British film, television, and theatre for four decades. In Phantom Thread, she plays the stoic sister of Daniel Day-Lewis‘ character. In an interview with The Independent, spoke extensively about signing up for the film, how she believes the ultimate challenge for actors is on the stage, and why social media does more harm than good for young actors.

Manville admits that she didn’t need much convincing to accept her role in Phantom Thread. She explains, “Paul Thomas Anderson rings you up when he says he’s going to ring you up — at 10 o’clock on the dot — and says he’s written a script, asking whether you would like to be in a film with Daniel Day-Lewis. If I needed any more selling I would need my head examining.”

Though she quickly agreed to the role without knowing much more about it, Manville reveals that it wasn’t a case of just showing up and reading lines. She says, “Paul wrote it but it was very up for grabs how I interpreted Cyril – how we created this duo, Daniel and I. It was a very, very fulfilling gig in every way. I was using all my creative genes. We were really working together as a team to make this come to life, which was wonderful.”

Part of that process involved working directly with Daniel Day-Lewis on their characters together. She explains, “We talked about their background, obviously, but also became friends so we could take that ease of Lesley and Daniel and put into the ease Reynolds and Cyril inevitably have with each other, having been with each other all their lives.”

In addition to her film and television credits, Manville has been appearing on stages in UK for forty years. She still sees screen and stage acting as different processes. She says, “You’re creating an evening that’s absolutely on the actors. No one can stop and shout cut or edit and make it better. Actors are on stage, exposed, and you need to get it right. Filming is different. You’re getting a moment right. You can go in and create something very good, very quickly. That’s a different challenge to having five, six weeks to rehearse a play.”

In fact, Manville believes this is why aspiring actors need to develop on stage as much as they can — because that could prepare them for a film like Phantom Thread. She continues, “Young actors need to do as much theatre as they can. But you have to be used an economical version of a rehearsal for film. We would do a lot of takes on Phantom Thread. I mean a lot! I don’t think there was ever a moment where I felt we hadn’t explored a scene fully.”

Unfortunately, Manville believes young actors don’t have the opportunities that she had when she was coming up as an actor. She explains, “First of all, there’s not as much theatre available now. The system is breaking down, simply because a lot of regional theatres don’t exist anymore. In my day, you would go all over the place.”

On top of that, Manville is concerned with how some actors are getting roles these days. She says, “Some young actors don’t get to act on ridiculous television shows because they don’t have enough Twitter followers. It makes my blood boil. Get off Twitter, get off Instagram. All that matters is acting and observing the world and being able to recreate that and look at characters in the real world and bring that to your work.”

So what if an actor finds success via social media? Manville points out that it’s not good for long-term career growth. Of social media, she says, “I know quite a few who just don’t do it, and they’re the ones with actually interesting careers. The ones that are really in earnest about it. Others are flavour of the month. And once your month is up, you’re f****d. Cause all you have is your Twitter followers, and that’s it. Just do anything but be a social media actor. It’s an empty form of acting.”

Which is why Manville turns back to her original advice on acting. She says, “Be different, be a chameleon, don’t be a personality actor because it might not last that long and it might get quite boring for you to play the same part all the time. And get on stage as much as you can. I still think the ultimate test is being on stage. It’s so easy to make someone bad look good on film. In theatre, there’s no hiding place.”

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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