2014 was quite a year for Faye Marsay. The wonderful Pride, the Doctor Who Christmas special and E4’s Glue were amongst a bunch of highlights for one of Britain’s fast-rising acting talents.
We chatted to her as Glue arrives on DVD. And we’ve found out if we’re going to see the Shona Shuffle again anytime soon…
I spoke to you in the midst of Pride, a film I really loved. It struck me then and it struck me since that last year seemed to be a year and a half for you, what with that, Doctor Who and Glue. You’ve hinted in the past that since you left drama school, life has been a whirlwind. So where does 2014 sit in all of that?
I never expected that I’d be doing as many jobs as I did. I know everybody says that, but I thought I’d be sat in my pants waiting for someone to ring me. Then maybe within five years I might get something. But last year was intense. I did so many different things. I went from period dramas, to Channel 4 comedy, then this big film… it was incredibly intense. I wish I’d have sat back more and gone ‘wow’! But because I was so nervous, and it still feels like I am new to this game… I was worrying, do they think I’m any good? But yeah: it was incredibly intense, but so fun. I was so lucky. So many of my friends, it’s a slower burner for them, and it could have gone that way for me. It just went bang, which was grand! I’m not complaining!
What was quite extraordinary though wasn’t just the range: the quality of each of your projects came out so well. I’m reading Anjelica Huston’s memoirs at the moment, and she makes the point – as many have – that you never really know. Would you agree with that, though? A lot of your background is theatre, where you do get an instant feeling of whether something’s working. But how have you found your recent screen work? Is your instinct as finely tuned, say on Pride?
I think with Pride I always knew that was something amazing, because of the people who were in it, and the story, and the way it was written, and who was directing. Anyone in that cast knew it was special.
Everything else? You haven’t got a clue! I’m one of those actors who likes to kick the shit out of myself. It sounds so wanky, but I make myself not well sometimes, because I just want to be good at it, and I want people to enjoy it. When I’m working, I’m not saving anyone’s life or anything like that, but it becomes a massive responsibility. All the stuff bar Pride that I’ve done, you don’t have a clue how it’s going to be received. I constantly think I’ll be found out any second. Some of the crazy stuff that goes through your head. Once you’ve moved on from the scene, that’s it, it’s going in the telly and there’s nowt you can do about it! It’s really scary.
To badly paraphrase what Michelle Pfeiffer used to say, she’d act for free, the money was for everything that goes with it. Can you relate to that? The fame, the exposure, the scrutiny?
[Laughs] I don’t really get that recognized, really! When Doctor Who came out, some people were like ‘oh fuck, it’s that girl from The White Queen, and that girl from Pride‘. Now she’s playing that gobby, dozy one in Doctor Who! But I do think for people who are much more in the limelight, that would ring true for them. I still find it hilarious that someone wants to give me money for doing this! I think it’s hilarious, and beautiful.
There’s a lot of waiting around, and it needs a lot of patience! That’s the only bit I can relate to!
When it came to Glue specifically then, presumably it’s a Jack Thorne script that’s the main attraction?
Yeah, pretty much! I remember reading the first pages and going, ah, yeah, okay! I did every ounce of prep I could. I found out about the casting director, who I’d never met before. I trained with Billy Howell, who plays James. He got it a couple of weeks before I’ve gone in for it, so I was ‘I really want to be in this’. The script was wonderful, and it was something a bit different, you know? And the actors they brought in were really wonderful young actors. I’m not so young, so whatever, but they are! To work with them was great. I loved it, I really did.
Was Glue low budget too? Was it out of the glare, and you could find it a little more too, or was there a sizeable time pressure?
Yeah. There were times when it was like ‘we’re not going to get this scene’ and we were rushing around. At times like that, though, I feel more sorry for production and the crew. The crew work non-stop from the minute they get in and have their breakfast to the minute we’re done. While they’re setting up, we got off and have a fag and a cup of tea and wank on about acting!
But they just crack on. It was low budget, but we never really wanted for anything. And I think the majority of people would say it was a pretty amazing production given the budget it was on.
I loved the fact that it’s in such an usual location for a production of its ilk. Glue is a lot more than a murder mystery – a lot more! – but I wonder if switching to a countryside locale was part of the appeal here?
Well, yeah. It’s definitely more than a murder mystery. There’s all sorts of stuff in there that people can relate to. The character I play is a massive compulsive liar, hiding all this stuff, and hates herself from the inside out. Billy Howell’s character is similar. It was so much more than a whodunnit type thing. It was received really well I believe, and I know a lot of people can relate to it on a level more than ‘I want to know who killed him’.
Was there a sense with this, and with Pride, that they were tremendously well received, but they deserved a slightly bigger audience? Does that bother you?
For Pride, it kind of frustrates in that I think the people who were responsible for that story 30 years ago need some recognition. But then it’s more about if a film about gay people is putting people off in 2014, that’s what’s upsetting. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you like what you like. But I felt like with Pride, certainly when it was released in America, there were certain things that went on with the marketing where I though we’re pandering to whatever the vibe is of that area. In some places, that’s unavoidable. Otherwise, they won’t watch the film so let’s approach it in a way that will get them to watch it.
The only reason I find it frustrating is is it due to the content of the film? Is that a reason people don’t want to watch it?
I think it’ll be a slow burner, and the people who have watched it have been touched by it. That’s the most important thing.
Glue? I expected it to go on for a second series, definitely. I don’t know whether it is [one hasn’t been announced]. It only bothers me because I know the hard work that’s gone into it. But it’s like anything else in life. You can’t ram it down someone’s throat. They either want to see it or they don’t, and it’s word of mouth. That’s how it should spread.
I do have to ask, then, have we seen the last of Shona in Doctor Who? Because she seemed to go down a storm?
With Shona, there’s been no talk of her returning.
But you’d be keen to return to the role if you had the chance?
Definitely! I loved working with the people. They’re wonderful to work with and incredibly talented. And Peter Capaldi! God, I fancy him so much. He’s amazing! The people, the production and the crew are the nicest people. And again, being really sycophantic, it’s a really nice set up they have in Cardiff, and really good people who care about the show. I would definitely go back and do more Doctor Who. Whether they’d have me back, I don’t know! No-one’s rung, so I’ve got to let it go and be thankful I was in it in the first place!
Ah, but you’ll always have the Shona Shuffle…
[Laughs] That’s it, that’s it! Which I reprised on Boxing Day in my home town!
Did you really?
[Proudly] I did!
Looking forward then, has the profile of what you’ve been doing changed the material and profile of the material you’re being offered?
I wouldn’t say so, no. I’m still auditioning like every other actor. Sometimes I don#t get an audition and go, oh, it’s the end of my life! Most of the time I think I’ll never work again! But I think people know what I’ve done obviously now. In respect of things I’ve been in. But I audition, and I don’t mind that, and if people offer more stuff, that’d be amazing. But I understand that’s not the way the game always works!
Faye Marsay, thank you very much!
Glue series one is out on DVD now.