What it’s like to meet Madonna and have hair like Jedward – we speak to Vicky McClure about playing This Is England ’86 lead Lol.
One of the most eagerly awaited drama series of this (or any other) year was Shane Meadows’ follow-up to his stunning film, This Is England. The four-part series, This Is England ’86, picked up with the same characters three years on, against the background of the Mexico World Cup and a Britain where 3.4 million are unemployed.
This time, though, the lead character was Lol, Woody’s loving, loyal, strong-minded girlfriend. Lol, played by Vicky McClure, has endured more than her share of hardships in life, and come out smiling – but nothing prepared her for the tumultuous events that took place during the series. Here, McClure talks about the joys – and agonies – of filming the series, reveals why working for Meadows is such a unique experience, and reflects on what it’s like to have hair like Jedward.
You’ve made This Is England ’86. What made you want to come back and do the follow up to the film?
It wasn’t really questionable for me. As soon as I heard about it I knew I wanted to do it. I’m so passionate about all of Shane’s work, I trust him completely, he’s never going to get it wrong. I was on board completely from day one.
The whole cast came back, which is some achievement. What is it that brought everyone back?
Everyone came back apart from Pukey [played by Jack O'Connell] which was for work reasons – if he wasn’t working I’m sure he would’ve been on board as well. I think when we did the film it was just one of those moments in all of our lives when we just felt “God, how much fun can you have on a set?” We’d all worked a little bit here and there, a lot of us were just starting out at that point, but the freedom Shane gives you, on and off screen, we just have the best time. I don’t think any of us really imagined the film would do as well as it did. We we’re all just really happy with what we were doing, and really proud of it. So when it came to the series, everyone was absolutely buzzing. And the best thing about it , the series gives every character a story, and so it just felt like unfinished business, an opportunity for everyone.
The cast of This Is England ’86
You’ve said how much fun it was to film the first time around. How was it filming the series?
It was an even better experience for me. We’d done the film, we all knew each other, we were all really geared up to do this. When we all came back and met up for the first time, it was amazing to see how no-one had changed. Joe’s been on Emmerdale for four years, Stephen Graham’s been working with the best of them, people have been busy doing all these things, and everyone was still just as excited about doing this as they were the first time. And the other thing was my storyline in the series – it was such a massive deal for me for Shane to use me in a really big story. Maybe if he’d given me that opportunity a couple of years ago, I don’t know if I’d have been quite as ready for it.
You’re probably the central character in the series. How did that feel?
I didn’t really feel like it when we were filming it. When we first started, we all moved up to Sheffield and got our flats, and we were ready to go, and then I didn’t work for the first two weeks. All of the gang were off filming – it was just the way the schedule worked out – so I’d kind of sit in the flat, and everyone would come back buzzing about their great day, and I’ve just been sat there watching really depressing films that Shane’s making me watch. And then I’d say “Shane, that film was harrowing!” and he’d say “Was it? I turned it off after 20 minutes.” But at the time it didn’t feel that intense. There were certain scenes that had a lot of pressure, but when you’re on the set, you’re just working, you’re not thinking too much about it all. If you did, you’d distract yourself from what you wanted to achieve. But I suppose now, with all the talk about the series, it is quite nerve-wracking waiting for it to come out.
The story picks up with the characters three years down the line. What’s happened to them in the intervening years?
I don’t think anything’s really set out in the story, so it can kind of be left open. You know that Shaun isn’t with the gang anymore, and that’s down to the fact that he felt bad about Milky. But you don’t have a major backlog to go through, you can just see that they’ve all grown up, their images have changed. They’re all still a very close knit group though.
How do you go about recreating 1986 in your mind?
The costumes and the set are so authentic that it’s just easy to create it. I didn’t go away and do loads of research. Shane gives you the background of what you need, and then you’re there. It’s not that different from today in a lot of ways anyway, the lifestyle’s the same… You have to be a bit mindful of the words you use in improvised dialogue though – you wouldn’t be able to say “Oh, that’s sick!”
Did it feel different making this as a TV series, as opposed to a film?
No, not at all. It didn’t feel like we were making TV at all. There’s no difference in my head. The shoot was slightly longer, just because we had more to film, but that was it. It just felt like This Is England II. It was the same crew, which was brilliant. It was exactly the same.
Lol’s hairstyle has changed since the film. How did you feel about having a blonde quiff this time around?
To be honest, I was probably a bit more worried because I knew it was going to completely damage my hair. Putting peroxide on your head is not a good move. But I trust Shane. And you know what? I’m still blonde now, and I really like it. I’m glad that Lol got a bit of a different look – it shows she’s grown up and changed.
Did it occur to you at the time that there was a comparison to be made with Jedward?
No, but I know that’s going to happen! I’ve seen some of the shots, and it is very Jedward.
You must be delighted about that!
I want to meet them now. I’ve got to meet them at some point. Anyway, that’s fine, I can deal with that. There’s nothing wrong with that. They made me laugh. Joe [who plays Woody] is here, and he says he hates Jedward. Write that down.
Chanel Cresswell as Kelly, Rosamund Hanson as Smell and Vicky McClure as Lol
The series is a real mixture of great comedy and some much darker material, isn’t it?
Yeah, definitely. The first two episodes are very light, but you can kind of feel that something is on its way. And then episodes three and four are without a doubt the darker two. People who are familiar with Shane’s work will be expecting that.
This Is England was basically autobiographical, it was a version of Shane’s life. Is this series?
No, it’s not the case with this one. Especially with him having a female lead, he’s kind of had to take a different approach. And he’s written it all with Jack [Thorne] who’s an amazing writer, and so he’s had someone there to crate the stories with him. So it’s not autobiographical this time around.
You’ve talked about how much fun it is on set, and all the joking around. Does that help, when you’re filming some of the darker stuff?
Yeah, without a shadow of a doubt. We were doing some really dark scenes, and as soon as we cut, sometimes we’d have to be a bit daft and let loose a bit, because it can get really intense. One of the scenes in episode four in particular is a big deal for me, and I’d come off set and feel a bit drained from it all. I remember going to my trailer at one point and just crying my eyes out. And for the life of me, you can’t quite work it out, because you’re having the time of your life, but you’ve gone to such a dark place that it takes a little bit of time to get it back – you can’t just snap out of it. And having Shane around is great – he’s one of the funniest guys you could ever meet, his sense of humour is just second to none.
With the raw, gritty nature of the series, and the combination of comedy and much darker stuff, are there comparisons to be made with Shameless?
I’ve heard already there are comparisons. I watched the first series of Shameless and really enjoyed it, but for me, it’s a completely different thing. This Is England 86 just doesn’t look like television, it looks like a film. It doesn’t feel like a TV programme, the way it’s shot, the music on it. Throughout the shoot, we kept saying to each other “TV’s not ready for this.” We were dead proud of what we were doing. We were all working our arses off. I think people will make comparisons, but I don’t think they’re that similar.
Vicky McClure as lead character Lol
Apart from Shane, you’ve also been directed by Madonna. What was that like?
It was great. I honestly cannot tell you a bad story, I had an absolutely great time doing that with her. I was completely gobsmacked that she asked me – she’s a massive Shane Meadows fan and had loved A Room for Romeo Brass and This Is England. I got this random call – it came though Stephen Graham, because he’d worked with Guy Ritchie and all that – and Steve rang me and said “Madonna wants to work with you.” And I said “Yeah, right Steve.” And lo and behold, I got the script and it was all go, go, go. And she’s kind of kept in touch, which was nice. I went to her birthday party the other week. I’m just happy to say I’ve done it.
You also recently starred in Five daughters, about the Ipswich prostitute murders. It’s more dark material. Are you never tempted to do a costume drama or a rom com?
I’d love to – both of those would be right up my street! I watch costume dramas and just think “What a challenge.” And I like to challenge myself. And a rom com would be great fun, I’m sure. But as you say, all my stuff tends to be quite dark. I don’t know why that is, because I’m a really fun kind of a girl.
You mention Stephen Graham. Everything I ever see him in, he scares the crap out of me. Is he scary in real life?
No, not even nearly! He does give really good hugs. They’re quite tight. [Background talking] Joe’s saying they’re aggressive! But in real life, he’s a real gent. He’ll hug the shit out of you, but he’s nothing like his character.
Photos: Channel 4