Sunday 25 August 2019

'Dublin accents are much harder than I thought' - Holliday Grainger recounts living in capital

Holliday Grainger shines in 'Animals', a film that's been described as 'Withnail for girls'. She recounts living in Dublin during the Repeal referendum

Holliday Grainger as Rachel Carey in The Capture. (BBC)
Holliday Grainger as Rachel Carey in The Capture. (BBC)
Balance of fun and grace: getting ready for her role in Animals, Grainger was taken on a tour of Dublin bars with her co-star

Method actors are renowned for staying in character even after the cameras have stopped rolling; famously, Daniel Day-Lewis texted his Lincoln co-star Sally Field as the US president on his days off. Holliday Grainger isn't quite as extreme, but she did decide to keep speaking in an Irish accent even when she wasn't filming scenes for her latest film, Animals.

"Oh, it's just so much easier once you're in it and to stay in it on set," she explains. "If you come out of it and then have to go back into it, it can be harder to stay in the rhythm."

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Getting the nuances of the accent right for her character, Laura, was harder than the British actress first thought. "Previously, I'd sort of messed around doing it - I'd lived in Dublin previously (with her actor boyfriend Harry Treadaway, while he worked on Penny Dreadful), and my friend there would say to me, 'your accent is shite. Don't do it for anyone'," laughs the 31-year-old.

Yet the shoot for Animals, based on the novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, moved the action from Grainger's native Manchester to a Dublin setting, necessitating an accent crash course.

"I was really like, 'yeah, I can get this down', but when you only have a few months to nail it, you realise how hard and complex it is, differentiating between north and south Dublin accents," she recalls. "I had the standard freak out about it before shooting but then I rang the same friend for a drink using the accent and she was like, 'it's too weird, stop it!'"

In any case, Grainger rose to the occasion, nailing the accent and playing Laura with an admirably delicate balance of fun and grace. In Animals, Laura and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) are best friends, ripping a swathe through Dublin's nightlife scene with the carefree vim of seasoned rock stars.

Tyler refuses to bow to patriarchal convention, deeming day jobs, steady boyfriends and sobriety as a bit of a drag. Yet Laura, a struggling writer, hears the siren song of a life beyond bar-hopping and bed-hopping when she falls for Jim (Tyrone actor Fra Fee). Naturally, it disrupts the delicate balance of their co-dependency.

Laura's predicament is relatable to most women of a certain age, not least Grainger herself: "The time between me reading the book and filming was two-and-a-half years, and in that time I found myself just relating to so many different aspects of Laura's life," reflects Grainger. "I was just at that age when all these different issues raise their heads."

Balance of fun and grace: getting ready for her role in Animals, Grainger was taken on a tour of Dublin bars with her co-star
Balance of fun and grace: getting ready for her role in Animals, Grainger was taken on a tour of Dublin bars with her co-star

When Grainger and Shawkat first met in Dublin, the film's director, Sophie Hyde, set a task for both of them. They had a few days before shooting to bond, so that they could convincingly pass as best friends. They were sent to the Dublin bars where shooting would commence, and asked each other questions from a list set by Hyde. How did their first relationship affect their friendships? Who was their own best friend when they were younger? When were they partying too hard, to the point where they had to question themselves?

"We'd definitely have done (the bar visits) anyway, but Sophie introduced us to people from the city who helped show us around. We'd talk in the daytime about female friendships, and our experiences, and then we'd just bleed into the pub.

"Dublin has such a great energy and easy vibe," Grainger adds. "I rang my old landlord (on Fitzwilliam Square) before we started shooting to see if I could get my old flat there back, and fortunately I could."

Filming on Animals happened around the time of the 8th Amendment Referendum (in the film, Shawkat's character wears a 'Repeal' jumper), which "made everything so much more relevant", according to Grainger.

"I'm so glad we moved to Dublin, particularly at that time, as there were a lot of conversations happening about women's bodies and body ownership and ownership of one's life and choices.

"There was a real communal vibe of empowerment," she says. "We went to a few open mic nights and theatre productions, and the stories coming out definitely resonated when it came to Animals."

British journalist and author Caitlin Moran enthusiastically deemed Emma Jane Unsworth's book as 'Withnail for girls', while an Esquire reviewer noted that Animals is likely to "fill a Fleabag-shaped hole on your life".

"I guess that comparison makes sense as it's about flawed, complex women that like a drink," Grainger muses.

"It's dark and funny like Fleabag. It really has helped pave the way, and has shown people in (film) studios who finance these projects that people really want to watch these stories. Hopefully it'll be seen less as a 'female' thing as a human thing."

It wasn't all that long ago, Grainger reveals, that things were very different. "Finally, we're doing away with the myth that actresses don't green-light films," she says. "I'd be attached to a certain project and someone would genuinely say, 'we're not making films about women right now, we made one last year'. Imagine being comfortable enough to say that."

One look at Grainger's CV hints at a staggering versatility. She was discovered by a BBC casting director for her first role at the age of five, and then starred in her first series in 1994, All Quiet on the Preston Front. Yet in addition to the zesty dark comedy that's Animals, there has also been Disney (Cinderella), award-winning drama (Patrick Melrose), war-time romance (Tell it to the Bees) and historical (Neil Jordan's The Borgias). However, reporters soon picked up on a pattern on Grainger's role choices.

"They kept asking, 'so you like period dramas', and I had to think, 'wow, am I being pigeonholed here,'" she reveals.

"At the time, I wasn't even thinking about the period - it was more about the role. There was definitely a time when I was offered more (period) parts, but I think that's changing now. In fact, I can't remember the last period script I read. Besides, I'm probably too old. I ain't no Juliet no more!"

If there's any consistency in Grainger's body of work, it probably lies more readily in book adaptations. In addition to Animals, there has been the adaptations of Great Expectations, My Cousin Rachel, Lady Chatterley's Lover and JK Rowling's CB Strike.

"I find having the novel to go from along with a script really helpful - as an actor you have more to cherry-pick from," Grainger notes.

Up next is another series set in Ireland, Wild Mountain Thyme (starring Jamie Dornan) and circus drama Halo of Stars (opposite Treadaway and Lily Collins).

"I guess what's really important to me is working with film-makers I find inspiring," Grainger surmises. "That's why Animals was so special to me. It's very rare to get source material you love, a character you want to be and a director whose work you really admire. I think that sort of creative surety trickles down to everyone on set, and ends up on the screen."

'Animals' is showing in Irish cinemas from August 9

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