Thursday 22 February 2018

Waking Hours: Actress Samantha Morton

Samantha Morton (38), is a Bafta and Golden Globe-winning actress renowned for her intense, intelligent work. Born in Nottingham, she lives in the north of England with her children, Esme (15), Edie (8) and Teddy (20 months) and Harry, her fiance of 10 years

Samantha Morton
Samantha Morton

Ciara Dwyer

On a typical filming day, at 4.30am, I will breastfeed my baby for about an hour. Teddy is 20 months. It can be a bit tiring, but it's our time. Then I do a 20-minute session of weights and press-ups. For a long time, I didn't have a good system in place, but I've had to time-manage. Then I shower, and make sure I've got everything I need. It's almost like a school bag, which I have prepared the night before, with my script and vitamins. I live in the countryside in the north of England, but it's rare that I film close to home. I'm always on location. For this last big job, The Last Panthers, I was in Belgrade.

A car picks me up and drives me to the set. In the caravan, I have a pint of juice, and then I go into make-up. I often wear wigs for parts. They spend ages wrapping your hair in preparation for the wig. It's not as glamorous as people might think. When we were doing my new Sky series, The Last Panthers, we were working with a Serbian film crew, and they didn't have a huge amount of money. Everything was clean and everything worked. It was basic, but good. All during this time, I get constant texts about Teddy and, if I'm in an area with good reception, we do FaceTime; that way I can say good morning to Teddy, and to my other kids when they get up. I have two other daughters, Esme and Edie. When I'm working, they are always five minutes away from me in a hotel, or if we're lucky, sometimes on a movie, we rent a house. We travel together, like a circus. My partner Harry will be there with them. FaceTime is brilliant, because it's such a lovely way to communicate with children visually. If they are not speaking, at least they can see your face. Teddy will go, 'Brr brr Mamma'. In the past, if a child was upset and wanted a parent, talking down the phone was so alien to them. But if they can see your face, and you can make them smile, it makes everything better.

In The Last Panthers, my character, Naomi, is a loss adjuster. She is like a female James Bond. She has a boss, but she works alone and in incredibly dangerous situations. I'm interested in telling truthful stories with impact, whether that's a political or emotional impact. Certain parts may make people question their opinion about things, and that matters to me. I'm privileged to be able to work on jobs for so many weeks a year and then I get to be at home with my children.

When I'm working, I'm supported by my partner. Harry is a photographer and documentary film-maker, and the best dad in the world. I couldn't do my job without him. We live outside the city on a farm. It's all about bringing up the children in a normal environment, not a celebrity-led environment, like a city where there are cameras. A few years ago, my eldest daughter was photographed coming out of nursery, and I hated it. I decided that moving me and my family into this life in the country was the best thing I could do.

When we're at home, we have a normal family life. With children, it's all about their life, and you run with their schedule. Family is what it is all about for me. I was 21 when I first became a mother with Esme. I didn't have any help, and I was a single mum. But I look back so fondly on that time. It was wonderful. But it wasn't always easy when the bus would pull away because the driver would see you with this big push-chair, and he didn't want the hassle of you getting on. And it was tricky breastfeeding and reading scripts in between. But you make your routine, and you find what works for you.

I think having children was the making of me. When I play a part, the fact that I've gone through this journey - you see the world differently. I think I'm a better person and certainly a better actress for it.

I don't mind talking about my childhood. I was taken away from my mother because, as far as I'm aware, she wasn't very well at the time. There wasn't the idea at the time of rehabilitating her so that she could be a better mother and have her kids back. So I've never really had a mum. I've had about 12 foster mums, all intermittent - some for a few months, some for a year. I didn't have anybody to call on for an example of how to be a mother. But ultimately I decided that it's just about love. I keep them safe and I put them first, because they are not kids forever.

Harry and I wanted a family, and this is our world. The internet is shockingly bad in our area, so we're forced into a wonderful fake isolation. In the evening, everything is about creativity. I might be singing or playing the piano, and after the kids have done their homework, we might play Monopoly. Then I'll lower the lights. We read to each other, get the kids ready for bed and then say our prayers. It's about being grateful for the day.

When the kids are in bed, I might write, or watch a movie with Harry. I like to have a nice bath and I drink some sleepy teas. I'm not always this calm, but I became calmer after my stroke. A few years ago, a ceiling fell on my head and I had a stroke. Long story short - I had to learn how to walk all over again and recover. When something like that happens to you and you nearly die, your sense of mortality and what's important changes forever. Don't get me wrong, I still have days which I find hugely stressful, but I just take a deep breath and say, 'This is not important'.

The quality of my sleep depends on what character I'm playing. When I played Myra Hindley, I didn't sleep very well. Ultimately, I'm lying to myself in order to do this, but I'm still going through it. For a role, I might have been crying all day or screaming all day, and that's not fake. I'm quite a spiritual person, and I believe that those vibrations are with you afterwards. At the end of a day's filming, I'm a bit frazzled, so I try to take care of myself.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

'The Last Panthers' is on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Thursdays

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