Monday 16 December 2019

'Telling a traumatic story was therapeutic' - Suranne Jones says filming Save Me helped her with grief over mother's death

Actress plays mother of a child who disappears in new Sky Atlantic drama

Suranne Jones as Claire McGory
Photographer: Justin Downing
Suranne Jones as Claire McGory Photographer: Justin Downing
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Suranne Jones admits she was in ‘a very strange place’ as she took centre stage for her latest commanding performance in the enthralling Sky One drama Save Me.

Fresh from her triumphant BAFTA winning portrayal of Doctor Foster in the hit BBC One drama - which has set viewing records during its two-season run - Jones is plunged into another stomach-churning drama in the gripping Save Me.

Suranne Jones as Claire McGory and Lennie James as Nelson
Suranne Jones as Claire McGory and Lennie James as Nelson "Nelly" Rowe. Photographer: Des Willie

The actress plays traumatised mother Claire McGory who is forced to step back into a life she had run away from when her daughter Jody disappears.  The hunt to find Jody forces her to get back in touch with her daughter's father Nelly Rowe.

After being arrested and accused of kidnapping the 13-year-old daughter he has barely met, Rowe (played by Lenny James, who also wrote the drama), fights to clear his name.  It's a story that pulls at the heart strings from first moment to last.

During filming, Jones tells us, her own life was in a state of turmoil.

“It was a really difficult time for me personally when we were filming this,” she begins. “I had just lost my mother in real life and had given birth to a child.

Suranne Jones as Claire McGory and Barry Ward as Barry McGory and Phil Dunster as BJ McGory. Photographer: Des Willie
Suranne Jones as Claire McGory and Barry Ward as Barry McGory and Phil Dunster as BJ McGory. Photographer: Des Willie

“There are a lot of emotions going on there at all levels and going to work and telling a traumatic story like this was therapeutic in a kind of way. That might sound bizarre, but it felt like that for me at the time.

“As I came away from filming Save Me, it felt like something had shifted for me, something had happened. It was a healing process I suppose.

“This is a beautifully written script and working with the great cast on Save Me was probably just what I needed at a time when my head was all over the place. The end result is a drama we cam all be very proud of.”

Among the lengthy cast list of actresses who have attempted to forge a career away from their breakthrough roles in a soap opera, Jones has arguably enjoyed her greatest success.

Suranne Jones as Claire McGory
Suranne Jones as Claire McGory

Her wonderfully successful run in police drama Scott and Bailey utterly transformed her from her former guise as the feisty Karen McDonald on Coronation Street, with the compelling Doctor Foster then taking her career to levels that will be hard to match.

Now she has another hit on her hands, yet Jones admits she took some convincing to accept the role in Save Me.

“I had just taken six months off to have my little boy when my agent told me to look at it,” she continues.

“I had gone back to Doctor Foster, which was such a big thing to go back to, and I needed some time off. But then I read Save Me and Lenny’s writing was so beautiful. It was also different to anything else I’ve done on TV.

“This has been a very free and different way of doing things. The director wrote to me and promised that it would be a great experience and it has been.

“I have to say, it was nice to go shopping for her because we went to the high-end shops - Selfridges, Fenwicks - and we had a bit of fun with a character who is so interesting to play.

“Claire is a wife and a mother and has a big expensive lifestyle with her husband who works as a promoter in the record industry. Both are working-class so they have come up together and they have a great life. Then, suddenly, this story drags her back into a past life.

“She had a relationship with Nelly 13 years ago. It was a summer of love that results in a child, but Claire got out of that south east London world and didn’t want to go back until Jody is taken.

“She is plunged back into her old world and through the circumstances in which Nelly finds himself in, he finds her again.

“They join up again, but he doesn’t really know her. They have to get to know each other again.

“It’s like a bomb of history is blown up. Her new husband knows of him and doesn’t really want them to get close and the writing is so wonderful that you cannot help but be drawn into this story.”

Jones has become such a familiar face on our television screens that we could be forgiven for feeling there is nothing left for us to discover about her, with her raunchy bedroom scenes in Doctor Foster among the more erotic the BBC have screened in recent years.

At the age of 39, Jones admits the love scenes viewed by millions created some awkward encounters after some of her fans were less than discrete in their very personal reviews.

“The first series of Doctor Foster was amazing to be a part of and if we were going to make a second series I didn’t want it to be something that disappointed,” she says.

“When people love something as much as they did the first series, you have to make sure you come back with something just as good and not just to cash in on the success.

“Then the writer came to me and said no one covers divorce and how that affects children, so I felt that was an important topic. It was very successful and there has been an interesting reaction from people at times.

“I was out walking in the woods with my two-year-old when Doctor Foster was on and someone came up to me wanting to talk about the sex scenes, with my little boy stood right there. Probably not the moment to get into about that!”

Jones admits the presence of her little boy in the home she shares with her magazine editor husband Laurence Akers provides a welcome escape from her hectic life, with her role in West End theatre drama Frozen her latest time-consuming project.

“I love being a mum and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I take time out, have good breaks where I get to be mum and nothing else,” she adds. “Afterwards, I go back to doing some work. It’s a luxury, I know.

“I know how lucky I am to be able to say when I want time off. Not many actresses get a chance to do that, but when you get a script like this, you want to take it and do your best work.

“It’s also great for me having my little boy at home as it means you escape from work as soon as you walk through the door. You have duties as a mum and you want to be switched on completely for them.

“The BAFTA (Best Actress for Doctor Foster) came at a time when my baby was born so it was a whirlwind of a year and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way.

“Whenever I feel like I’m getting fed up I ask myself, what would my 16-year-old self feel like? And she’d feel so grateful. She’d be like, 'Wow, you did so well,' so that keeps me grounded.”

She has come a long way from the cobbled streets of Weatherfield and now Jones is respected as one of Britain’s elite acting stars.  With talks underway for her to return for a third series of Doctor Foster, her rise appears to be unstoppable.

All episodes of Save Me starring Suranne Jones will be available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV from Wednesday February 28th.

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