Joanna Vanderham Interview
Joanna Vanderham Interview
Joanna Vanderham, star of TV’s The Paradise, met up with View to talk about her latest film What Maisie Knew, and to share stories of working with fellow actors Steve Coogan, Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgard on a wonderful script, the fun she had filming in New York and how this updated treatment of the classic Henry James story is still relatable and powerful for today’s audience.
What attracted you to the part, and how did you get involved?

Joanna Vanderham

I think the script in itself is so relatable. Girls need to go through, or they do go through, a period in their life where they realise that they can’t rely on other people. I think Maisie is learning that, but Margot learns that too. That was really interesting for me. I just think the way the script was written in general, was really slick.

The way I got involved, I was filming in Glasgow at the time and my agent sent me the script, kind of generic protocol. I read the script and was, ‘Um, I’ll give them a call tomorrow and let them know I really like it’. He called me at half past ten at night and was like, ‘What did you think of the script?’, I was like, ‘Why are you phoning, you never phone me after office hours. It’s really good’. He said, ‘We’re going to set up a Skype interview for you with the directors’. I was like, ‘Okay, that never happens either’. The next day I was on Skype with Scott [McGehee] and David [Siegel], and then had a Skype chat with Avy [Kaufman] who cast the film.

I didn’t have to read any scenes, didn’t have to do any acting at all, and then literally that night got a call from my American agent and my British agent on a conference call saying, ‘You need to get down to London and go to the embassy and get your visa, because you’re going to New York in two weeks’ time’, and that was it. It was an incredible whirlwind. I got cast in two days, and was in New York within two weeks, I think.
From their previous films, it seems they’re quite idiosyncratic directors. Had you seen their previous films?

Joanna Vanderham

I hadn’t, I have to admit. Once I was cast, I thought, maybe I should see how they work and what their style is. I watched Bee Season, and I loved it. Everyone asks what it’s like working with two directors.
That was my next question...

Joanna Vanderham

Well, it’s like this, it’s really, really interesting. They work so well together. People always assume it’s going to be indecisive, and too much talking things over. But they were so on the same page. David was the one that would give you a note directly, but he and Scott had discussed it beforehand, so I knew that if I was getting a note from one director, it was a communal decision. It was something they’d both agreed on for the journey of the film.

If anything, it meant you had an extra person to talk to if you were struggling with a scene. So one of them could be discussing the lighting, and the camera position, and you had a free body - well, as free as directors ever are - to say, ‘help me get to this point in this scene’. It was a luxury, it was great.
Was there a sense that they split the lighting and camera duties, or was one more geared towards that than the other?

Joanna Vanderham

I felt like it was quite a shared thing. They planned beforehand with their director of photography where the set-ups would be, and then on the day they were very open to ideas. If an idea struck, or the lighting was coming in really naturally from the skylight or whatever, they would just use that and go with it, and they were really open. It’s not like they took it in turns - it felt like, actually, when someone had an idea, that was the idea that you went with; which was really creative.
Obviously chemistry’s incredibly important in a film like this, not just with you and Alexander Skarsgard, but also with Onata Aprile. How much time did you have to work on the relationship beforehand?

Joanna Vanderham

They’d started filming for a few days. So the first scene that I did with Onata was the scene where I pick her up from school, and Alex comes in and says, ‘I’m Maisie’s stepfather, I’m here to pick her up’, and she doesn’t know who he is. They’d been working together already, and actually it was me who she didn’t know. She very astutely said this to Scott and David, she went, ‘It should be the other way around, I love Alex and I don’t know who she is’, and I was there, mortified.

This is day one, scene one, no idea what to do, so then I spent the rest of the day trying to enamour myself to this little girl. ‘You have to like me!’, taking her to the park, making her play games and stuff, but she just fell in love with Alex. So what we did, the next week we were filming all the scenes at the end of the film, and the beach.

Myself, Onata, her mum, and one of our producers lived in the same little beach house, and essentially I was their live-in nanny. I wasn’t doing the cleaning and the washing up and stuff, but I got full-on time with Onata, off camera, away from set. We sat and learnt our lines together, we sat and had dinner together, to the point where, by the end of that week, she fell asleep on me, I was carrying her home from a restaurant and that kind of stuff. I hope it shines through in the movie that we played, and she was really open to that.

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Content updated: 23/04/2019 20:54

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