- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Marion has a small but important role in director Robert Zemeckis’ World War II spy romance/thriller, Allied as Mrs. Sinclair, a friendly neighbor to Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s married couple in wartime London. Marion spoke to Home Theater Forum from her home in England.
Allied is available now on Blu-ray, 4K UHD, DVD and Digital HD.
“It's a great love story, but it's a good spy story as well…”
HTF: Allied is a rare kind of movie see these days. Classically styled, quite restrained, and dramatically thrilling from Robert (Bob) Zemeckis, is that what appealed to you about this project?
Marion Bailey: I think so, yes. I mean, it's a very, very nice story. It's a great love story, but it's a good spy story as well. And I love London and I live in London [laughter]. So I like anything that's set London, and of course, wartime London is a very poignant place. My parents lived through the war, and I think it's always wonderful to remember what that generation went through and to look back on. And of course, it looked so beautiful. It was shot so beautifully, and I've just found out actually that the costume department got a few nominations, and well-deserved. I think they did a fantastic job. It really looks stunning. So, yes, it was a simplicity, in a way, of a story directly told, and of course fabulous to work with Bob Zemeckis who is such a great storyteller. I mean, he's done all sorts of different kinds of movies, but he was an absolute pleasure to do business with [laughter]. It was great.
HTF: And I was going to ask what it was like working with Bob Zemeckis because, you're right, he's got such an array of types of films, animated, motion capture films, highly entertaining movies like the Back to the Future trilogy, and then great dramatic works like Castaway and now Allied. And you've worked with many people throughout film, television, and stage, but what did you get from working with Bob Zemeckis?
“…you can just feel when you're working with someone who likes actors and who appreciates the input of the actors. And I could watch his working relationship with Brad Pitt, and it just looked so good and so relaxed.”
Marion Bailey: Well, I'd say my main feeling from him every time I met him was he just makes you feel relaxed. And it's wonderful to be with someone who knows what they're doing and knows what they want, but equally, someone who will ask for your input. And the first thing he did when I arrived on set was just ask me what I felt about it and how I wanted to approach it. We had met before, but you can just feel when you're working with someone who likes actors and who appreciates the input of the actors. And I could watch his working relationship with Brad Pitt, and it just looked so good and so relaxed. And so when you're on a set like that, it's pure joy for an actor, really, to feel that you just know you're in safe hands. I was slightly nervous because [of what happens to my character] Not something that happens to very many British actresses in film. So I was thinking, "I don't know how I'm going to do this!", but I loved it. I had such a great time [laughter].
HTF: And though your role is quite brief, you make an impact. In your first appearance, you convey such an immediate warmth and neighborly support. And frankly, a very quintessentially nan-like quality. At least that's how that it resonated with me. And then (SPOILER ALERT) the turn, a very dark turn at the end, there. Was it fun to play that difference? (END SPOILER)
Marion Bailey: It was great. I loved it [laughter]. I mean, all actors like doing things like that. But, I really did enjoy doing that. And I have to say, Brad Pitt was so charming and supportive. It's quite hard going in as a character actor to do a couple of scenes like that because you hope you're going to give everybody what they want, but you don't really know. Once you've been on a film for a few weeks, you kind of get to know the rhythms, you get to know the character, but you take a bit of a leap when you just go in to do a few scenes. And I have to say, I felt enormous warmth and support both from Bob, but also from Brad. He was absolutely charming and a delight to work with.
HTF: Now, you've got a wonderfully rich resume of work in film, television, and theater. Do you actively seek projects in different mediums to keep it fresh? Or do you just follow the role or the work regardless of what form that production might take?
Marion Bailey: I follow the work that's interesting. The form, while I'm capable of still doing theater, I love that. But I love films, and I enjoy good television projects, and occasionally, I do radio work as well. And that's not to say I sort of do anything that comes up, but if it's good and interesting and I like the look of the people who are doing it, I'm always up for it. So as long as I can, because I'm too old, I'll be very happy to keep doing a mixture of things.
HTF: Your partnership with director Mike Leigh and your frequent collaborations, has that ever given you an inclination to step behind the camera yourself? And related to that, have you found that such a proximity to a great British writer/director talent like that – yourself being a great talent of course - but do you think that gives you deeper insight into the writer, director, creative perspective that you might not otherwise have had? Has it helped you in your work with other writers and directors, do you think?
“[Mike Leigh] taught me a lot about acting, about how to approach, how to find character based on real people, even if it's historical times. So he's taught me an enormous amount about how to approach work as an actor which I can use just for myself quietly…”
Marion Bailey: I think it has in several ways. I mean, to answer your first question about whether I've ever wanted to get on the other side of the camera, the short answer is, no. I did once direct a short film. I was slightly bullied into it by some students who wanted to do a short improvised film. And I found the whole experience too stressful [laughter], and I felt such a sense of responsibility. Having said that, of course, once I arrived on set, it’s always a wonderfully collaborative art form. So, of course, if you got someone good in writing it or behind the camera or a good first AD who can say, "Well, you know what, you can't really shoot it like that. You might do better coming around and doing it this way." But no, it's not something I would ever want to do. In terms of working with Mike, who I first worked with in 1980 on a theater project, he's taught me a lot about acting, about how to approach, how to find character based on real people, even if it's historical times. So he's taught me an enormous amount about how to approach work as an actor which I can use just for myself quietly. No one else needs to know about it [laughter], but I always kind of use a bit of that in everything I do. And also, yes, it is good to see what it is that directors have to go through because it can make you more understanding of directors. And I think sometimes actors are frightened of directors, and directors are frightened of actors, because everybody carries their own burden of responsibility, in a way. And going back to what was lovely about working with Bob Zemeckis, he was so relaxed and he made everybody else feel relaxed. Well, I don't know if he was really relaxed inside, but he certainly looks as though he's relaxed, and he wears that garment of someone who you can trust. And I suppose it's no bad thing for actors to know what directors have to go through. It's a hell of a long project, making a film, with the preparation, obviously. Then the shoot. You have casting. Then the editing. Then the going out and flogging it, selling it. I don't know that I would ever have the patience to put myself through all of that. I absolutely admire it. But for an actor, yeah, I like a quick go in, do the character, have fun hopefully, and then go and see it further down the line when someone has done all the hard work of putting it together [laughter]. But I think the very, very nice thing about all film work is that it is collaborative, which in a way theater isn’t in quite the same way. I love theater, but that's just between the actor and the audience. But film can't be made without all the great technicians and other people that work on it. So I like that aspect of it.
HTF: Yeah. And I was watching an interview yesterday with Alan Silvestri. So he's the composer that works with Bob Zemeckis or has done since Romancing the Stone in the early '80s. And one of the things that the composer said was that Bob doesn't know music, but he knows music. And I'm paraphrasing there. So, in other words, he doesn't know how to write music and he doesn't know all the technical terms, but he knows what works. And did you get that sense from him from the actor perspective, that he may not be an actor himself, but he understands what it means to be an actor and the challenges that you face in how you may prepare and how you may execute a scene?
“And that, of course, is what you want from a director in every department. They want someone that's going to allow their input to shine through. And that, I think, is the skill of the great directors. They know how to take the best from everyone's ability and put it all together…”
Marion Bailey: Yeah, I definitely think so. That's one of the great skills of directing, I think, is to have a kind of empathy with everybody's department. And I certainly felt he understood what actors go through. As I said before, he was so relaxing and appreciative of input. Whilst, at the same time, he kind of knew what he wanted, but if you threw something into the pot, he'd go, "Hey, that's a good idea. Okay. Let's do that." And that, of course, is what you want from a director in every department. They want someone that's going to allow their input to shine through. And that, I think, is the skill of the great directors. They know how to take the best from everyone's ability and put it all together. That's an enormous skill I very much admire.
HTF: As a reviewer of film, I've had the opportunities to have a say on great films and great filmmakers, and I was looking back over the work that I've done, and I had reviewed Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky a few years ago. And in that review, I had said that, "He was a filmmaker who captures the everyday people of England with a piercing accuracy and has written and directed, unapologetically British films for years turning his character-first film making style to charming and effective works that cover ordinary life through interesting stories." I quote that because we're living in some terribly turbulent, maddening times. So I wonder how important it is for the role of the arts in these kinds of times and the role of artists in continuing to hold up mirrors to society to point out the things that are dangerous, the things that are chaos, to take a stand and to point out the dangers, and then to effectively comment on our world and our lives and maybe cut through some of that commercial chatter to comment? How important is it, and is it more important than you can recall at the moment?
“Sometimes, simply by telling a good story that encourages human empathy, that's good enough…”
Marion Bailey: No, I would say a lot of good work was made when Margaret Thatcher came to power in the eighties. There was a lot that people worried that the sort of social fabric that the post-war consensus was being slightly unpicked. But certainly those of us that work in the arts, broadly speaking, and if I include the big church of us that's somehow involved in it all, we're slightly running around like headless chickens at the moment [laughter], aren't we, thinking, "Oh, what do we do?" But I think it will create some great art. I think there are different ways of commenting on it. You could make a film like I, Daniel Blake, which was great, which obviously is a very direct comment on British society and what is happening to people within that society and opening the eyes of people who perhaps don't know because they've never seen it. They've never experienced it. But sometimes, they can be more subtle than that. Sometimes, simply by telling a good story that encourages human empathy, that's good enough. It doesn't have to necessarily be directly political, I don't think. I mean, sometimes, it's great when it is, but I just think-- I've got a feeling over the next decade, if we're allowed to still work as artists [laughter], that I think some very, very interesting work will be born of this. And interestingly, I've spoken to several writers and directors and actors who've said, "Well, at least some great art will be made now [laughter]." And I think it will. Sometimes, you need that thing to fight against. At least, I hope that's true. I try to stay optimistic in these turbulent times, and hope it's just a little kickback. And then we'll overcome it and get on with the journey we were on towards a more civilized and progressive society.
That's my view, anyway. But certainly, yes, I think always, in art, it's important to remember why you're doing it. And of course, we all have to earn a buck. So there's a business side of it as well, but I think, at heart, we have to remember the reasons we first wanted to do it and what it means to people who watch it. That's a big privilege to be part of that, to earn a living as an actor, and to share our stories with the world. And I always hope, even with a little bit, slightly little bit, I did in Allied, that it will somehow resonate with people and make people think a bit twice about human beings. All right. I'm sounding pretentious now [laughter], but that's the general gist of what I think. I think the brief answer to your question is yes. It is important. Yeah.
HTF: My last question is a two-part question. First, is there anybody that you haven't worked with yet that you would love the opportunity to work with? And then I guess the other side of that is, what is it you're working on now that we-- or where might we see you next because you're fun to watch?
“And I've actually just done a little bit of a student film because I like to do that sometimes, work with students and help them get their projects off the ground…”
Marion Bailey: Thank you. There are so many people, I'm not going to give a list of people [laughter] because I would say anyone who's good, anyone who's really good in doing interesting work, I'd love to work with them, I'd be up for it. At the moment, working on a film with a first-time feature director called Tom Edmunds, who's also written what I think is a brilliant film script. It's a black comedy. It's called Dead in a Week: Or Your Money Back [laughter]. It's got Tom Wilkinson and I play his wife. And a lovely, young actor called Aneurin Barnard is the young man in it. So I don't know when that will come out. We're just still working on it, but it's very funny. It's a great script. It's black comedy, but I think overall, it's got sort of some uplifting stuff in it. Mike Leigh, my partner, is currently working, preparing a film about the Peterloo massacre, which is a political event that happened here in 1819 when people were struggling to have a right to vote, and there was a massacre, basically, in St. Peter's Square in Manchester. That film starts shooting this summer. And I've actually just done a little bit of a student film because I like to do that sometimes, work with students and help them get their projects off the ground.
HTF: Well, thank you very much for talking with me today. And anybody who has ever appeared in any episode of Inspector Morse, which is one of my favorite TV series of all time [laughter], is high quality in my books, but lovely to speak to you and all the best.
Marion Bailey: Oh Yes, it was good production values. I know [laughter].
HTF: Thank you very much
Marion Bailey: Thanks. Bye-bye.