RT Interview: Golden Globe Winner Sally Hawkins

The Happy-Go-Lucky star on Mike Leigh, acting, and her controversially-upbeat character, Poppy.

Sally Hawkins Jordan Strauss/WireImage.com

After winning Best Actress from the Berlin Film Festival, the Golden Globes, and a score of critics' circles for her ebullient performance in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, actress Sally Hawkins seemed a lock for an Oscar nomination -- or in the least, a BAFTA nod. Instead, in this awards season's most shocking oversight, the crowd-pleasing comedy only won Leigh an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Somebody call the Oscar police: Sally Hawkins has been robbed.

Before the Academy overlooked one of the most memorable characters and vibrant performances of 2008, Rotten Tomatoes met Hawkins in Los Angeles to discuss her role in the critically-acclaimed Happy-Go-Lucky. A broken collarbone had prevented Hawkins from her original press tour, but on the mend she had returned riding a new wave of awards season buzz; the excitement was palpable, and Hawkins -- like her eternally-optimistic character, Poppy -- was a bundle of positivity, thrilled just to learn that their film had gone Certified Fresh (it sits currently at 93 percent, among the best-reviewed films of the year).

Below, Sally Hawkins describes working with Mike Leigh ("creating characters out of thin air"), whose Best Screenplay Nomination surely belongs in some part to the devoted cast with whom he spent months developing characters and story.  This being Hawkins' third Leigh film, the actress has keen insights on Leigh's infamously focused filmmaking process ("he's almost like a doctor...dissecting different worlds") and volunteers that even his abortion-themed Vera Drake (in which Hawkins and Happy-Go-Lucky's Eddie Marsan also appeared) would seem to the auteur a delicate mixture of drama and comedy.  Finally, Hawkins pays respects to the real-life Poppys of the world, teachers to us all.

Happy-Go-Lucky is such an effervescent movie...

Sally Hawkins: It's a lovely movie, I'm really proud of it. To think back to where it began, because it started from nothing...the way Mike [Leigh] works, every film he sort of starts from nothing and doesn't have a script, or characters. You don't have a character. You're working in collaboration with him and creating characters together, out of thin air. It's quite magical.

How does that process work? Does he start with an idea for a character first?

SH: No, he doesn't know where he's going to end up, or what it's going to be about, or the journey that's going to unfold. It's both incredibly exciting and terrifying, because you just don't know. He leaves it up to the gods, really. I don't know how he does it; he's extraordinary in that way, an extraordinary brain. Pulling all these different threads together to create a story, and an entertaining one, and an incredibly real, rich world.  He's honed his process for over 20 years now and refined it. He's interested in creating very real characters and going into their world, and exploring their world, and their minds, and what makes them tick. That's probably why he's developed the process that he's developed.

He has described it as "investigating."

SH: Yes, it is! Exploring. He's almost like a doctor in some ways; he's sort of dissecting different worlds and putting them up on the screen for everyone to see. He's interested in unraveling; pulling a thread and seeing what happens.


Next: On comedy in Vera Drake, and Hawkins on Oscar-nominated writer-director Leigh

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