A Passionate Woman: Billie Piper

Billie Piper as Betty

AN interview with Billie Piper is always an interesting experience.

She’s a young woman with much to say and a wealth of experience to draw on.

And still just 27.

We met back in February at a small round table interview held at Shoreditch House in east London.

Sadly, I didn’t get to try out the bowling alley on the fourth floor.

Billie stars as the younger 1950s’ Betty in two-part BBC1 drama A Passionate Woman, which begins at 9pm this Sunday.

Written by Kay Mellor, it also features Sue Johnston as the older 1980s’ Betty.

My feature on Billie appeared in the MEN here earlier this week.

But for those who want more, here are are few extracts from the chat which didn’t make the final cut.

My feature interview with Sue will be published in the MEN next week.

Her character?

“She’s a young woman, a very poor woman. She’s first time married, first time mother, and she is very much a woman of that time. Everything is very ordered, proper. She’s quite buttoned up. She’s not outspoken.

“We were laughing about how people now describe modern women as ‘fesity’ and ‘bolshy’. She’s nothing like that. She’ seemingly quite peaceful but also a profoundly emotional woman, very sensitive, very thoughtful, compassionate.

“She loves her son. It’s quite a desperate love for her son and I think that plays out mostly in Sue Johnston’s part of the story in the eighties. She just lives for him.

“She’s close with her husband but it’s very much the old fashioned relationship – he goes to work all day, he doesn’t really talk to her that much, he doesn’t really ask her how she’s doing. It’s all very practical.

“She is completely bowled over by this Polish neighbour who moves in. He is married to Moira, who is the absolute polar opposite to who Betty is. Very liberal, very outspoken, very sexual, a great spirit. She’s very jealous of her because she falls deeply in love with her husband Craze.

“It’s desperate love. They become obsessed by one another, or certainly she becomes obsessed by him. He liberates her in many ways. I don’t think she’s ever felt love or passion or lust like it before in her life. He sexually liberates her. He teaches her things that she never knew existed. And she just becomes obsessed by him.

“It starts to become quite destructive and she becomes quite ill. She has this enormous secret that she can’t tell anyone about. But she does eventually confide in her sister Margaret, who is, again, the polar opposite character to Betty. She is fiercely outspoken, a rebel, really unafraid of challenging men, hates her husband, desperate to sleep with someone else, loves her child. She’s so very different. She’s the only one who is privvy to the story of Betty and Craze. She’s her best friend.”

Not so glam...

Your half of the story is set in the 1950s. A very different time for wives and mothers like Betty. Did you ever think how you would have coped if you’d had to live in that era?

“I thought about it the whole the time. It must have been so hard. I have my family and have very much been raised in the same way, similar stories. And I’ve grown up knowing, living with those stories. It was one of the reasons why I could just completely tap into that because it’s not massively dissimilar to things that have occurred in our family.

“Nowadays we have an opportunity as modern women to get out and go and work and confide in loads of people and socialise and network. We’re endlessly banging on about how we feel. But those kind of subjects were taboo then.”

Kay had offers to film this project in America but wanted to keep control of it and make it here:

“That was very important. She was adamant, vehment, that that would happen. She wanted it to be shot in Leeds. Most of the people who were cast were from Leeds or up round those parts. She wanted it to be as authentic and as real as she knew it to be.”

Billie met Sue Johnston:

“She sent me a lovely note saying if there’s anything you want to know or talk about regarding the character. But I’m of the school of thought that people change a lot in those years and what happens when you’re younger really shapes you as a person. So I didn’t just want to mimic her or do an imitation of her because people are very different. We could look quite different as well. So we were just basically doing our own interpretations of that character at that time, knowing what they know. And also they shot theirs before they shot ours. I don’t look a lot like Sue but it kind of works.”

The clothes / costumes are a very different look for Billie:

“Very. I really liked them. It’s really helpful. Some people don’t find costumes massively helpful but I do. Especially when you’re playing that kind of uptight woman but someone who’s very well turned out. Obviously they have no money but every button is sewn on properly and there’s no loose hems. It’s all buttoned up and quite stiff. Obviously that relaxes, especially when she meets Craze. The costumes become slightly looser and colourful and passionate. I liked it all. I love costumes and I love period costumes and I find them massively helpful. So I was really pleased with mine.

“I think my face changes quite a lot anyway. I’ve come from playing a really super glamorous, super made-up woman (Belle in Secret Diary Of A Call Girl) and now I’m playing someone who has the same hairstyle, it’s darker, very little make-up. They’ve changed the shape of my eyebrows and everything. I’m not sure I really recognise myself in that part.”

Did she take her young son Winston on set?

“No, my mum looked after him because we (actor husband Laurence Fox) were filming at the same time. He would come back and forth to Leeds but there was a point where it was quite unsettling for him. It’s a short job so it was all manageable. He came on set. I’m not really into having family or friends on set. I think it’s quite distracting and often you can get a bit sad when you leave.”

What’s next?

“I think I should take some time off but I think might go to America for a bit, just to sniff around and see what’s going on over there. I get sent lots of scripts from America but I’ve been so spoiled over here with the roles that I’ve had. They’ve been substantial, meaty, well-rounded parts and sometimes I’m reading these scripts and they’re kind of like Zac Efron’s half-baked girlfriend. I like Zac Efron, I think you’re great and gorgeous but you get like four scenes. I don’t know. I think you’ve got to really go for it and build it up. That’s going to take a long time if I can be bothered to go out there and do it. It’s quite an investment.”

Passionate Billie Piper

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