I recently caught up with Sarah Lancashire at the press screening for Kiri, Channel 4’s new emotional drama from Jack Thorne which follows 2016's National Treasure.
This new 4-part drama examines the abduction of a young black girl, named Kiri, who is soon-to-be-adopted by her white foster family, and the trail of lies, blame, guilt and notoriety that follows.
At the heart of the drama lies Miriam, an experienced, no-nonsense social worker who loves and believes in her job, but has a maverick and instinctive approach to protecting the children in her care. Miriam arranges for Kiri to have an unsupervised visit with her biological grandparents.
But when Kiri disappears during the visit, the fingers of suspicion and blame from the police, the press, and even her colleagues, point firmly at Miriam. As the media spotlight around the story intensifies, Miriam, as well as both sets of families, are forced to ask the toughest questions, not just of themselves, but of each other.
What first attracted you to Kiri?
First and foremost it's the writing. I just thought Miriam was fantastic when I read her and she got under my skin very quickly. Yes she's complex and direct and forthright and human and flawed - but that's everything you'd hope to find in a character that's brilliantly drawn. It that makes it challenging but Jack's writing is so beautiful that it navigates the pathway for you.
One of the things about the piece is that it's extraordinarily structured. It has a structure unlike anything I've come across. It gathers momentum and it builds and builds until it's almost unbearable.
There is a very very powerful scene between Lucian and Papa which is one of the most powerful scenes I've ever read and it fills me with such joy when I see writing of that calibre.
What keeps this piece so buoyant is the intellectual infrastructure of it. It's so refreshing to have a piece of work that challenges you on every single level, emotionally and intellectually. When those two things come together, it's very powerful, very moving and unforgettable.
It's so rare in my 30-year career to come across a script like this and it's such a privilege to be a part of.
Where do we find Miriam at the beginning of the story?
She makes a decision to allow one of the youngsters that she’s in charge of, Kiri, to visit her paternal grandparents, unchaperoned. It’s a decision taken with all parties’ agreement and borne out of the fact that her adoption is pending.
All things considered, Miriam feels it is a safe situation. But it quickly becomes clear that this decision has devastating consequences, the effects of which are explored in in the series.
How much worse does it get for Miriam?
She's very exposed. She's working in a world where you are subject to scrutiny because everything has to be transparent. And word is out that Kiri was in Miriam's care and there is anger in the community.
What's Miriam's relationship with her mother like?
It's left fairly open but it's clear enough to know that it's a very strained relationship. I found the moment you see Miriam take the hip flask out of her coat and give it to her mum, a shocking moment.
They say never work with animals, what was it like working with the dog in this?
The dog is called Chase and he is trained within an inch of his life. He always has his handler with him who's amazing, so he's incredibly well behaved. We were very fortunate I think to have a dog that was so well behaved but had such character in himself as well. I was very very comfortable with him.
And it was lovely because he became my working partner because Miriam is in quite a lonely orbit really. The dog is very much a necessary part of Miriam's wellbeing.
You've worked with director Euros Lyn on Last Tango In Halifax and Happy Valley and now again on Kiri. Why do you like working with him?
Euros works in a way that no other director I've ever worked with works. He makes the environment very safe to work in, in the way that nobody else has ever done in my experience.
He has such gentle guidance and is extraordinary in that he thinks like an actor as well as a director. He straddles both camps, so any insecurities or doubts or concerns that I have, and I do, I have many, are waylaid. If you don't then something is wrong. You have to question what you do all the time. It's really important.
Euros is a brilliant sounding board. He's a therapist, an advisor, a confidante, he's everything! He's everything you hope and pray for in a director and such a rare being that I just love working with him because he handles material with such delicacy and such sensitivity that your fears are mostly waylaid which is important.
What do you think Jack Thorne is trying to say about transracial adoption?
I'm not sure he is trying to say anything. That's the lovely thing about Jack's writing, he doesn't feel the need to tie up all the loose ends.
There is a sense that at the heart of every thorny political or social issue is a human being. And that's what you must never forget. There is a human being or a set of human beings who deserve our love, our compassion, our security and our stability.
We must always question our responsibility, collectively, as a society.
Do you have a greater admiration for social workers now as a result of Kiri?
I have a huge respect for a lot of people in society and in the working world. I think they (social workers) have a very difficult job. I think all public sector workers do because they're subject to such scrutiny. Of course that will get no easier as this public desire for transparency in every year of life continues.
Do you still get nervous about public reaction?
I get nervous when I'm working. I don't concern myself with what people will think because that's a distraction and you just have to focus on the job in hand. And doing it as well as you possibly can.
I always have concerns about starting a job, getting through a job and getting to the end of a job. You hope that you're getting it right or that you've got it right but as to what people think about the end product, I sort of shy away from that because that could be distracting.
Would you ever read a review or look at Twitter?
I don't do any social media at all! So I don't twit, tweet, twat, Facebook, I don't space book (laughs)... I don't do anything like that. I figured out after a certain length of time that my life is no different to anyone else's and I don't do it (social media) and I think I've got more time on my hands as a result.
Did you not fancy a comedy or something lighter after Happy Valley?
I never get offered comedy! Really, I just hold out for pieces that I immediately feel a connection with, an emotional connection. It has to have a fantastic rich voice which is Jack (Thorne) through and through. I was just so excited when I received this.
I don't intentionally choose parts that are emotionally driven. I do like character driven pieces. I'm very attracted to those.
That being said, I was surprised by the amount of comedy in Kiri... Was that nice to play?
Yes of course, that's true. She is very funny. I think it's necessary in this piece and I think that's why Jack's writing is very clever because he writes characters so brilliantly.
She is a lovely counterpoint at times to a very dark issue. But of course as Kiri progresses, the baton really is passed over to the other members of the family and she takes much more of a backseat as you see the story being told from other perspectives.
But initially, I think we're lulled into a rather false sense of security.
Would you agree that Drama is in a great place at the moment?
There's no constant. Drama will always ebb and flow, it's just a particularly brilliant period of time to be an actor, because the way we consume drama has changed and we have different platforms. We have global platforms and co-productions.
I think more than anything I just feel very privileged to be a part of my profession. I'm very lucky because I love my job. I really love my job. I'm very blessed really to be able to do a job I enjoy.
The writers of Liar recently said they'd love to work with you. Do you get a lot of offers as a result of your success?
No. Somebody's just told me that, what did they say? That I'm on top of their hit-list! (Laughs) It's ind of scary. It's extraordinarily flattering when you know some really great writers want to work with you. It's a lovely thing to know.
Congratulations on your recent award wins and of course your OBE. Do hose accolades change the way you approach your work?
Thank you. I think it really depends on how you measure success. For me, a successful actor is a working actor. Accolades or recognition are purely a by-product but they're very nice to have.
I don't approach my work any differently to how I did 30 years ago. I do really believe that if you're a working actor you're a very successful actor.
And finally, have you ever been asked to go back to Coronation Street?
No. The show I was in doesn't exist anymore. But no, I haven't. I'll do the next question... Would you ever go back? No.