With a strong list of theatrical credits behind her, including a term at the Royal Shakespeare Company (playing Cordelia in Nicolas Hytner's production of King Lear amongst many), Alex Kingston leapt to the British public's attention with her stunning portrayal of the ubiquitous heroine of Moll Flanders in the acclaimed television series. Based most of the year in Los Angeles now, she is known to a world-wide audience of ER as Dr Elizabeth Corday.
Alex Kingston's other film work includes Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Christopher Hampton's Carrington and Mike Hodges' much admired The Croupier.
Alex sees some similarities between Dafoe's Moll and Lisa Locke: "I'd describe both as consummate survivors. Ultimately both are victims of their circumstances, although essentially very strong women. Like Moll, Lisa certainly has her own steadfast ideas, but comes from a background where women don't really get their own say. They're streetwise and quite bright, if not highly educated - and they choose to use their intelligence for rather shady means.
"In a sense I feel Lisa definitely knows what is right and wrong. She knows what her husband's work involves (which is drugs and probably anything relating to petty crime) and she accepts this without batting an eyelid. She's also very ambitious. Because her husband has done five years for something that he shouldn't have taken the rap alone for, she definitely wants him to get a share of the pie now. In fact she really wants him to take thc lead of the group.
"While her husband has been in prison, she has been watching how the other guys work. So she knows how they wheel and deal, and she can see where their dealings aren't quite working, and where things could be improved.
"But Lisa is still a woman in a man's world. She could never let anyone else know that she is the brains behind the scenes. And she knows that she has gone too far when she gets beaten up by Jason. In his own macho world he doesn't like to be seen to be told what to do by his wife. But she accepts this as part of her lot - in the same way that the other wives and girlfriends I imagine also accept it. It's just part of their life.
"It's odd, I do think she loves Jason in her own strange way. It's a toughie because I think she also knows that she isn't well treated by him, but she accepts it. Lisa's very aware of her age, and that her husband's eyes tend to wander to young girls. I think she's aware that, because she can't have children, the power she might have had over Jason is now lost. He regularly makes nasty comments in public about her getting older. Ultimately, she finds out that her survival is more important than anyone else's, and that she can achieve just as much as the men. Although that's about as much of the ending as I want to give away!
"I really built up Lisa's history through what she says in the script. We know that she and Jason were at school together, and that he was kind of the local stud. There is a point where she says 'she got him', so definitely she was out to beat the other girls to him. I remember when I very first met Jeff (Jeff Pope, Producer) and Terry (Terry Winsor, Director) I said that I could imagine he would probably have impressed her with the whole champagne/cocaine thing. And for somebody like Lisa it would have been a glamorous life - going up the West End all the time.
"There's also a reference to him having slept around in the past, and having had a child with someone else. I can imagine that would have really affected Lisa, and I think in a sense that's probably when her own unconscious bitterness would have set in - when she realises that she has to make something of her life if she can't make a child.
"Also I put some research into the Essex Girl as a whole. I mean, everyone thinks they know what an Essex Girl is because of the jokes about white stilettos and corned beef legs. But as I'd been away for a while I approached it as somebody who didn't have those pre-conceived ideas. Looking at people like Denise van Outen and even the Spice Girls - they're much more sophisticated than that, certainly externally, and it's not so cheap anymore. It s very much the designer label look. Usually if you go shopping and people ask how much something was, you play it down, you don't want to be seen to be spending outrageous amounts of money. But I found in Essex that they actually like to show off how much they spend.
"One night we went out to a big Chinese restaurant in Brentwood, and just watched all these women. Most of them were there having hen nights or parties. And there were a lot of really bad dye jobs. At the time I worried about my own hair colouring not being right, but there was no way I could bleach it because I was still filming ER at the same time.
"When we were filming in the big country house in Essex - the owners of the house and their friends were so amazingly generous and friendly, and it was really interesting talking to the women. They had good jobs in the city, earning good money. At weekends they would go to all the latest clubs in London.
"I know that Terry is in love with the whole film-noir genre. But we didn't want it to be some kind of moody LA Confidential because it's got to be absolutely rooted in brutal reality. Nevertheless I wanted to just occasionally have a hint at the femme fatales of the past. It's a great part, and I love the way Lisa uses her sexuality when she wants to get somewhere.
'Initially I wanted a speech coach to get
the accent completely right. There is a difference between London
and Essex accents, and I didn't want to confuse them. But Terry
and Jeff were adamant that I had caught it - as was Jeff's wife
who is natural born Essex girl. I even got a great compliment
from one of the crew who was
convinced that it was my normal accent. It will be interesting to see how my voice comes out in the episode of ER I was working on at the same time as this!
"The commuting during that time was
hard going for me. I came over to England twice between the LA
shoots. My problem during the first trip was that after rehearsals
I was buzzing because I was still on LA time. So that was why
we went out to the casinos in Southend and that Chinese restaurant
in Brentwood. I would be
out until 3am in the morning, and then had to be up again at 9am. That week was very intense, and I found it especially hard when I got back to LA. The second time I came to England was for the night shoots. This was fantastic for me because again I was on LA time, so I could just sleep during the day.
"I chose to give up my break during ER because Essex Boys was the best script I had read in a long time - I thought the characters were wonderful. Also, I remember the true incident that fuelled Jeff and Terry's imagination. It was an extraordinary mystery in a sense, seeing this Range Rover with these three men in it in a middle of a field. It intrigued me.
"For a woman in your thirties, most ot the time you will be sent scripts in which you play the wife of either the comic star or the dramatic star. Sometimes those roles can be nice, and you feel that you could inject more into that character, to make her three-dimensional instead of one-dimensional. But to then be sent a script full of male characters, and where the main female character is a really strong and interesting person to play. That was great, so I jumped at the chance to do this role.
"It is a conscious decision for me to keep a general acting career going whilst still working on ER, not necessarily just movies, but working in the theatre as well. It's just to actually keep working. and make people realise that I'm an actress, and so I can play a lot more than Elizabeth Corday. I've been in the business a long time and I know that I have quite a versatile spectrum. So, as much as I love playing Elizabeth Corday, it's nice to have another personality in my life for a while. I also like to play somebody different to avoid becoming typecast, because that can happen easily.
"I don't think that I've consciously
gone for strong, meaty roles, but that they have more come my
way. When I was at drama school I played quite a lot of character
roles. Then when I started theatre, I did a lot of Shakespeare
(both in rep and then at the RSC) and still got these strong character
roles. I think it has something to do with my physique, because
I'm built strongly. Also, I have quite a deep voice. I'm thrilled
because on the whole, if I think of actresses who tend to play strong roles in the movies - Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates, Angelica Huston, Sigourney Weaver - it's the sort of company I would like to keep!
"The physique helps me in other ways too. There are quite a few times when Sean has to slap me around. He knew that I would allow him to do what he wanted. I'm not one of these actresses who say that you mustn't hit me hard, or you must only pretend, because I think that on the big screen you can't pretend. We did have a fight director there, but he would just basically make sure that we were working within a safe environment. We both trusted each other to allow each other to do what we wanted within reason.
"I was really nervous about the big punch up in the garden, because it also involved having my head thrust under a freezing cold tap. The minute my hair goes under water it goes all curly again. So we knew that if we had to do another take it would be two hours minimum to finish straightening my hair and resume filming. So there was quite a lot of pressure on that night, and it actually happened that we were able to do that part of that scene in one take. But certainly people who were watching seem to have been quite shocked by the violence. I was fine then, but the next day it hit me. I was exhausted, and bruised, and definitely went into shock a little after that fight.
"After scenes like that l am still
able to be around Sean - I don't have to cut him off completely.
Sean is quite a shy person, so our off-set relationship wasn't
really one of going down the pub anyway. We did a little rehearsal
before the shoot - but it was a bit like we didn't need to talk
about it. We both instinctively knew who our characters were,
and how they would be with each other. I'm an instinctive actress,
and watching Sean, he seems to be an instinctive actor too. He's
very at home physically with his body. We seemed to work well
together as a couple - we were well matched.
"There is a certain amount of nudity in the film. But I didn't worry about that aspect at all. If you read a script, and you see your character has scenes that involve nudity etc, then if you want to play the character you have to accept that you are going to do it. I really have very little time for actresses who say 'please let me do this role', and then once the contract is signed refuse to have anything to do with the nude scenes. They should just have refused to accept the job. I felt those scenes are part of the character of Lisa - making up the texture of who she is. Also in a sense it highlights her vulnerability and the fact that only through physical contact does she feel confident - through being sexually attractive. I think those scenes are definitely valid. Again, like in Moll Flanders it shows the character's cunning manipulation of people, but it also displays her vulnerability."
Sean Bean (Jason Locke)
Alex Kingston (Lisa Locke)
Charlie Creed-Miles (Billy Reynolds)
Tom Wilkinson (John Dyke)
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