TV Interview: Emma Thompson – Years And Years, Or Just When Everything Was Going So Orwell

December 6, 2020

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British near-future drama Years And Years (watch it on Showmax), was called “2019’s most terrifying TV show,” and a “breathtakingly ambitious dystopian drama,” by The Guardian. A collaboration between the BBC and HBO, Years And Years’ stellar cast includes two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who, along with co-star Russel Tovey (Being Human, Quantico, Looking), was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Critics Choice Awards for her performance.

The six-part series follows the Lyons family – grown siblings Daniel, Stephen, Edith and Rosie, along with their partners, children and grandmother Muriel – over 15 fateful years in the fictional near-future of a Britain rocked by political, economic and technological upheaval. Thompson discusses the project…


What were your first thoughts when you read Russell T Davies script?
I met him before when we were all in London talking about doing it and I loved him so much – what an amazing guy and what an extraordinary writer. His writing is absolutely the level of George Orwell. It’s extraordinary, the way in which he’s imagined the future of our relationship with AI, and it has so many shades of all the best science fiction writing. It’s so chilling, the inexorability in how Vivienne’s vision becomes a reality and the fact that in the beginning many members of the Lyons family think she’s great. They think that somehow there’s decency and humanity there, when actually it’s a will to power and someone who clearly has no moral fibre whatsoever. It’s terrifying.


Introduce us to your character and your role within the story?
I play an independent politician who speaks her mind and becomes incredibly popular because she’s very forthright. It’s a brilliant creation and Russell’s writing made her so incredibly alive and believable.


As an actor, what attracted you to Years And Years?
The writing is absolutely wonderful, extraordinarily brilliant and chilling. The tension of it ratchets up slowly and then suddenly these terrible things start to happen and you can see how everybody got there and how difficult it is to stop once the genie’s been let out.


How did you prepare for playing the role of Vivienne Rook? Did you take inspiration from any well-known figures?
There’s no need to really because it’s just everywhere. What’s clever about Vivienne, in terms of Russell’s creation of this creature, is that she presents as a down-to-earth, ordinary, working woman who just wants the best for everybody and feels passionately about ordinary people and ordinary issues. Of course she’s not that at all: she’s something a great deal more sinister and is someone who wants power.


Is humour a part of the character that you wanted to instil?
Yes, absolutely. I try to make her as funny, self-deprecating and as charming as possible because we need to understand why people vote for her. But she turns into an absolute monster. If you give that kind of rhetoric air time, it proliferates because people find it a lot easier to hate and discriminate than they do to include and to feel compassion and empathy about people who aren’t directly related to them. It’s easy to scare people into feeling loathing and we’ve seen it happen again and again.


What do you hope the audience will take away from the drama?
There’s always hope, because it’s a story about human beings, and so whenever we go into a dark era we know that the only way is to get better and it will get better. I hope it will really provoke debate because it’s a discussion that we need now.


Do you have any memorable moments from filming on set?
It was a wonderful experience. Director Simon Cellan Jones is very collaborative and loves people bringing their energy on set, and the cast was uniformly fab. It was a really lovely group of people. Everyone on it, from the make-up department to the wardrobe department, we all just mucked in. I was absolutely sustained by the fantastic group of people who knew exactly what they wanted and exactly what they were doing.

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