It’s been 20 years since Emily Watson was at Cannes with Punch Drunk Love, and speaking at Deadline’s Cannes studio, she reported feeling “quite emotional” about her return to the festival.
“My career started here with Breaking the Waves, so it feels quite special to me to be back here.”
Part of the reason for her feelings was the warm reception received by the film she’s at Cannes with this year, God’s Creatures.
Directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer and set in a remote oyster farming community in Ireland, Watson plays Aileen, a mother torn between her conscience and her love for her son Brian (Paul Mescal) when he is accused of rape and she lies to protect him.
“I’d read the script before I’d spoken to them or met [the directors] and it was instantly, this is wonderful, this is an amazing script, this is a very beautiful piece of poetic writing, but it’s also very, very authentically and truthfully rooted in a place,” Watson said.
“It was a big journey for me, to go from nice, middle class English girl—it’s what I do I guess, I’m an actress— but it felt like a very long way to get [there]. And especially if you’re English, to play Irish is quite a privilege, given the history.”
Watson said she felt that the story was unfortunately very much rooted in reality.
“I think there’s also a very real-world issue in this which is also very particular in Ireland, is that it’s a thing,” she said. “Mothers give their sons alibis for sexual crimes, and they are believed. And there are actual stories in Ireland of villages or towns where people have been accused of rape and the whole community closes around them and ostracizes the woman, so it’s a very oppressing, real-life thing.”
Working with Mescal was an enormously positive experience.
“He was from the moment I met him, a fully-formed, brilliantly talented [actor], just really exciting to work with, because his sense of intellectual enquiry, his sense of the physicality of the role. His approach was incredibly rigorous, but also he is just adorable. He’s one of those people where to know him is to love him, and we just got on like a house on fire.”
She also noted that the connection and chemistry between herself and the cast was cemented by their lockdown experience. “I was surrounded by a young cast and there were were in isolation in lockdown in Donegal, it was just us and the dolphins basically, and we just had a really lovely time.”
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