I'm well overdue sending out a blogpost, so I must apologise to my fans out there. Sorry mum. Currently I am reflecting on my experience of filming 'Call the Midwife' which I finished a few weeks ago.
About five days prior to Alex and my much anticipated year abroad of travel, our plans got mildly derailed by a successful audition to BBC1's popular drama series 'Call the Midwife'. After over a year of being a non-working actor, a starving artist (albeit with a paid job on the side), and quasi-serious about sacking the whole lot in, I greeted the news with a little bit of apprehension and puzzlement. A tad frustrated - 'could this not have come up in any of the other months I was not working', I was given a stern talking to by my beloved who told me to buck up and be happy that I was getting to do what I loved again. Damn right. And it is a great part!
The news was welcomed by everybody; our leaving party went ahead and another one was scheduled for a month later. The family were a little more interested in a possible sighting of Miranda Hart and potential shenanigans and/or secret liaisons with the tall lady, which had to be regretfully declined as it is not the done thing in the acting world and I am a complete professional. [Clears throat].
After some harried back-and-forth between myself, my agent and the production company, Alex and I finally managed to push our flights back a month to enable me to do this job. We were somewhat homeless, due to the unexpected delay, but were fortunate to receive offers of beds and sofas from our Hackney friends.
I became a 'June Denton' and actually stayed a 'June Denton' for some considerable time as whilst the role was not a big one, it was one that carried a lot of emotional weight - both professionally and personally. June Denton is a pregnant woman (for those of you who watch 'Call the Midwife' this will be no surprise. For those of you who don't - read the title). I am 'fully' deaf - by that I mean, I sign and do not speak except during giving birth when you might hear me grunt briefly. The emotional tangent of the part is June's fear that she will not be able to communicate with her baby when it is born. June is torn between the baby being able to hear but she not being able to speak, and the baby being deaf and therefore living in a silent world. This would certainly have been the case in the 1950's.
And I couldn't stop thinking in the audition about my mum's words - that struggling through cancer and chemo was better and easier than my being born deaf. During my grief for my mum's illness, it struck a blind nerve which in a way, I was grateful to explore through filming 'Call the Midwife'. I suppose, it also made me think about when I have children - whether I would wish or not wish the same thing upon them. (When editing this, I almost replaced 'thing' with 'burden' but I could not live with that word).
The clothes were GREAT. In spite of getting up at 5am and groggily crawling into makeup and hair to get it pinned into hot rollers, I loved every second of cajoling a flesh pregnant leotard up my body and buttoning myself into rather sassy 1950's clothes. Walking around set, which took place in an industrial warehouse, without knowing the names of anybody you work with, just feels so comfortable - like home. It's an environment where people come and go and the work is deeply respected, everybody is a perfectionist and it's an easy one for me. I miss it sorely when I don't work, almost as much as the character I have the privilege to be.
My first day involved giving birth at 8am which I did not look forward to. 'Call the Midwife' was a series of books inspired by a midwife sharing her stories in a magazine some 20 years ago. Funnily enough, the midwife who wrote those stories has now become an advisor on set for nervous actresses who confess a lack of experience in the art of popping babies. I had been reassured slightly by her experience, but not by her miming and imitation of the noises and facial expressions I was expected to convey. Genevieve wanted to look reasonably sexy on camera but it was not to be. June would be grunting and wheezing and puffing with a fake sheen of sweat all over her face. You can enjoy it.
The baby was gorgeous - a tiny weeny two month year old with jet black hair who had to be lathed in baby oil and fake blood (for the crowning of the head apparently) and inserted just below my belly and under a sheath of cloths. The baby's workload was considerably lighter - 30 minutes of work with a 15 minute rest in between. The only thing I was mildly concerned about, mainly because I had made the mistake of asking, was being peed or pooped on as this was apparently a common event with a pretend new-born baby. I'm glad to say that didn't happen.
My second day involved me doing the scene I dreaded - a page long scene of sign language which I had spent several hours learning and many hours practising whilst crying about what the baby would be like. A typical scene takes about three hours to film (whether long or short) and this was probably going to take longer. This meant I would definitely have to cry for at least three hours. Whilst I would not classify myself as a method actor, my ability to cry on camera only comes with true feeling which meant I was visiting some dark places prior to my scene.
It went great. By that I mean, I believe I did June justice and my mum justice in fully exploring the feelings behind giving birth to a baby who may well live in silence for the rest of their life. I feel more accepting of my mum's feelings about cancer being the next worst thing but more importantly, that people may see it as tragic when their child is born with deafness.
It's not an easy thing being deaf, and I know that more than most people. If it is a burden, then I carry it most times without being aware of it. If it is a burden and I am aware of it, then I carry it with pride and determination, therefore not really feeling it. But June's grace in her deafness, her delight in the small victories, her realisation that love can be conveyed without sound left me with more confidence than before - that regardless of which way my children go in the world, they will be loved and know they are loved.
One of my more glamorous outfits...before giving birth of course!