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Vanessa McMahon


Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Interview with Actress Wendy Morgan on her Directorial Debut "Mercy" (2022) at 75th Cannes Film Festival

Interview with Actress Wendy Morgan on Directorial Debut "Mercy" (2022) at 75th Cannes Film Festival Interview with Actress Wendy Morgan on her Directorial Debut "Mercy" (2022) at 75th Cannes Film Festival

Award-winning actress Wendy Morgan’s international career spans 43 years, working alongside some of the most renowned names in the industry. She recently made her directorial debut with the powerful docudrama titled “Mercy”. In the film, she unveils the truth behind the devastation caused by animal agriculture, told though the eyes of a pig named Mercy and those involved with and trapped in the factory farming industry.

Wendy’s film work includes the role of Mollie in John Schlesinger's “Yanks” (1979) starring Richard Gere, for which she received the Evening Standard Most Promising Newcomer Award; “The Mirror Crack'd” (1980) with Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Landsbury and Tony Curtis; “84 Charing X Road” (1987) with Anthony Hopkins; “Mrs. Lowry and Son” (2019) starring Vanessa Redgrave; “The Reverend and Mrs. Simpson” (2022) with Julian Glover; and “Game of Thrones”, set for release in 2022.

Wendy’s TV work includes “The Jewel in the Crown” with Charles Dance; “Fingersmith” with Sally Hawkins and “The Other Wife” with Rupert Everett. Her theatre work includes: “Streetcar Named Desire” with Glenn Close; “Phedre” with Dame Helen Mirren; “Coriolanus” with Sir Ian McKellen; “Yonadab” with Sir Patrick Stewart, Anthony Head and Sir Alan Bates and “Martine” with Laurence Olivier. She is represented by London agents Jo Hole Associates.

 

 

Can you share with us how you became an actor?  Was it something you always knew you wanted to do? 

WENDY: One of my earliest memories is sitting as a toddler gazing into a fairy tale book larger than me, laid open on the floor... or maybe it isn't a memory as such, but a photograph only .. but something was taking seed.... then another early memory is dancing around the living room on a Saturday afternoon with my Mum and my brothers as my audience - although I think maybe my brothers were just trying to watch the telly! Then Mum and I would watch a Hollywood musical and I would dream I was one of the stars.... My eldest brother Bill (who became a consultant civil engineer) made me a stage in the garden under the weeping willow tree and I was there a lot with my small make-believe world. At school as a tiny child, I was led, terrified into the large dark assembly hall and I sat there shaking. But suddenly, a brilliant rectangle of light and color burst before me as the curtain went up on an enchanting play with red and green fluffy caterpillars and joy took over the fear... I had that joy today when I went to see my talented friend Greg Hicks in the amazing Daniel Fish production of Oklahoma. As I entered the auditorium, it was just pure joy and excitement.

Then I remember my first performance at school when I was on stage in the dark in a spotlight. I was still a very young girl and I spoke my lines, or rather I lived them, breathed them. There was a hush. As a shy girl it was the first time had I ever really felt that anyone had listened to me. My voice always so quiet and the first time that I ever felt quite so at home... and so....it was never a decision to make. I think I was either lucky or cursed, depending on which way you look at it. It was always something that I wanted to do. It was just within. I know so many young people who don't know sometimes - ever - what they want to do, and they fall into things, which in some ways can be a blessing. But with me.... I simply always knew. My mum always sang around the house, and maybe if she hadn't had three children, she might have pursued acting as she sometimes did for local companies... and my father’s mother worked in the theatre in the West End, front of house. My Dad was an extra in many films with Greta Garbo and Marleine Deitrich, so it was somewhere in the blood, I think. It manifested more potently in me perhaps. My Dad was interrupted by the war. And his Mum by being a young mother and my Mum by being mother to her family. So perhaps I was the first generation that didn't have these kinds of obstacles early on, as I had my son when I was 30. I had time to make roots in this career.

 

During your illustrious career working with industry talents like Richard Gere and Anthony Hopkins, what have been some of the highlights?  

WENDY: Ahhhh, too many to mention probably. I mean always being in a makeup room or on set or in a trailer or a read through or on a stage or in a radio booth. Just small moments I suppose. The everyday wondrous magic, hanging out with huge figures of the screen and watching them work. Then later working with them. A whole tapestry of moments fills my mind. How can I leave any out? I could sit all afternoon and just replay all the magical times. I guess that is what you can do when you get old. That is probably why it is said to "live a good life, a happy life. Then when you are old you can replay it all". I also kind of think that telling stories is a very intimate thing, like taking a photograph of someone and sharing it. Perhaps it is good to get permission or to tell it around a small dinner table with candles and a glass of champagne.

 

Do you have a film you have worked on that you are most proud of? 

WENDY: Another delightful question that makes me not know how to choose. I think I like things for different reasons. I am proud I suppose of my first film “Yanks” directed by the wonderful John Schlesinger, as he discovered me, I suppose. He found me from obscurity. It was an extraordinary experience being on set with so many amazing actors- Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Richard Gere, John Ratzenburger, Tony Melody, Annie Ross, Rachel Roberts and on and on. But then every film after that has a magic of its own.....”84 Charing X Road” with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft or a TV film by Sir Peter Hall called “Final Passage”. It was just incredible to be on set with someone that I had always been in the Theatre with, the Maestro. Or “The Mirror Crack'd” with Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Landsbury, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson and Kim Novak. I mean it was incredible to be a young actress surrounded by all these fabulous stars. Then more recently “Edie” with Dame Sheila Hancock was glorious. “Mrs Lowry and Son” with Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall. I am so, fond of these films. Then the first film I have written and directed is called “Mercy”. I adore the whole process of film, period. I think it is a divine form of expression, a high art. I long to see Jerzy Skolimowski's EO for example.

 

Who have been some of your inspirations and idols that have inspired you throughout your career? 

WENDY: Ah you are giving me such a tough decisions haha! Whoever I write it will mean to leave someone out. John Schlesinger, Sir Peter Hall, Peter Gill, Bill Bryden, Sir Trevor Nunn, Dm Sheila Hancock, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, John Lennon, Buddha, Jenny Hall, Greg Hicks, Erika Staas, Richard Dee Roberts, Jeffrey Raggett, Jakko Jakszyk (who also composed a lot of music for “Mercy”. There isn't enough room for me to celebrate everyone!

 

Working in the film industry, especially as an actor, is a very challenging career path. What advice would you give to people beginning on this path? 

WENDY: Look after your health. Leave your ego at the stage door. Look after your head. Look after your money. Don't waste time. Relax a lot. Exercise little and often. Eat a plant-based diet. Believe in yourself. Be on time or be early! Do your homework. Be respectful and kind to everyone. Have fun. Don't drink on a school night. Enjoy every single second of the journey because it’s all about the journey! Getting there is a mirage! Write, produce, gather a team who you like to be around, breathe and trust that what is for you won't go by you. Follow your heart and enjoy the ride. 

 

You recently donned the directing cap. What inspired you to take on this role? 

WENDY: I became aware of an investigation into nine slaughterhouses in the UK by Animal Aid back in 2011. This led me to discover from all the other animal charities about the devastation caused by factory farming. I went vegan and began to write about my discoveries. Then one thing led to another and before I knew it I just had to tell the story. Directing the film just felt organic and urgent, so I set about doing it. It was quite a simple impulse really. 

 

Can you tell us about your film "Mercy" and how you began the journey of making it? 

WENDY: Ahh yes well that is partially answered above. I began writing and had a read through and then took the feedback and put it away for a bit. Then it called within me to get about it again so the effort of re writing began in earnest and I finished a final draft when I accompanied my son on a precious eleven-day trip to the USA in January of 2016. We went to Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. I continued my writing on the plane and in the hotel of a bitterly cold Chicago over mugs of hot coffee. When we got to San Francisco I visited City Lights book shop and found a small volume about finishing your work in a year! I gobbled the book up quickly and by the time we were flying home from New York I was typing my last re written paragraph! More tweaks when back at home then another read through and lots of thumbs up. Finally. I performed the piece as a rehearsal and produced reading with lights, music and costume in the atmospheric Railway Pub in the South end of London. After the powerful response from the audience, I was encouraged to take it to the Edinburgh Festival, however, my submission was too late. I decided to make a film and re-wrote the piece into a screenplay and fast forwarding cast it, got locations, and shot for three weeks that July of 2016. After a long period of editing, lost footage, re shoots, more lost edits, beginning again, covid, then more scenes shot, then more editing and postproduction, we finally hit the film festivals.

 

You recently attended the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival. How was that experience? 

WENDY: Thank you!! It was a wonderful experience! I had visited in the May of 2016 having finished writing to see if I could get some advice, so I thought it would be wonderful to go back once the film was finally finished to pitch it in the Marche du Film. What an honor and what a buzz. I had a wonderful time with three dear friends, actors Richard Dee Roberts and Jeffrey Raggett (who were also pitching their new feature “The Reverend and Mrs Simpson”, in which I am happy and honored to appear) and my wonderful actress friend Erika Staas, who is a Cannes regular and so glamourous. We all had the best time and were able to celebrate together for six days straight!

 

What was your experience attending Cannes as a filmmaker as opposed to as an actress? 

WENDY: At first, I was nervous, I didn't know what to do. But luckily, I bumped into the wonderful producer of “Edie”, Mark Stothurt, who together with Ollie Stohurt have been so encouraging to me over the years of me being a first-time film maker. On my first nervous morning at the Marche du Film, I saw Mark, who very kindly gave me a few pointers. I felt like a fledgling sparrow clinging to the nest. Mark smiled and said, "Good Luck" and off I hopped and flailed and sat around for a long while a bit bewildered. Later that day I realized I had to fly. I couldn't be still anymore, so off I flew! I flitted around the place with my new wings. I have no idea what my flights were like for the rest of that day or any of all the others, but I only knew that I had found my wings. Every day I would rise early, no matter how late the night had been, as Cannes never seems to sleep, and get to the Marche by 10am to pitch all day. It was brilliant. I loved it. I can't explain why. Meeting all these people. Getting better at the pitches, then getting worse and then better again. I was just overjoyed to be trying my very best for the film in one of the most glorious glamorous and fun markets I have ever been! I think I might crave it again. Isn't Venice coming up?

 

After directing your first film, will you continue to direct after this? If so, what will your next project be? 

WENDY: I love how your questions keep perfectly timed for the end of my last question. Well, I think I have to wait and see if “Mercy” takes flight, like I felt it did in the Marche. Perhaps if it does then I will. It has been such a long and personal journey. Such a powerful subject that has spurred me on throughout everything. I think I would have to be very passionate about another project, as I was with this one. I have written another two films during the lockdown. I'm not sure if either of those are 'the' ones but when I envision them it seems hard to not want to direct them, as I see the images so clearly in my mind. But I am in lots of talks about them both. I think I might like to co-direct one day too, if I had a completely brilliant working relationship with someone, but then maybe with the crew around me, it will be support enough again. With “Mercy” I knew my subject so well. I would have to know another subject so well. Let's see. Never say never. I so admire directors. It is a completely incredible gift to have, and I have worked with extraordinary directors. I so look forward to working with more. I have been acting now for 47 years. I dreamed it since a little child and that still burns in my soul. I burn to be on film sets, in front of the cameras, with my fellow actors telling stories, chatting to the crew in breaks with cups of tea, the hush, the action the cut... the moment in-between when the whole world stops except for that space and time. That extraordinary space where magic is made with the help of the longest list of people that you have ever seen! Yes, I am that person who sits through every, last, credit to the very end until the cinema is empty and I am left spellbound, as the fallen popcorn begins to be cleared from the aisles.

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

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