Changes: Annie-Marie Duff
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to Changes. My name is Annie Macmanus. Welcome to the podcast that is all about change. I hope you're doing good. I'm in the shed as usual, talking to you in a week that's felt really kind of tangible when it comes to change. I've put on tights for the first time. I've got the heater on in the shed. We've been putting the heating on in the house. Yeah, it just feels like autumn is indisputably with us. This week on Changes, we welcome the award winning actor Anne-Marie Duff. Anne-Marie has had an incredibly successful career starring across theatre, TV and film. You might know her for starring as Fiona in Shameless, as Queen Elizabeth the first in The Virgin Queen and John Lennon's mother in Nowhere Boy. She was nominated for a BAFTAs for all of those three roles. Anne-Marie has also played Lady Macbeth on Broadway and at the National Theatre. She's played Joan of Arc. She's starred in films like Notes On a Scandal alongside Judi Dench and Suffragette with Meryl Streep and recently Erin Wiley in Netflix's Sex Education. But the reason I wanted to speak to Anne-Marie this week is because on Friday, the final episode of Sharon Horgan's, very dark and brilliant comedy, Bad Sisters, is aired. Now I have been glued to Bad Sisters, and Anne-Marie Duff is the kind of leading lady in the series. She plays Grace, a very diminished wife, a victim of a abusive relationship, and she's absolutely excellent in the role. I've been obsessed with it. Everyone I know is talking about it. And I thought we should hear from Anne-Marie this week before the final episode of Bad Sisters. There are no spoilers in this conversation, but we do talk about the themes of the show, focusing a lot on domestic abuse, so a word of warning for anyone who might be triggered by that kind of conversation. Anne-Marie is now in her fifties. She has a son, Brendan who is 12, with her now ex-husband, the actor James McAvoy. And she's been through a whole lot of change in her life. We cover everything from her childhood to career to motherhood. It's all in there. So, let's do it. Anne-Marie Duff, welcome to Changes.
Anne-Marie [00:02:25] Thank you very much for having me. I'm very flattered to be here.
Annie [00:02:28] Well we are so, so happy that you are here for so many reasons. But let's begin with the most talked about thing at the school gates at the moment where I live, which is Bad Sisters, the new Sharon Horgan TV show of which you completely star in. You're kind of the central character. Five sisters, a murder, a coercive husband and a wife, Grace, which is you right? Describe the character Grace for me.
Anne-Marie [00:02:55] Well, it's tricky to describe Grace isn't it? Because she's living inside this awful, as you say, coercive marriage. She's become a kind of membrane hasn't she? She's sort of a translucent version of herselves. She doesn't quite know who she is anymore. So you see this, what you think is a sort of 'perfect wife', you know, in the old fashioned terms, but then you realise quite quickly that she's being bullied desperately. So I had all these versions of her in my head of what she was like before she married him, before they were together, you know, and that she had become lost and was unrecognisable to herself whenever she looked in the mirror. You know, and so I would avoid it. So that's, I suppose, this sort of meta version of the description of her but she is part of this middle class Irish family. And she's married this Swedish man who at first seemed, I suppose, perfect because he was successful and strong and all of those things, but then turns out to be a desperate bully. They have a child together, Blanaid, who's their daughter. She's a teenager and she tries to construct this, what looks like a perfect life. So she sort of pretends that everything's fine. And she's sort of shape shifting the whole time, trying to be whoever, she thinks people want her to be. It was a very different character for me to play. You know, I wouldn't normally play someone that sort of- invisible in a way, you know. So, she's tricky to describe, isn't she?
Annie [00:04:24] She is. And also, I can imagine very tricky to play, because there's no kind of- when someone is shapeshifting that much in order to kind of survive and be okay, what do you cling on to in terms of personality traits or you know... it must have been quite difficult. The Guardian describe your scenes together with John-Paul, your husband as "agony as he needles, wrong foots and destabilises her grace at every turn, closing down her options at the tiniest level so that the idea of making freer, bigger choices is no longer even part of her mental landscape".
Anne-Marie [00:04:56] Oooft that gave me goose bumps because I don't read anything so that's great that people-
Annie [00:05:00] It's really on point.
Anne-Marie [00:05:00] Claes who plays John-Paul, Claes Bang, and I worked our toocas' off because we said we knew this is really funny, but unless we buy this terrible relationship at the centre of it, nobody will be rooting for her rescue. So we really did work really hard, even though it's extreme and very funny the show, to make it as truthful and as ghastly as possible, if that makes sense.
Annie [00:05:25] Yeah and it really, really works. And I mean, it's one of the things I was saying to you before, before we came into the studio is, it's so hard to walk that line between dark and funny. And Sharon Horgan in her writing seems to do it very well. But the acting is so, so believable and brilliant, especially, I think on your part. What made you want to do this role?
Anne-Marie [00:05:44] Well, I'd been a big admirer of hers, like everybody else in the universe, for years. And the idea of a show with five brilliant female characters, because all the sisters are really interesting women, that at the heart of it had some message, but that was fantastically audacious and morally very dubious, actually. *Laughing* you know, it's about trying to kill somebody, but also was laugh out loud funny even on the page.
Annie [00:06:18] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:06:19] And was Irish, you know, sort of like all the things that I'm passionate about, you know? So it's great for me, you know. I remember the exact evening the script came through, you know, and I was like, oh my God. None of us could put the scripts down. It's like that you know.
Annie [00:06:33] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And how was the actual process of showing up every day and playing Grace? Like, you know, in the context of the rest of the cast?
Anne-Marie [00:06:41] So it was eight months, I think we were making the show. So for eight months I had to be in that space. It was tough, like, because your body doesn't know you're lying. You have to make yourself believe it so every cell of your body kind of goes there. So it's quite tiring. And also, I didn't get to have the craic with the other girls because they were all separate, you know, plotting or whatever. So it's quite isolating, which was perfect.
Annie [00:07:07] As in because it feeds into the character?
Anne-Marie [00:07:09] Totally fed into-
Annie [00:07:10] But it's not fun, is it?
Anne-Marie [00:07:12] No, but Claes and I did have a really good laugh.
Annie [00:07:13] Did you? Okay, good.
Anne-Marie [00:07:14] Because we knew if we didn't, we'd go mad, you know? So we did. We had a really, really good laugh and the crew were amazing and it was a huge crew. Huge production. So we did. We had a super good time together.
Annie [00:07:27] You talked about one of the reasons why you wanted to do it was because the show had a message. And, you know, I wouldn't want to say what the message is, but it's definitely, you know, domestic violence is the central tenant and everything kind of moves around that, the reality of domestic violence and just trying to show that in a really- in a way that people can maybe relate to or recognise. How important do you think it is to do this, to tell stories about this specific theme?
Anne-Marie [00:07:52] I think any story around the subject of bullying is always so important, isn't it? Because bullying, alright it might not be exactly your story but you might go, God, that smells familiar. Somebody at work makes me feel like that or makes me feel like I'm crazy. You never quite know the ripple effect that you have when you're telling a tale, and that's the gift we have, you know, really. That's our privilege, is to do that stuff. But for me, yeah of course, I've spoken before about untold stories around domestic abuse before. So for me it has been a subject that I feel very strongly about and I think the notion of coercion is still very recent, you know, people have only recently defined it as being domestic abuse. And when we imagine it, we have this sort of archetype, don't we, in film and television of a very working class scenario, maybe alcohol involved. Good old clip, wallop, all that stuff. But it's much more complex than that. So to see it in a sort of glamorous environment, doesn't hurt in a way. And lives that seem perfect aren't always. And pain is pain, no matter how much money's in the bank. And look, I think we live in a very flammable time in terms of women. You only have to look at what's happened in America recently and, you know, we now have an Italian, although she's a woman, an Italian prime minister who believes that women's place is in the home making babies. You know so, what a time we are living through, there's a whole- a very large part of the world where young women aren't even allowed or entitled to an education. So I just feel like we have to keep bringing that bell. I think we just do.
Annie [00:09:40] And you mentioned the idea of showing up every day and having to play the role of this very diminished woman for eight months. I guess how do you process that? I'm struck by what you said because I'm reading this new book by Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal.
Anne-Marie [00:09:54] Oooft, he is such a God.
Annie [00:09:55] Yes, so much of it is about mind-body and how your emotions directly affect your physiology. And so if you as an actress are, as you say, channelling these real emotions that your body feels real, how do you protect yourself I suppose?
Anne-Marie [00:10:12] It depends on the job as well. Sometimes it's much easier than others. I think when you do a play, it's different because you get to go from beginning to middle to end every night and you go, right, we've completed that journey every night. When you're filming, it's a bit weirder because you're kind of peppered through say a shoot like that, that you can sort of have to hold yourself in a certain place because, oh it's it's Friday, I won't be doing a scene till Tuesday so I have to let go of it a bit, but I kind of have to hold on to it a little bit for Tuesday. So it can be quite tricky, but you just find ways of dealing with it. When you're a young actor, you kind of *gasps* sort of immerse yourself and swim in the sea of it and think, this is how I'm supposed to do. I should be feeling all these things all the time. But then you realise that's exhausting and also *both laugh* not very good for you and not an exciting to be around person. But somebody told me this brilliant exercise and I would say this to young actors actually, where you get a list. If you find that you're really struggling with this stuff that you get a list and you go, this is me and this is grace. And this is what grace is like, *duh duh duh duh duh duh* and how I am not like her is in the other column. And it can be really useful to just do that in your noggin sometimes.
Annie [00:11:23] Just separate it really cleanly, yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:11:25] Yeah, cop yourself one Anne-Marie, there's no way you would. And you would never.
Annie [00:11:29] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:11:29] You know.
Annie [00:11:30] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:11:30] And I am this. I'm not that. That's her. You know, and that's quite useful. Sometimes these little tricks really help.
Annie [00:11:37] Yeah I bet.
[00:11:37] *Short musical interlude*.
Annie [00:11:37] So listen, let's get on to change because you've been through such a lot of change in your life and you talked about Ireland. You're very aware of Ireland because your parents were Irish or are Irish. I'm not sure if they're still around, are they?
Anne-Marie [00:11:58] Yeah, they're still alive yeah.
Annie [00:11:58] Wonderful. So tell me, I guess a little bit about where you grew up and about your parents. That kind of early part of your childhood.
Anne-Marie [00:12:06] So I grew up just outside of West London. If you were heading towards Heathrow Airport, that sort of neck of the woods. Very working class and my parents, Mary and Brendan and my brother Eddie. There was the four of us.
Annie [00:12:20] Eddie. Older or younger?
Anne-Marie [00:12:21] He's two years older. Yeah, so they both were here in London when they met. And my mum, when she first came here, lived very close to Grenfell. And that's where she spent a lot of her life and my granny lived next door to Grenfell actually, and she moved just after because of the fire. Damaged her flat and everything.
Annie [00:12:39] Wow.
Anne-Marie [00:12:39] I know so she had friends in Grenfell, the actual tower block. Yeah I know, it's very sad. I've never really talked about it before actually. But yeah, so sort of like West London Irish community. And there's a movie actually about Shane MacGowan that I think was on Sky.
Annie [00:12:57] I saw it.
Anne-Marie [00:12:58] Yeah, and it talked about the London Irish community and I, I loved it because it's not something that people know a lot about actually. Not really. There are sort of stereotypical images and things, but, you know, I found it fascinating because it wasn't easy at all for mum and dad when they moved here.
Annie [00:13:16] Why not?
Anne-Marie [00:13:17] There was so much discrimination, you know, that was the time of no blacks, no dogs, no Irish, you know, and all that stuff. And, you know, my dad's name is Brendan, he has the same name as my son and he worked for Fullers Brewery for his whole working life pretty much and everyone called him Pat because they called him Paddy when he arrived. They thought his name was Pat Duff and he didn't change it because people didn't. You know, that was where the radio was tuned to, which is sad. But anywho, yeah so we were a very close family. I'm still really close to my mum and dad and I see my brother all the time. He has Alzheimer's, he has very early onset Alzheimer's. So, he is in care and living not that far away from me. So we see each other all the time. Yeah, it was a- we were skint but you know they were so good at making it feel fine because, you know, we were- aahh it's such a sort of thing but we had other wealth, you know, we had that sort of like we all really cared about each other. And it was a time when you didn't have to go to school with a new iPhone or you didn't have to have five different streaming services on your telly and you didn't- the pressure wasn't there as much. I mean, it was the eighties so there was a lot of Thatcher bollocks but... I don't look back and go, oh, God, we were so deprived.
Annie [00:14:37] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:14:38] I'm so lucky, really. I look back on my childhood and go, yeah we were fine, you know, because we had each other and that was okay. Yeah, I didn't have all the stuff but you know what, I'm fine.
Annie [00:14:47] And what was Anne-Marie like as a little girl.
Anne-Marie [00:14:50] When I was super young I was very, very shy. Like crazy shy. And that's when I think I started reading.
Annie [00:14:56] Right.
Anne-Marie [00:14:58] You asked me what was the thing that, you know, was my first change in childhood would be that, discovering narrative, discovering story. And it completely like, like somebody took the lid off my head. I thought, I'll be a writer, I'll be a writer! Because I was always at the library and I'd sit, I can still remember the little kids bit at the library, I'd sit and just read books and stuff. And then a pal of mine, Lisa, at primary school said she was going to go to do like a youth drama club. And would I go with her because she was nervous about going alone and I shat myself *laughs*. But then I went and I was like, ooh, it's just the same as the book.
Annie [00:15:41] Right. You're telling stories instead of reading them?
Anne-Marie [00:15:43] Yeah.
Annie [00:15:44] But that must have been a big moment for you as a young, shy girl having to step out in front of people and speak and make your voice heard.
Anne-Marie [00:15:52] I guess so.
Annie [00:15:54] Or did it come naturally?
Anne-Marie [00:15:55] It kind of came naturally, but not in a shuffle-ball-change kind of way. I wasn't a show-off or a-
Annie [00:16:02] Yeah, yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:16:03] One of those kids who did impressions, you know, it was always one of those kids in the family. But I did sing and, ahh I mean it was an Irish family everybody sang but, *Annie laughs* so I would be made to sing and I didn't mind that. But yeah, it felt like a sort of logical- it wasn't like I immediately went road to damascus, this is it, I'm going to be Meryl Streep. I just knew that I liked the storytelling, and it made sense to me in them.
Annie [00:16:27] And your parents encouraged that side of it?
Anne-Marie [00:16:29] They totally did you know. I think they were like, just work at school.
Annie [00:16:32] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:16:33] Nobody made any decisions who I was.
Annie [00:16:36] Right. Wonderful. That's sooo-
Anne-Marie [00:16:37] How lucky is that?
Annie [00:16:37] I mean, what a privilege to be a blank slate.
Anne-Marie [00:16:41] Because it's quite tempting, even with my son I'm like, ooh who is he? Ooh he's good at this.
Annie [00:16:45] Who's he going to be?
Anne-Marie [00:16:46] Oooh maybe I should encourage that. And you think, well-
Annie [00:16:48] Yeah. And I think people do that very subconsciously, it's really well intentioned but-
Anne-Marie [00:16:54] It's totally well intentioned because they want their kid to be more of themselves. But sometimes you have to let them find the thing, you know.
Annie [00:16:59] Or they want their kid to be the part of themselves that they weren't able to make real. Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:17:05] Like you say people don't know they're doing it and they mean well.
Annie [00:17:07] So you were able to kind of form your own identity in your own time, which is wonderful.
Anne-Marie [00:17:13] Yeah and I was a bit of a nerd, you know, I wasn't very cool or anything.
Annie [00:17:19] Did you like school?
Anne-Marie [00:17:20] No, I was quite teased at school, because I was a bit different.
Annie [00:17:23] Yeah. And how were you different, do you think?
Anne-Marie [00:17:26] Of course now I can see it because I loved books and I loved-
Annie [00:17:28] Yeah. Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:17:29] Creative stuff.
Annie [00:17:30] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:17:31] And it wasn't a time where creative stuff was fashionable.
Annie [00:17:34] Right.
Anne-Marie [00:17:35] Everybody was encouraged to go off and work at Barclays or, you know, all that stuff. It was very much at that time. So I was a bit of a weirdo, I suppose. And it was a very working class, comprehensive school.
Annie [00:17:45] So tough.
Anne-Marie [00:17:46] Really tough. But also, 'what are you thinking?'. You know, that would be the attitude from the teachers. 'What are you thinking?' and 'you don't belong to that world'.
Annie [00:17:57] How did you deal with it? Did you tell your parents?
Anne-Marie [00:18:01] Yeah, I did. But it wasn't like it is now. And it was just a different generation of parenting, right. You know, it was kind of like, 'well!'. Whereas we're now like, oh God, okay, let's talk about it.
Annie [00:18:10] 'I'll speak to the headmaster'.
Anne-Marie [00:18:12] 'I'll have a word'. *Laughing* you know it's so different, you know? Yeah so I suppose I went even more into what I liked. It became my, like a force field. It became my thing. Like, you don't know what I have. I have this thing, and none of you have this. And I can use this as my, 'just you wait and see!'. And it wasn't like, just you wait and see, I'm going to be rich and famous. It was like, just you wait and see, I'm going to do this. You know, I'm going to do this thing.
Annie [00:18:38] And did you ever get a chance to see or know about any of those people who give you a hard time realising that you had become successful?
Anne-Marie [00:18:48] Not so much.
Annie [00:18:50] You always want that to happen.
Anne-Marie [00:18:51] Like Jessie J, yeah.
Annie [00:18:52] You want there to be a moment where there's like *Anne-Marie laughing lots*, oh sorry you're the kid who bullied me in school. Sorry that's just me on the cover- *Anne Marie laughing* on the billboard across the road. Yeah, seeya. You kind of want that like, you want to tie it up don't you.
Anne-Marie [00:19:04] I know so funny. That would be the movie wouldn't it? That would be the John Hughes movie.
Annie [00:19:07] Do you feel like that has stayed in you? And like, has it had an effect on you in adulthood, do you think? All of that grief at school.
Anne-Marie [00:19:13] Look, I think that every age you've ever been is still stuck inside you, you know. Which is why you get so triggered by shit all the time and you think, why am I overreacting to this? *Laughs* So it must on some level, of course. And you know what, Annie Mac? *Laughs*.
Annie [00:19:32] What?
Anne-Marie [00:19:32] I've never really been like, one of those people who's a member of a gang. I've never really been, you know, I'm always really envious of those people who have like ten mates, and they're always having Sunday lunch, and they're always doing- I've never really been like that. And maybe that's as a result of being slightly outside of the circle. I dunno, maybe, who knows.
Annie [00:19:53] And how are you as a friend?
Anne-Marie [00:19:56] Oh, God, I'm really loyal.
Annie [00:19:58] You must be very loyal, yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:19:59] I am and I have my little group of pals that I just worship and they're like my sisters. Well, I don't have any female siblings, but they all my sister friends, you know. And I've known them for years. But I love collecting new friends, you know, that's just amazing. And you think- when you think you're finished in a way, like, because we're lucky we get to work with different people all the time. And then you meet someone and you go, wow, I think I've just made a new friend, which seems nuts in your middle age, you know, but it's amazing.
Annie [00:20:27] Yeah, agreed. So you decided you were going to go for it and you did. You tried to get into drama school, but something happened, right?
Anne-Marie [00:20:36] I didn't get in the first time round.
Annie [00:20:38] Which must have been devastating.
Anne-Marie [00:20:39] I was pretty scared because, Jesus, I looked about 14 when I was 18. I was so young, I was a virgin. I really was like a baby. So then I applied for art school and I got accepted on a foundation course. And then I had a big chat with my dad. He was amazing because, you know, back then people sort of did jobs for life, right? It's only really in the last 15 years or something we've had this notion that nothing is guaranteed. You can try and do lots of different things. So for them, they were really working class people. They probably had all sorts of dreams that they couldn't fulfil. And there's a kid who, you know, said I want to be this and I didn't get to drama school. You know, he probably, you would imagine would be thinking, let's play safe here Anne-Marie Duff.
Annie [00:21:30] Yeah, yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:21:31] But he didn't he said, is that who you are though? I still remember standing, looking out at the garden through the window with his arm around me and him saying, "I'm not sure now as much if that's who you are".
Annie [00:21:43] As in art? As in doing art school is who you are. Wow, so he knew you.
Anne-Marie [00:21:48] Yeah. So I just went off and did another couple of A-levels, which I was able to do at a local college. I did film studies stuff and then I got into drama school in that year.
Annie [00:22:02] I mean, by the sounds of it, it wasn't a nurturing drama school.
Anne-Marie [00:22:07] No, it was, it was tough. It considered itself to be a bit of a conservatoire and so you could be booted out at any minute and-
Annie [00:22:13] Which is awful.
Anne-Marie [00:22:15] I know.
Annie [00:22:16] What were the grounds of being booted out at any minute? Just not being good enough?
Anne-Marie [00:22:18] Not being good enough. Not trying hard enough. I mean, it's very fucked up you know, of course, because when you're young of course, the masochism of youth, you'll throw yourself against the wall if you're desperate for something.
Annie [00:22:27] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:22:29] I mean, you know that. Look at the field you went into as a woman. You had to work your toocas off I suspect.
Annie [00:22:33] Yeah, yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:22:34] You know you just go, 'anything, anything, anything, I'll do anything!'. So I just kept working really hard and kept believing. I had this mad faith in it all, I suppose.
Annie [00:22:44] And where you like- What were the teachers, your peers kind of perspective on you as an actress at that time? You know, were you one of the best in the class? Did you feel like you really had something when you were surrounded by other aspiring actors?
Anne-Marie [00:22:58] It was hard to say because I was made to feel I wasn't a leading lady.
Annie [00:23:03] Really?
Anne-Marie [00:23:03] Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. But you also didn't know if that was a tactic. This was what was so weird. Like a really abusive relationship.
Annie [00:23:10] It is, isn't it.
Anne-Marie [00:23:10] But I remember I was in the final year, and there was a casting director who used to teach audition technique. And she said- there was something like I'd been given a terrible part in one of the school shows at the end, so she said, I'm going to work with you 1 to 1 and we'll do some speeches and things. I was like, oh, okay. And in one of those things she said, I have to tell you, Anne-Marie, you're probably one of the only women who are going to work in this year. And I was like, what?!
Annie [00:23:35] Wow.
Anne-Marie [00:23:36] She says, oh, I'm going to work with you on audition speeches because I think you're probably going to do really well.
Annie [00:23:40] Wow.
Anne-Marie [00:23:41] It was the maddest thing. It was like somebody said you-
Annie [00:23:43] Finally had said.
Anne-Marie [00:23:45] Did you not know you have brown eyes? *Both laugh* And you'd be like, what? So it was like mad. So that gave me faith then. And I sat down after I saw her and I wrote like a hundred letters to different theatre companies and all that sort of stuff. It really gave me a-
Annie [00:24:00] Well that's all you need, is this one little spark of affirmation right?
Anne-Marie [00:24:05] Sometimes you just need someone to go, 'you're fucking great you'.
Annie [00:24:08] Yeah. And then you got in?
Anne-Marie [00:24:10] Then I was off ski, and then I went in and got a job.
Annie [00:24:12] You then became very busy as an actor.
Anne-Marie [00:24:17] Yeah, I did lots and lots of theatre and stuff.
Annie [00:24:18] Lots of theatre. What was the breakout moment for you becoming well-known. Beyond theatre, I mean.
Anne-Marie [00:24:24] Beyond all that. I suppose there were two things that happened very close together. One of them was I was in a Peter Mullan film called The Magdalene Sisters and then followed straight after I was in Shameless. So I had this sort of really commercial success of Shameless. But then The Magdalene Sisters was a huge arthouse film, you know? So I had sort of like- I was so lucky I had those two worlds.
Annie [00:24:44] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:24:46] So people on the street knew me as Fiona. But that was nearly ten years after I left drama school, you know?
Annie [00:24:52] Yeah, so you'd put the graft in.
Anne-Marie [00:24:54] I had but of course I felt like a successful actor because I was working. And working at like the National Theatre and all those fancy pants places. So for me I was like, great.
Annie [00:25:01] What's the holy grail of acting? Is it being able to do a bit of everything?
Anne-Marie [00:25:06] Yeah.
Annie [00:25:06] And you've done that.
Anne-Marie [00:25:07] And I'm so- I'll still- I still touch wood I can't. *Deep breath* because, as you say, for most people, you kind of stay in a lane.
Annie [00:25:15] Right. And you kind of get put in a box.
Anne-Marie [00:25:17] You do.
Annie [00:25:17] I see.
Anne-Marie [00:25:18] I think some people love that. One of my best friends is a brilliant Irish actress called Eileen Walsh.
Annie [00:25:24] Okay.
Anne-Marie [00:25:25] Who was in Catastrophe actually with Sharon, she played her best friend in that. She said the other day, she was talking about it, and somebody said, because she's doing a show at The National and they said, what do you prefer? What's your favourite thing? Is it film, television or theatre? And she said, oh, you know, I love them all, I love them all. But then she said, I suddenly thought, yeah, but there's an alarm bell that goes off if I don't do a play for a long time. *Laughing* brilliantly described.
Annie [00:25:42] Love that, love that!
Anne-Marie [00:25:42] It's probably like when you're a musician, you know, if you don't play live for a long time, you must just feel like-
Annie [00:25:49] It's not right.
Anne-Marie [00:25:50] There's just being in the room and breathing in the audience's reaction to whatever it is you're doing. The effect that you have, feeling the effect that you have, not just guessing, making a sort of, oooh, sort of weird intellectual judgement about how something will be received rather than just that opening chord when everyone goes, 'woooow', you know, as opposed to recording music, it's the same for us, you know, it's the same feeling.
Annie [00:26:18] The visceral connection with people.
Anne-Marie [00:26:20] The communion, yeah.
Annie [00:26:31] So when you were- this happened, this kind of Shameless- Magdalene Sisters period, at what point then did you get married and this next phase of your life start?
Anne-Marie [00:26:41] So obviously we met on Shameless then. And then I had my son in 2010.
Annie [00:26:47] 2010. Okay. And you cite that as being the biggest adult change that you've gone through in your life so far?
Anne-Marie [00:26:52] Yeah, because I found it very difficult to get pregnant, like a lot of women. So it took me a long time. Then I got pregnant, of course at the moment I was giving up. You know, classic.
Annie [00:27:01] Yeah, how old were you when you had Brendan?
Anne-Marie [00:27:02] I was when he was born, 39. So I was an older mum, you know, really. But I'd been working at it for about seven years or something crazy. It did take me a long time. With any major life event there's always a before and afterwards. I think parents, we have that, right don't we, and other people have other versions of that because it's not, you know, it's not just for us mums and dads, but you know, I think it's such a, they're such teachers, children, you know, because you really have to examine yourself all the time. When you're with your children you have to go, why am I saying this? And you focus entirely on the effect you have on somebody. So you have to make sure that your reasons for doing it or saying it are good reasons *laughs*. Because you can't be messing around with another little person like that. And also it's just joyful and you feel part of the universe, you feel part of the whole *singing* circle of life. You do, you feel part of the locomotion of it all don't you, you know you're just it and, I was so grateful to have him because I was desperate to have him. And we're really, really close. You just have to be their superhero for a long time. It's hard work, being a superhero.
Annie [00:28:14] It is hard work being a superhero and it makes you look at yourself and you have to maybe go through a bit of a learning process about yourself, as you're saying, you know, who you are and what you're putting out in the world and why you're putting these things out in the world. Like what do you think you learnt about yourself in the process of becoming a mum?
Anne-Marie [00:28:31] Somebody gave me this brilliant piece of advice and I still think it's true. No matter what age your offspring are, that especially for mothers, that you will always be in the room. You realise very quickly that time is precious and that whatever you give your time to, you really commit. When I go to work, I'm really at work. I don't waste anybody's time because I could be at home right now with my child, you know, all of those things. And maybe it's the same for dads actually but that I learnt. No more shilly shallying Duff. Do things because you want to do them and if you are doing it just because you need to do it, then you just fake it, you know, just be in the room, really be in the room with people and definitely with your kids you have to really be in the room. And sometimes it's hard because you're nakered. And the effect, that's it isn't it? The effects we have on people, it really makes you hyper aware of that doesn't it. Just the donations of time that we give to other people. You see it so clearly in your kids. Maybe then it influences the time you spend with other people as grown ups, maybe?
Annie [00:29:35] Definitely, I would say. Did it change your attitude to work?
Anne-Marie [00:29:41] It made me realise how much I love my work.
Annie [00:29:43] Well, that's good.
Anne-Marie [00:29:45] Because I think there's a fork in the road for a lot of women when they have kids. It made me realise that's who I am. You know, I love my job, and if I didn't have it I wouldn't be me. And also I want him to see what it's like for a person to be fulfilled. You know, you hope they breathe that in and go, ahh I want to find the thing that thrills me. Hopefully.
Annie [00:30:09] And he has parents who are both actors, so.
Anne-Marie [00:30:12] Yeah. Which can't be easy, you know? It's a pain in the arse if you're going somewhere, and somebody goes, 'oh my God, Professor X, can I get your photograph?!' *Annie laughs*. And he's like, probably thinking, fuck off he's my dad. Probably feels very protective, you know.
Annie [00:30:26] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:30:28] That can't be easy for any child. I mean, I don't get that so much. People go, 'oh I saw you in such and such, I really love your work'.
Annie [00:30:35] *Both laugh* what over like the fruit counter at Waitrose or something?
Anne-Marie [00:30:38] Except the only time he did laugh, we went to Paris early in the year because he'd never been and I took him up the Eiffel Tower and everyone was like, *french accent* 'oh my God, oh my God, Sex Eduction!'.
Annie [00:30:46] *Both laughing* amazing!
Anne-Marie [00:30:48] That was the first time he was a bit like- cause they were all quite young and cool so he was a bit like, yeah, my mum's not too shabby *laughs*.
Annie [00:30:55] So does he watch your work? Has he watched what you do?
Anne-Marie [00:30:57] No, he wouldn't watch a bar of what either f us do. He's like, you are my parents.
Annie [00:31:01] Yeah, it's embarrassing.
Anne-Marie [00:31:02] You are nothing more to me. And I remember- because we were like, ooh, because lots of actors go yeah, my kids not seen my shows. But I heard Robin Wright being interviewed not that long ago and she said, 'oh my God no, the kids would never watch Sean Penn or myself do anything, they just won't'. And I was like, oh great.
Annie [00:31:16] Yeah, that makes me feel better.
Anne-Marie [00:31:19] But yeah, he wouldn't. Because he loved Arthur Christmas, that movie that James had done, he was Arthur Christmas in this.
Annie [00:31:25] Yep, I've watched that with the kids yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:31:27] It's one of the best Christmas movies ever. He loved it. He loved it, loved it. And we used to as a joke go, go on dad, you do that bit from the movie and he would go, my God Dad you're brilliant at that. And then somebody told him, that's your daddy *laughing* and he was like... oh. Literally pissed all over my strawberries.
Annie [00:31:44] Oh so he didn't realise it was actually his dad?
Anne-Marie [00:31:47] *Laughing*
Annie [00:31:49] Oh my God that's hilarious. He just thought his dad was doing an impression as opposed to his actual-.
Anne-Marie [00:31:54] He's a genius!
Annie [00:31:54] Oh, that's sweet, though. Awww.
Anne-Marie [00:31:57] So yeah, that's the end of Arthur Christmas sadly. But yeah, he doesn't. He's just like, just be my parents, please. Which is probably really healthy.
Annie [00:32:04] It is healthy, yeah, I reckon. So how did you- I mean, I don't want to ask the dreaded, 'how did you be a mum and be an actor' and all of that, because, you know, your husband was also an actor. I guess how did yous both deal with it? How did you do shared parenting and be successful actors? Or did one of you have to kind of pull back and take one for the team for a bit?
Anne-Marie [00:32:22] Well, I suppose. I mean, we're not together anymore so now logistics is everything. And childcare. I'm just like any working mum. If I didn't have childcare I'd be scuppered. But I don't take as much work as I would if I didn't have a child. Because you can't, you've got to have time with them. But then I think in a way, kids of actors are lucky like that because they don't have parents who are out at the office all day, every day. You know, they get these lumps of time.
Annie [00:32:47] Big lumps, yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:32:48] And sometimes really big lumps of time. Yeah. Exactly, where you get to just have them all to yourselves.
Annie [00:32:54] Yeah. So in those years that you were trying for having a baby, had you seen other actors be parents and thought, okay, that's how I want to do it? I'm asking this just because when I became a mum as a DJ, there wasn't really any rules for how you did it, and I didn't know anyone else who was a mum and a DJ at my level. And I found it really hard to navigate how you did it because you had to take the work so far up front, and I didn't know how I was going to feel, you know what I mean?
Anne-Marie [00:33:19] I totally know.
Annie [00:33:20] So it was kind of like, I don't know whether I can take this job because I might have postnatal depression. I might still be breastfeeding. I don't know if I can go through- So I found that really difficult.
Anne-Marie [00:33:31] But also the emotional shit of, I feel like I left my leg at home *Annie laughs*, you know it's that too, you know, it's hard. But the best thing that I remember, and I do this now, is that I remember when I did initially start going back to work, getting other mums who were actors or directors or whatever going, you're doing fine. If you need to go to the loo and have a cry, come find me. Because they get it. I think my biggest fear was around the fact that I was at that time, with a movie star. And I was worried about my child getting.
Annie [00:34:06] Yeah, getting overexposed.
Anne-Marie [00:34:07] Overexposed, but we were so private. Luckily, we were left alone. So we didn't have all that stuff but that was a real fear for me because you feel very protective. You feel protective enough when you're a parent. But you know, that was my, I think that was my biggest paranoia was that oh God, oh God, oh God. But actually, once we were in the swing of it, you were like, well they're really not interested. Your much more interested in getting a photograph of somebody who's beautiful and 21 *both laughing*.
Annie [00:34:29] Sorry, James. *Both laughing*.
[00:34:43] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:34:43] You're now in your early fifties.
Anne-Marie [00:34:45] Yeah baby.
Annie [00:34:45] Married, divorced, in your prime of your career, I would say.
Anne-Marie [00:34:51] *Whispers* thank you so much.
Annie [00:34:51] What do you still want? What do you still want to do? Is there things you still want to change?
Anne-Marie [00:34:57] You know, it's mad because doing the press for Bad Sisters, the amount of people who've said to me, like really nice journalist you meet who you've respected and read their stuff for years like, 'so what next Anne-Marie, you gonna write something, you gonna direct something, what you going to do?'.
Annie [00:35:12] As if that's a logical next step.
Anne-Marie [00:35:14] As if A, it's a logical next step. But also for me, the second part of that for me was like, fuck, really? And they would be like, yeah, I'd be really interested to hear what you have to say. Which is a huge compliment. It's like the most- can make you cry almost like. Because you hide yourself behind characters so often, so you think they're the interesting ones with something to say. Or the writer who wrote this is the interesting one. I remember Helen McCrory saying that once like, brilliant Helen, that she says, you know, I knew I couldn't create art, but I could be in it. And it's sort of as an actor, you often feel like that you're just serving someone else or whatever. And so just the notion that someone could think you might have something to say is so extraordinary it makes you go, ohh.
Annie [00:36:02] And did it ignite anything in your head?
Anne-Marie [00:36:03] Yeah, it certainly made me think a lot about it.
Annie [00:36:07] Because you're an avid reader.
Anne-Marie [00:36:09] Yeah, totally. And also, you become so aware of the world. I think that happens when you have kids maybe or maybe just- maybe it's just maturity. You become so aware of global information, the way we treat each other, what's happening in the world around you, in the greater world, and the responsibility inside of it, the responsibility we have as human beings. Is it possible for us to effect change by what we do? You know, all of those things. I did a play in America. I did the Scottish play in America with Ethan Hawke. And Ethan has such a sort of American head about filling the landscape. I think it's quite an American thing. They have this massive country. They have to fill this freaking landscape. So they have much more of a headspace of going, 'I'm going to direct. I'm going to be an actor, obviously, but shit I'm going to make a documentary. I'm going to be in a band for a bit. Oh, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to write a couple of novels'.
Annie [00:37:06] But isn't that also just a kind of inherent confidence? And also like this coming from a place where anything is possible and it's promoted that you can do anything?
Anne-Marie [00:37:17] That's what I mean, they have this thing of-
Annie [00:37:19] As opposed to being in the UK where it's kind of, 'get back in your box'.
Anne-Marie [00:37:21] 'Get back in your box'. 'Oh so you're giving up that now then'.
Annie [00:37:25] Yeah. Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:37:26] So yeah, I think it's really-.
Annie [00:37:28] It's a cultural thing, isn't it?
[00:37:29] You know, but all my heroes, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, you know, they're poets and musicians and artists and they multitask.
Annie [00:37:38] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:37:39] It's all an extension of their creativity.
Annie [00:37:41] So what would you say? What would you want to say?
Anne-Marie [00:37:43] You sound like one of my best friends, Julia.
Annie [00:37:46] What would you want to tell?
Anne-Marie [00:37:47] Who's like, so Duff, well Duff, what are you going to do? *Laughs*.
Annie [00:37:51] I am that friend. I'm like, come on, we're going to make a plan.
Anne-Marie [00:37:54] I know and I find it frightening. Because I'm like, oh shit! Because you spent so long defending the definition you have of yourself, right?
Annie [00:38:03] Mmmm, oof.
Anne-Marie [00:38:03] Don't you? You know what I mean baby?
Annie [00:38:05] Ooof that really hits different.
Anne-Marie [00:38:06] But it's true. And I think especially as a female in the industry, you have to really fucking define yourself.
Annie [00:38:12] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:38:12] Say, this is me, this is my authentic self. I am this and I'm so purely this. And I will work so hard to prove to you that what I have in this little distillation is undeniable. You cannot tell me I can't do this. I can fucking do this with bells on, baby. And so for then somebody to go, 'well look over here for a bit. Just look over here', you go, but if I do that, oh God what happens? Will everything just fall apart and will I go mad? *Laughs* it's funny aint it?
Annie [00:38:40] It is funny. It's funny. I kind of did it. I kind of weirdly did it and I wrote a novel which was so- such a left turn.
Anne-Marie [00:38:47] But I mean-
Annie [00:38:47] And it felt amazing, Anne-Marie!
Anne-Marie [00:38:49] Did it? When you sat down and had that screen.
Annie [00:38:51] It felt like coming home. It was so mad. It felt like the most exciting, thrilling, but also just time disappeared. I only did it as a hobby. It was like, I'm just going to do this for me. I'm 40. I've always wanted to write. Let's just try. And then it was like, it just.
Anne-Marie [00:39:07] See, that's the thing isn't it.
Annie [00:39:08] I'm sure that you've read all your life. You are a storyteller in your head and in your heart. I bet you have stories that you could tell so beautifully.
Anne-Marie [00:39:18] Well maybe, well everyone has.
Annie [00:39:19] Do you write?
Anne-Marie [00:39:19] Everybody has. I'm always writing in my head.
Annie [00:39:22] But you don't.
Anne-Marie [00:39:22] ----
Annie [00:39:24] Mhm.
Anne-Marie [00:39:26] But anyway, I was really scared of turning 50. That was a big thing for me.
Annie [00:39:33] And how was it.
Anne-Marie [00:39:34] And of course you know, the sky didn't fall on my head. I was fine. But, you know, you feel like- I suppose it's the way people used to feel about 40, maybe. I was really scared of it. And then suddenly the fact that people have said things like that, 'what next?', you go, ooh God so I'm not finished. Right, I'm not, I'm not fucking finished. And that was my biggest fear. So you do, you have to go, right okay, so what's the second half of my life going to look like? So that's kind of interesting to think of yourself as being a bit like your kid.
Annie [00:40:03] Yeah, you're starting again in a way.
Anne-Marie [00:40:05] You say like- like I talk about my parents, they didn't decide who I was. So maybe you have to apply a bit of that to yourself and stay curious and all of those things.
Annie [00:40:16] Absolutely, yeah. And I think as well, there's, you know, that line that you said was so powerful, this kind of defending the definition of yourself. But there's something about having that definition that can be limiting in a way. So it's kind of how are you able to kind of blur those lines, push them away a little bit and allow yourself to be more.
Anne-Marie [00:40:36] More of yourself.
Annie [00:40:37] Yeah, not- that sounds like what it is isn't enough, but you know what I mean. Allow yourself to spread wider, you know, as opposed to like climbing a ladder. It's just having a bigger perspective maybe of what you're capable of.
Anne-Marie [00:40:50] And I think it's now very much a thing that people do. You know, I look at the generation starting out and they go, yeah, I could do this that and this and this. You know, they do say I have three different careers going at once. But that wasn't the case when I was starting out. So you did have to like you say, you have to really defend it.
Annie [00:41:15] And I think as well, it feels like today in this day and age, there's a real kind of pressure to have an opinion on everything. And to know your opinion.
Anne-Marie [00:41:24] To be definitive, right.
Annie [00:41:25] To be binary and definitive, as opposed to being able to say, I don't know, I'm learning and I might never know, but all I can do is learn. I don't know is is the best thing I think you can say. And going into something like writing or starting like, you don't have to have a fully formed thing, you can just start, not knowing and see what happens.
Anne-Marie [00:41:45] Because that's what you would have done when you were 18 anyway.
Annie [00:41:47] Exactly. Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:41:48] No, I know what you mean. It's exhausting when people are very opinionated, isn't it? Because you think, do you know what?
Annie [00:41:55] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:41:56] There are two sides to every argument.
Annie [00:41:59] Yeah. Sometimes times more *laughs*.
Anne-Marie [00:42:03] It's funny, isn't it? And it's such a- you're sort of seen as being a bit, hmm a bit disappointing if you're not definitive. Whereas, of course the thing you learn as you get older is, that.
Annie [00:42:15] Yeah. Can I ask you the question that everyone asks women in middle age as actors is like, do you have enough parts? Do you feel good about being an actor going into your, you know, sixth decade? You know, you look at someone like Sharon who's writing parts, obviously, for women. So I think the more people we have doing that, the better. The more writers, more creators. But do you feel optimistic about that side?
Anne-Marie [00:42:36] I do definitely feel optimistic about it. I think we're in a very different place than we were 20 years ago. I think the producers of content now realise the demographic is hugely female and you know of a certain age. So I think they are understanding the need to cater to that a bit more. But there are, as you just said, there are more female creators of content. I suspect there's not as much work coming, rolling in as when I was 35 or whatever. But, like I said I've got a kid. I don't, I'm not like what's next, what's next. I'm not like trying to bookend everything. So I don't have that feeling, which might make me notice it less. But I feel we're in a better place. Obviously, there's room for improvement. There's always room for improvement in that way. But it doesn't feel like everything on TV now is a white male.
Annie [00:43:31] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:43:33] That's massive.
Annie [00:43:34] It's wonderful.
Anne-Marie [00:43:34] Which is a massively big deal. And hopefully that'll keep powering on.
Annie [00:43:42] Mmm, mmm.
[00:43:52] *Short musical interlude*.
Annie [00:43:52] Anne-Marie Duff. What would you still want to change, if anything, about your world or the world around you?
Anne-Marie [00:43:59] Well look, I still feel really passionate about female rights. Any kind of gender rights, actually, to be honest with you, in terms of, you know, with such a beautiful fluidity around gender now. And I do think it's a beautiful thing. I really do. And I love the fact that my kids' friends with young people who are questioning their pronouns and he's like, wow, cool.
Annie [00:44:24] Yeah.
Anne-Marie [00:44:24] I love that. I find that really inspiring and exciting because I think what it leans into is what we were talking about, to link it back to identifiers becoming identities. And it's great to push against that and go, oh, I'm not just that thing, you know, I'm whoever I am, you know, and I think it's really exciting. But also just, I'm so passionately protective about young women in lots of parts of the world who are so suffocated and stifled and straitjacketed, you know? And I find that profoundly upsetting.
Annie [00:45:03] Yeah. Well, I thank you so much for coming on here and chatting and also for the stories you tell through your work. And I really look forward to reading *Anne-Marie laughs* or seeing Anne-Marie as a writer, as a director. I'm excited.
Anne-Marie [00:45:22] Who knows what I'll do next, Annie Mac.
Annie [00:45:24] Exactly! I'm excited for what's to come.
Anne-Marie [00:45:25] I'll be running the bleedin' country. *Both laugh*.
Annie [00:45:27] I hope. Thank you so much.
Anne-Marie [00:45:31] Thank you my darling. It's been a pleasure.
Annie [00:45:36] Thank you so much to Anne-Marie. Such a wise woman. I really, really enjoyed talking to her. And please, if you haven't, go check out Bad Sisters. It's on Apple TV now. I just got the free trial. So you can get the free trial, you can watch it, and then if you don't want to stay on Apple TV, you can come off the free trial again. But it's very worth it. As I said, final episode being aired this Friday. Let me know what you thought of this episode as well on my Instagram and rate, review, subscribe at your leisure. We are so appreciative of any of that business. Now we're going to be back next Monday with actress and comedian Sophie Willan. BAFTA winner, star creator of Alma's Not Normal. This Girl is really something special. From Bolton, working class to the core, came through the care system, has had such a colourful life, is sidesplittingly funny. I can't wait for you to hear this conversation. So, Changes was produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Looking forward to bringing you another episode next week. Take care lads.