Hayley Atwell admits she "felt disgusting" playing her character in The Long Song

"I’m doing things that go against my instincts as a person"

Hayley Atwell admitted that she felt "disgusting" playing such an execrable character in BBC One’s adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel The Long Song, but that made it all the more important to inject "humanity" into the role.

The 36-year-old Agent Carter star plays Caroline Mortimer - a mistress who wields her power and status over a slave she plucks from her mother as a young child called July [played by Tamara Lawrance] during the final days of slavery in 19th century Jamaica.


Atwell says it would have been "reductive to play Caroline as a monster" and instead wanted to explore why Caroline did what she did, and what damage her systematic cruelty upon others ultimately did to her own soul.

"Caroline is so against my own value system and my own understanding but that was all the more reason that I wanted to put humanity in her," the actress told Harper’s Bazaar UK at a screening for the series.

"Because it would be reductive to play her as a monster. That doesn’t give us anything, it doesn’t help us with the complex, intelligent question or conversation around it. I felt disgusting, and I felt gross but then I thought that’s how I’m meant to feel. I’m doing things going that against my instincts as a person."

Tamara Lawarance in The Long Song

Atwell continued that Caroline didn’t really have much power or authority - despite being a sister of a plantation owner - and that her bullying behaviour is down to her own "insecurity and cowardice"

"Caroline has nothing that gives her any independent identity.... She gets a sense that the slaves are smarter than she is, and they know something about her that she doesn’t know about herself and therein lies how pathetic and almost endearing and awful she is," she explained.

"It’s very textbook, I think, that bullying that comes from insecurity and cowardice, and where she tries to assert this authority that she doesn’t really have. I wanted to explore the psychological damage or the damage done to one’s psyche, when that person inflicts damage on someone else you think, ’I bet she can’t live in her one skin’. She’s crawling in self-loathing."


Three hundred years of slavery came to an end on the British-ruled Caribbean island of Jamaica in 1838, but it still remains a shameful and rarely-acknowledged part of British colonial history. The Long Song underlines racial inequality that still pervades our society today.

Atwell suggested that the novel and adaptation offers an important insight into what happened to those who were enslaved and oppressed after slavery was abolished.

"There’s very little about what happens after slavery... It’s like, they were enslaved and now they’re free, here’s your happy ending," Atwell said.

"But you don’t see what it’s like to a people who are so displaced, who are now building from he ground up, who haven’t been given the right to education, or right to understanding what to do with that freedom or how to use it.

"What does that mean ? So seeing this for me made me think, I want to know more about how group pf people who have been given the keys to build a life on their won terms without any resources… what do they do with that newfound freedom ?

"Psychologically what is it doing to the identity of these people moving forward and the history we’ve been involved with - Britain’s involvement - and what that means for black identity now."


The cast also includes Sir Lenny Henry, and War & Peace’s Jack Lowden.

Levy’s The Long Song novel was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and long-listed for the 2010 Orange Prize. It was the recipient of the 2011 Walter Scott Prize.

Source : Harper’s Bazaar du 12/12/18 par Naomi Gordon

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A propos de Hayley Atwell, actrice britannique
Hayley Atwell, née le 5 avril 1982 à Londres, Angleterre, est une actrice britannique. Après plusieurs téléfilms, elle obtient son premier rôle au cinéma dans Le Rêve de Cassandre de Woody Allen aux côtés d’Ewan McGregor et Colin Farrell. En 2008, elle apparait dans The Duchess avec Keira Knightley. En (...)
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