FIFM interview: Roxanne Scrimshaw (Lynn + Lucy)

After world premiering in San Sebastian two months ago, where the ICS interviewed director Fyzal Boulifa, Lynn + Lucy is doing the festival round, landing a Competition slot at the Marrakech International Film Festival. Cédric Succivalli spoke with actress Roxanne Scrimshaw, for whom Lynn + Lucy is her debut feature, about the casting process, working with Boulifa and with co-star Nichola Burley, and about child abuse and the dangers of social media.

CS: I think you did a terrific job in a film that is pretty difficult in terms of acting, especially since it’s your debut. Would you mind telling me a bit about the street casting that Fyzal did, because as I understood that’s how he found you?

RS: They did a lot of that before they actually got to me, but the way I found it was through Facebook one day. I was just scrolling through, and there was a post in my local community page from a lady saying a film company was looking for two females, age 18 to 24, from a working-class background. So I messaged her, and she sent me an email address and said, “Good luck.” I didn’t quite trust it, so I left it. Then a few weeks later my mom showed me the same thing on the Facebook page of my local newspaper, so I figured it had to be legit. The email address was different, so I sent my pictures to both of them saying, “This is me. If you want me, call me.” (beat) They called me. I had a little chat with the casting director, and I think I spoke about chickens the whole time. Because I grew chickens, I got some eggs and grew chickens. So the whole conversation was about chickens. I didn’t realize I was going for casting, or what that even meant, that I was meeting the director. They introduced him as Fyzal, the director, but it just went through my mind. I was so excited that these people wanted to see me. I did a few more castings and then I met Nichola (editor: Nichola Burley, who plays Lucy), and from there on it was amazing. We had great chemistry, and then we got into rehearsals and getting ready for shooting.

CS: It’s a challenging film in terms of the themes it tackles: sisterhood, broken friendships, it also tackles Brexit in a way because we feel there is this mobbing happening through social media. You play the character of a young woman who is pregnant at the age of sixteen, Lynn. Lucy is your best friend up until your mid-20s. Suddenly life gets in the way, there is a tragedy regarding a pregnancy and a problem with a child. Tell me how you managed to convey so many layers of emotion concerning this broken friendship, because you range from best friends to envy. How was that process, through reading the screenplay and acting in front of Nichola, a professional actress?

RS: Nichola was amazing, she helped me and guided me, and she gave me confidence. She made everything so much easier. Along with the other actors, but because the emotion was there with her, because of her skill as well, that made it easy for me to feed off of her emotions. When she would cry and get upset, I could feel it and would be upset myself just by looking at her. I’ve been through so many things in my life, I love the emotions I can pinpoint. But I’ve also been very skilled, because of my environment, at hiding them. You can’t be weak in the places I come from. And I also had a best friend in school, from the age of 15 to a couple of years ago. So it spoke to me on a lot of levels, not perhaps every detail, but in terms of when she wanted me she’d call me, but when she was happy in her life she wouldn’t. I was more like a wingman than a friend. It took me over ten years to see what she was doing. The difference between me and Lynn, I’m a grown woman, I have a child of my own. My former friend had one as well, so my child was upset she couldn’t see her child anymore, and it was harder. So I said, let me move on with my life, if you want to speak to me, call me. Lynn, my character, obviously went a lot deeper, she didn’t stop. She went on a rampage. But that is because of the society she is in. When I went through that breakup with my friend, if I had been in a different working environment or a different home environment, a different relationship, nobody knows how it could have gone. A lot of the emotions in the film I have felt in real life, or I have seen other people go through.

CS: The film is partly co-produced by Ken Loach. The social realist element is very strong, but it goes beyond that. How was it to work with Fyzal, how much of a director is he with his actresses? Does he leave room for improvisation or were you completely guided by the script?

RS: I never had a script. All the other actors got to see the script before shooting. But with me, since I had never acted before, he didn’t want me to read it and pre-judge Lynn. I would go in, get a quick brief about the situation or get other people’s lines. With Lynn’s lines, if they would feel natural in that situation I could go with it, but if they didn’t sound right I could change it to how it would feel more natural to me to speak to those people. Sometimes I’d change them in the morning, sometimes there and then. Fyzal was amazing in that sense, if any of us felt something wasn’t natural or real for our environment, he would go, “Show me.” At the same time Fyzal knew what he had in his head, he had his vision. Sometimes we couldn’t understand it. The outfit choices for instance. There was one outfit, I don’t know how he did it but it worked so much. If I had had the choice, I would be like, “I’m a 28-year-old woman, I can’t wear this.” His artistic mind, I think he is a genius. The way he can see and envision things of how he wants them. I can’t thank him enough, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met, and he gave me this opportunity for no reason.

CS: Of course for a reason! He recognized your talent on the spot.

RS: That could be said, but at the same time there’s a million women like me. As someone explained to me, within the UK, especially in the acting community, it’s more of a privileged trade. So for every one of these privileged actors there’s probably a lot of others who cannot afford it but that have the talent and the skills, yet nobody knows. But he picked me, and he didn’t tell me until the very end why. I kept asking, but he wouldn’t quite let me know. I would love for any other director that I may work with to have a little bit of Fyzal.

CS: Your narrative arc is very profound and multilayered, and also your femininity changes drastically over the course of the film. At first your nails are half-done, you don’t really take care of yourself, but progressively womanhood takes over at the same time when you try to put some distance between you and your best friend because of what you have seen and experienced. How did you experience this arc in the process of shooting?

RS: It was exciting. As you can see now, my nails, I did do them, they’re half-chipped, my hair is just brushed. In my personal life, I can go from Lynn at the beginning of the film to Lynn at the end of the film, and back to Lynn in the middle. It depends on what day of the week it is. I stopped wearing leggings as much (laughs). For me it was exicting just to have the transition. Because I didn’t have the script but knew there was going to be a change, so most of the film I was like, “When do I get my hair and makeup done?” It was very exciting to go through the stages and see how someone can progress with the smallest of changes.

CS: How do you feel as a young woman and now an actress about the two major themes of the film? First of all the mobbing and social media, and how you can spread rumors through them. And what’s your position on the topic of violence against children, also a theme of the film?

RS: When it comes to the children, I don’t mess with that. I have a child, and I’m so protective. There is nothing anyone can say or do or go near my child, because I’m there. There is so much child abuse and so much scary stuff happening to children. Even the smallest of things like neglect, or kids going to school in winter without proper coats. It’s terrible that as a society we allow these things to happen. You have one person living in luxury, and they will happily live next door to someone who can’t afford to feed their children, without even acknowledging it. That’s like a major thing, especially in social areas you live, you need to know your neighbors. As to the mobbing and social media, that has gone way out of hand. People go on social media too often with the wrong information. Do your research! Social media can be an amazing platform for a lot of things, but I’ve learned that looking on social media, or looking through your neighbor’s window to see how much they have or haven’t got, just be kind to people. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, or what you think you’re seeing, you don’t know the story. Always be kind to someone, you never know what they’re going through, on social media or in real life. Be understanding, compassionate. And if you don’t know, learn. And if you can’t learn, ask.

CS: You went to San Sebastian with the film, you’re now in Marrakech. The film will shortly also be in Competition in Macau. Are you going there or not?

RS: I’m not going to Macau. I will stay here until the end of this festival, and then I’m going to Les Arcs.

CS: As a young actress now, how do you connect to all the different audiences at these festivals, what was the reaction of the people you talked to?

RS: It is amazing! Even yesterday, walking down the street, people stop me and congratulate me. It’s so overwhelming in the most amazing way. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Even just going from festival to festival, and people seeing the film and then coming up to me, just wow. I’m just so overly excited to be a part of this.