Sophie Kennedy Clark Video Interview On ‘Philomena,’ Judi Dench, Stephen Frears
Sophie Kennedy Clark plays a young Judi Dench in Philomena, the story of one woman’s search for her long-lost son. In the film, based on a true story, Clark performs the title role as a young woman who’s son is forcefully removed from her care. “That kind of emotion is animalistic. It is without any self awareness that you throw yourself into it,” Clark told uInterview exclusively. “[The real] Philomena was on set and that gave it a push and a gravitas to me because I wanted to do her justice. Because, ultimately, she’s watching some little actress trying to emulate what was quite possibly the most heart-wrenching and awful moment in her life that she has gone over and over and over and over again in her head and I wanted to do her justice.”
Working with a legend like Dench was an epic experience for Clark. “I think every female actor can quite happily say that if we are doing the same projects [Dench]’s doing at this stage in her life, what more could you want as an actor?” said Clark. “She’s even more wonderful than you’d even try to imagine that she is. To be able to be in the same film, playing a younger version of her, it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life and hold incredibly dear to me just because she is who she is.”
Firstly, I'm not a mother and I've never lost a child and to put yourself in that kind of headspace, you can really only use things from your own life that are kind of similar or you imagine a certain kind of loss. But ultimately, most of my friends are entirely into the belief that I don't even have tear ducts, so to be able to put yourself into that kind of... that kind of emotion is animalistic. It is without any self awareness that you throw yourself into it. In the hands of someone like Stephen Frears, you fully feel like that is possible. No one wants to be in hysterics in front of a bunch of people that they don't know, with a camera. But the scene where I had to lose my child, somebody told me halfway through when we started filming that Philomena was on set and that gave it a push and a gravitas to me because I wanted to do her justice. Because, ultimately, she's watching some little actress trying to emulate what was quite possibly the most heart-wrenching and awful moment in her life that she has gone over and over and over and over again in her head and I wanted to do her justice. I kind of feel, with huge respect to Stephen Frears, that I was able to do that and felt comfortable and was able just to throw myself into it and commit to it in the way that I felt that I did. It was minus three degrees, in a smock, outside, around January, February time when I did it. Then with Philomena on set, those kinds of snot and tears - that's all real. That's not make up. I feel like what I delivered for it was as true as I could get for how she would have been.
I was very nervous about meeting her for the first time because I wanted to meet her before I did the role. Ultimately, she was the only person that could really tell me what the treatment in the convent was like and how she felt and how out of control she was. Also, she made me very aware of the fact that she had no idea about sex, about getting pregnant. Whatever you were told, because there was no Internet back then, there was no information, if you weren't given it, you believed what you were told. It's that very naive, very raw state that my generation can't...it's mind-boggling. So meeting her, for me, was ferociously important but she was hugely accommodating in the questions I had to ask because they were very personal questions. It's tricky to go meet someone for the first time and be welcomed into their home. She's such a wonderful, lovely, very funny woman. Knowing that you're about to go in there and she's not going to be that kind of perky person she is when she goes in to speak about this so I went in, I knew that I was going to have be very sensitive yet really get the kind of answers I needed to be able to play the role as best as I could. It's very funny because I was telling her about some of the scenes that I would be doing the following week and that I was really hoping to do them well enough for her and she said, 'Don't worry. I'll put a good word in with the man upstairs for you.' And I kind of looked at her and was like, 'You're still religious?' And she was like, 'Well, you know, he owes me one'.
When I first heard about the part and I was going in for the audition and it said, 'to play a young Judi Dench,' I'm not going to lie, I've never really looked in the mirror and looked at myself and said, 'My god, I look a lot like Judi Dench today.' I remember speaking to my mom about it, because — I don't usually talk to people about auditions I do because if I don't get them, then they never have to know — but the thought of losing a child, I kind of felt the only person I could turn to was my mother to try and understand what that would be like. Then, when I told her about the Judi Dench thing, she was like, 'Well, actually, I can kind of see why you would be cast as Judi Dench. You've got quite similar wide sort of cheekbones and you've got those blue eyes and that's what Judi is kind of known for, is her eyes,' and I kind of went, 'Well, okay, maybe.' When I found out I got it, and I was meeting Judi, I think every female actor can quite happily say that if we are doing the same projects she's doing at this stage in her life, what more could you want as an actor? Everyone respects her, everyone so enjoys her work. So meeting her for the first time, you're so familiar with her face, and yet there's something about her in real life that is completely luminous and entrancing and yet she's so wonderful and kind and very, very witty. Although I had hugely high expectations going in meeting her, she exceeded them. She's even more wonderful than you'd even try to imagine that she is. To be able to be in the same film, playing a younger version of her, it's something I will remember for the rest of my life and hold incredibly dear to me just because she is who she is. I will say that Judi has taught me, and she never told me this, so I never heard it out loud, but the way that she is on set with everyone - you can totally see why people want to work with her, aside from her being phenomenally talented. She is the most wonderful person to be around. There's no hierarchy, there's no 'Dame,' there's none of that. She just mucks in with everyone else, has a laugh, has a chat, knows everyone's names, is a complete professional and a wonderful person and I think if you can go on, and be as successful as she is, and keep that, that is something.