Shirley Henderson has enjoyed a long a varied career in both TV and film and now she is back with her new project Treasure Island.
- Tell us about Meg
Meg Hawkins is Jim Hawkins’ mother. In the book she’s a tiny little part, but in this adaptation she is much more prominent. I feature mainly at the beginning but the way they’ve adapted it is instead of it being just two stories, one in Britain and then one abroad, when they go to Treasure Island, Jim’s thoughts and feelings keep going back to what’s happening at home.
So they’ve built up my character throughout as a sort of echo of the other life that he came from.
I don’t know what the shots will look like but the producers kept describing that the image would shoot across the sea, just as if the camera was leaving the Island and going immediately over to Meg watching, looking in the distance as if she can see what’s happening way over the other side of the world - it’s sort of the both of us aware of each other.
- What is Meg’s relationship with Jim like?
They live in a very small, close-knit community. His father’s died, he’s just got his mum and they don’t have any money; business at the Benbow Inn is going downhill so we’re very isolated.
Billy Bones arrives and Jim’s curious: there’s another world out there, and the stories, the way these men look, the smell of them, their voices, the outlandish things that they’re saying... he’s at that age where he’s got to go and see, so that’s fairly typical of a mother/son relationship.
But he’s also had to grow up quickly because his father has died and he’s got to take responsibility - there’s all that sort of worry of how they’re going to fend for themselves.
- So she’s the archetypal worried mother?
To a degree, but they’ve tried to bring in a very gentle side of her and one that’s very vulnerable as well. She’s overwhelmed by these giant men, really, in her home, laden down with chests, loud and exciting and aggressive.
That’s scary. She’s not used to that, so she’s in a very vulnerable place. She’s more than worried, she’s frightened for her son, but she does eventually fight back in her own way.
She takes a lot of abuse for a long time and then finally says ‘enough’ and stands up as best she can - she’s pushed too far, and she fights her corner. I don’t think I’d have wanted to do it if it’d been just hovering in the background fretting.
- You shot in Dublin. So they didn’t let you out to Puerto Rico?
No they didn’t. They’re very naughty. They’re stingy they are. But no, I knew the story. I know she doesn’t go. - How was Dublin? Cold seems to be the general consensus.
It was horrendous weather, but I didn’t mind that for that section of the film. I think that in some respects it may have helped to show the difficulty of their lives and the wildness of the weather and the elements that they were facing.
Where they had the Benbow on the coast in Cork, the wind was tremendously high, the waves were crashing in and there were blackbirds flying and flapping all over the place.
It was extremely cold and painful but I hope all of that added to the atmosphere. It would have been awful if it was just sunny days all the time for that part of the film.
- What was the Admiral Benbow Inn itself like?
Well, it was an old derelict building at the end of a cove that I think they must have discovered on their journeys looking for locations. They got it habitable in the sense that they put platforms in it and gave it a roof.
You couldn’t really have lived in it but they were able to film around it; we did the interiors in studio in Dublin. And it was on a cliff top, yes. I nearly got swept off my feet with the wind. I mean literally it was that powerful.
I have to say I was quite enjoying it: it was like you were flying almost. I come from Fife so I quite like wind - as long as you’ve got warm boots. Of course, we didn’t have warm boots. We were wearing costume boots, which are the coldest type of boots imaginable. But as long as you could get to a hot water bottle or a cup of tea afterwards you were alright.
- Some of the pirates have outlandish costumes. What did Meg get?
I only had two costumes. Very simple dresses made from heavy material. In fact when they first put one of the dresses on I couldn’t keep my back straight it was so heavy. I said, ‘I hate complaining but something has to be done, I literally cannot keep upright!’
Try running with that heavy material and a cloak in water - it was about three times my body weight. So they experimented until they found a material I could actually cope with.
- There are hardly any female characters in the piece. Was it a testosterone heavy set?
It’s fairly normal to be honest. I was one of the ones that began filming and it was mainly stuff with Toby [Regbo] and David Harewood and then gradually, everyday, more and more of the boys arrived until there were something like 20 guys all gathered. They were very nice but it was a very male dominated project.
- What was it like filming with Toby? Did he need mothering?
No not at all. He’s very mature and does his own thing, knows what he’s doing, very sussed, very grown up really. He’s completely comfortable with everybody, much more than I ever would have been at that age.
It was nice because he was so excited about going to Puerto Rico and getting on the ship to film. Of course, as you get older, you actually think sometimes you don’t want to go for whatever reasons - because it’s so early in the morning or you’re nervous or you’re tired or whatever - but he was consistently upbeat, saying ‘this is fantastic’.
Treasure Island is out now, available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.