Leanne Best has moved between television, film and theatre throughout her career and is set to return to the small screen with new World War II drama Home Fires, a new six part drama for ITV.
Best has a very busy 2015 ahead of her with a couple of films set to hit the big screen and another couple that she is about to start work on.
We caught up with her to chat about Home Fires, exploring the women of World War II, and the exciting projects that she has one the horizon this year.
- You are about to return to television in new six-part drama Home Fires, so can you tell me a bit about the project?
Home Fires is set in a small village in Cheshire and it is just before the Second World War. The drama focuses on the lives of the people in the village, the impact of the war, the personal relationships, and how they try to negotiate this new and terrifying period of British history.
- You are set to take on the role of Theresa in the World War II drama so what was it about this character and the script that was the major draw when you read it for the first time?
Simon Block is a phenomenal writer. While Home Fires is a fantastic ensemble cast, Simon has managed to capture the individual spirit of each character so that you are really able to invest in them and what they are going through as an audience member. The war is very much the backdrop of what is going on and Simon has focused of the lives of these people.
Theresa is a girl from Liverpool and she has brought to the village as the new school teacher - the teacher they had before her was a young man and has gone off to war. She has been brought to the city, she is a bit of an outsider, and she moves in with Fenella Woolgar's character Alison. She has moved into the village and into Alison's house and it is very much how she ingratiates herself into the village and the women of the WI.
She is slightly different as she is perhaps a little more modern than some of the other women in the village. And while I can't say too much, she has a good few secrets that she brings with her to the village and as the series goes on, what she is running away from unfolds and you see the impact of that on her life and on the lives of people that she has come to really care about.
- The series is based on Julie Summers's non-fiction book Jambusters - were you aware of the book before the show? How useful was the book when you were preparing for this role?
It was brilliantly useful as it is the source material. One of the things that both Julie and the show really wanted to do was… I think, over time, the WI has got a reputation of something that is quite twee and it is all hairnets and knitting needles.
Actually, it was a really forward thinking and progressive movement that held an awful lot of communities together during the Second World War - especially rural communities that were quite isolated from the cities - as women were dealing with things that they had never had to deal with before and cope with things that they had never had to cope with before. Julie was really interested in showing that this environment was really unique, important, vibrant and exciting.
The women of the WI. were very important in each other's lives as they were a support system for each other in this time of crisis. This is what they wanted to show in the programme, this is what comes through in Julie's book, and this is what we have done.
- That does lead me into my next question. The time in which the series is set very much saw women take over the roles of men while they were away at war, so what kind of research did you do into this period and the sort of things that women found themselves doing?
I just read a lot. It is unfortunately quite recent history and there is an awful lot of material about that time. I ready Julie's book and a lot of books about women in rural communities during the Second World War. I was interested in the idea of these communities having to hold themselves together and dealing with blow after blow - it wasn't just the everyday difficulties of being a country that is actively at war with another country, it's the emotional fallout when those men start to come home.
There is this beautiful line in the trailer where Samantha Bond's character says; 'non one counts the cost of war more than women when they see the broken bodies of their men come home.' The show really encompasses all of that; there is the notion of women having to send their children away and the worry of what is going to happen to them. It is not all doom and gloom as there is some fun and gallows humour in there, but there is a real sense of the fortitude of the women that were left behind.
- A terrific cast has been assembled for the series, as Samantha Bond, Francesca Annis, Mark Bonnar, and Ruth Gemmell are just some of the names on board. How did you find working as part of that ensemble cast?
We keep laughing because it sounds really cheesy to say, but it was one of the happiest working experiences of my life - honestly, we just love each other to bits. We spent loads of time together both on set and off set and we really bonded. Everyone is brilliant and everyone is a really good laugh. I do a lot of stuff with Fenella Woolgar - who plays Alison - and we would be doing a huge emotional scene and being told off for giggling too much (laughs).
The crew were amazing, the creative team were fantastic, and I think that really shows on screen, as there is a lovely sense of community. I think that we really did manage to pull off the fact that these people really love each other and really know each other because we all love each other to bits - I think that really shows in the programme.
- You best known for your television work such as Ripper Street and have worked extensively in the theatre, but 2015 saw you make a leap on to the big screen with The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death. You played The Woman In Black in that film, so how was that experience?
It was brilliant and it was unlike anything that I had ever done before. It was a really special effects heavy job and I got to do all of the makeup and stuff that she gets to do on screen. Director Tom Harper was brilliant and Jeremy Irvine and Helen McCrory are two fantastic British talents. I had a ball on it.
It was a strange thing to play because you are just emanating death all over the film, which was a challenge. It was a lovely thing because it was so much about other people's brilliance, such as the special effects team and all of that. I had a really really good time on it, it was great.
- We are also going to be seeing you back on the big screen with The Outcast, which is based on the novel by Sadie Jones, so can you tell me a bit about that film?
I shot it in the summer with director Iain Softley, who I had done the stage version of a film that he had written and directed called Backbeat in Los Angeles. I met Iain and asked me to come on board and play a part in this. Again, it is another phenomenal ensemble cast. While I can't say too much about it, it was a really interesting character to play. I have a lovely time doing it.
- You have mentioned Ian Softley, so how did you find working with him? And what kind of director is he?
He is brilliant, he is really really brilliant. Some of the material - I can't say too much - it wasn't difficult but it needed a nice steady hand to help negotiate me through it. Iain is very warm and open and he loves actors and understands the process. He just makes everything really really comfortable and fun. He has also got a brilliant vision and he has a really rock and roll element to some of the things that he does. He is just a really great bloke to work with.
- As I said, you have moved between TV, film, and theatre in recent years, so how do the mediums compare? Is there a favourite that you prefer to work in?
I just love any and all - anyone who will have me (laughs). It was interesting that I have just gone back to theatre to do a production of Education Rita; it was the thirty fifth-year anniversary, with Willy Russell. It has been a good couple of years since I have done any stage work and, for me, being on stage is an essential part of being an actor and it is a really vital element of my working life.
If I am lucky enough to be asked to do something, I would always return to the stage. All the mediums are exciting and you get to work with such phenomenally gifted people. I would be hard pushed to pick one (laughs).
- You were hand picked to play Rita by Willy Russell himself, which must have been a thrill?
Yeah. It is a really iconic role. I am Liverpool born and bred and she is one of the ones that you hope you will get the opportunity to play. I was walking through Leicester Square when my phone went and it was the director of the show who asked me it I wanted to come on board and do it.
I was beyond honoured, surprised and chuffed to be asked to do it. Liverpool is packed to the rafters with phenomenally talented women, so to be at the top of the list to play this role is just glorious. I loved every second of it.
- You said that the theatre is key part of your career and something that you will always go back to, so what is it about the theatre that you seem to love so much?
I just love the rehearsal process and, for me, it is one of the most amazing things that I get to do in my job. Exploring a text with other actors, the director, and the writer - if you are lucky enough to have them in the room - is just great.
It is just that period of excavation where you get stuck into the script - it is like being a detective as you piece together the psychology of someone else. I just find that really fascinating, challenging and scary. Theatre is where I learnt my trade and it is where I feel really at home.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I have just finished The Infiltrator, which is an American film with Bryan Cranston - I have just finished shooting that in London. I am just about to go off and do another couple of projects that I am not allowed to talk about at the moment - but I am very very excited. So I am going to be shooting those for the remainder of the year, which will be lovely.
Leanne Best is currently appearing in Fortitude airing on Sky Atlantic Thursdays at 9PM, Home Fires for ITV TX Spring 2015 and The Infiltrator (2016)