Sally Phillips hosted the Towergate Care Awards last month, an awards ceremony that recognises the work that all of the carers in our community do.
This is a subject that is close to Sally's heart and we caught up with her to chat about the awards and the movies that she has on the horizon this year.
- You hosted the Towergate Care Awards 10th March, so can you tell me a bit about them and how you got involved?
It was the first year of the Awards - and the first awards in the care industry to have such a broad spread of categories, from home care workers, to educationalists, from GP practice managers to volunteers. I think we forget that without carers many of us would not be able to work, or go on holiday, or even go out at night. We'd be at home looking after children, or parents and other relatives and friends.
As a society and particularly as women, we've never been more reliant for our freedoms on the care industry and yet we reward them so badly financially. We expect so much for so little most of the time from these wonderful people that it was really great to be able to celebrate them and what they do. The thing about really brilliant care workers is that they don't expect praise for it. This was the literal opposite of the Oscars - the unflashy people with big hearts doing the really important stuff behind the scenes.
I have a child with additional needs so, I stay quite alert to the position of disabled and vulnerable people in the UK. At times, I wish I didn't as although our language about disabled people has improved our treatment of them is far from ok. Living conditions are fantastically tough at the moment and getting worse, disability hate crime is on the rise and cuts have hit the disabled community six times harder than any other group. In the UK, we compare badly with other European nations in our treatment of the disabled and are currently under investigation by the U.N. for human rights abuses towards them.
Of course, it's not just the disabled who need care - all of us do at different points in our lives and we all know what it's like to be ill and treated as a 'problem' rather than a person. so for all kinds of reasons, I think these awards were a thoroughly good thing and I was proud to be involved.
- How does good care impact on the quality of someone's life?
Your home care worker might be the only person you see all day - if they do their job well they will remain with you for fifteen minutes. The difference between a good care worker and an uncommitted care worker in that kind of time slot is immense - our winners in these categories were astounding - for example a young woman who had bothered to learn multiple languages so she could communicate with the people in her care.
Your carer might be the practice manager at your GP's surgery who spots an oversight in the paperwork and makes sure you are referred for tests you need, who knows your name or family history - it might be the nursery nurse at your child's pre-school, they might be like our Unsung Hero, the person who, on his Wedding Anniversary skipped dinner with his wife to visit a dying man in a Care Home he didn't work in because that man had once told him he was afraid of dying alone.
I don't think it's possible to overstate the difference good carers make to individual lives every day or how important they may be to you personally.
- Away from the awards, you returned to the big screen in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as Mrs. Bennet earlier this year. So how did you get involved with the film? What was it about the character and the script that was the major appeal?
I was sold on the title, to be honest. Call me shallow. It made me hoot. Imagine my delight when I discovered that there's also an Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer and Jane Eyre and the Sea Monster. And of course, everyone loves Mrs. Bennet. I had five of the most beautiful and adorable actresses as children.
You'll know Lily James and Bella Heathcote already and Suki Waterhouse too but watch out for the hilarious Millie Brady (how many hilarious comic actresses also model for Miuccia Prada?) and starlet Ellie Bamber currently filming with Amy Adams and Isla Fisher in Jake Gyllenhaal's new film.
- Mrs. Bennet is one of Jane Austen's most famous characters how exciting was it to get to play her in a film that is not your average period drama? It feels like you did have more freedom with her?
I don't think I'd have been allowed near Mrs. Bennet if there hadn't been zombies involved so I was grateful to them for the break. Though of course there's less room for Mrs. Bennet when you're clearing out half the plot and replacing it with zombie war. So, you know, you win you lose.
- The movie was written and directed by Burr Steers, so how did you find working with him for the first time?
I was initially slightly over-awed as I was a big fan of 'Igby Goes Down' and also, slightly more tragically ' Weeds', which Burr directed a lot of - but I got over it (no offence, Burr). We had a real laugh together. He's very laconic and understated which I love.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a movie that is a lot of fun but how was it to shoot? The cast do seem to have had a blast?
We did. Impossible not to love being around those girls. I'm crazy for my own children, obviously but if I could choose daughters I'd choose those five, no question. It feels like the Bennets became a real family and the girls all still call me Mum which I love.
- We are also going to be seeing you return to the role of Shazza in Bridget Jones's Baby, so what was it like reprising that role once again? Can you give us any hints about your character in the film?
Well, it's fifteen years since the first film so it was great to catch up with that world again and find out what has happened to everyone. I have over the years wondered what might've happened to Shaz and hoped it was something happy - you'll have to wait and see. The only thing I can reveal is that Shaz has perhaps aged slightly worse than the other friends, dammit.
- Bridget Jones's Baby was a movie that has been in the pipeline for quite some time. Was there a point when you thought it wouldn't get made? How thrilled were you to get the chance to go back?
We were all booked in 2011 and then it went silent. I was actually relieved as I was pregnant and we were due to start filming on my due date. I had got to the point where I thought it would never happen, especially after Helen's third book came out.
In the event, I only had about three weeks' notice. I was beyond thrilled because it meant that I no longer had to justify to agent or children my decision not to go into the wild with Bear Grylls and drink my own urine.
- During your career, we have seen you juggle writing with acting but do the director's chair hold any interest for you?
Not really! I have a great visual sense but terrible spatial awareness and I hate responsibility. Occasionally I wonder if I'm being pointlessly chicken and should just get over it. When it's the choice between plastic surgery and directing, directing is probably the more appealing option. Let's see.
- Over the last twelve months or so we have seen a whole host of actresses really voice their opinion on the lack of good movie roles for women. While 2015 has been a great year for female-driven movies, where do you stand on this argument?
It's still very hard to get a film financed with a female lead or female director. If you have a female lead in your script and cast that role first it's very hard to attach an A or even B list, male co-star. And you've heard about the pay. I think we've got a long way to go convincing the financiers, who are essentially gamblers, that women can lead movies and direct them.
A long way to go with anyone who is a non-white male in any position of influence. I'd like to see more parts for disabled actors. I hope that 'spazzing up' in a movie will be as offensive to our children as 'blacking up' is to us.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I'm working on a documentary about Down Syndrome screening and writing a sitcom for C4 starring disabled actors and a film about smuggling that doesn't.
I've got a few dates at the Edinburgh Festival with a brilliant playwright and comedienne called Lily Bevan so am looking forward to that. Everything else - who knows? An actor's life!
Sally Phillips hosted the 2016 Towergate Care Awards, which recognised and rewarded those people who go above and beyond in the care industry. For more info see towergateinsurance/care-awards