She loves clothes and costume dramas and so Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017), set in the haute couture world of London in 1954, was a perfect fit. Lesley Manville plays Cyril Woodcock, sister to Daniel Day-Lewis’ gifted but obsessive couturier, Reynolds Woodcock
Talking about the preparation for her role, Lesley says over the phone from London, “I knew I was going to do the film about seven months before we started filming so I had lots of time to research the period of the film, the 50s, the history of fashion, the world of fashion leading up to that. I had time to think about the character and how I might play her. I had lots of sessions and meetings with Paul Thomas Anderson, I had a few with Daniel Day Lewis, lots of costume fittings with Mark Bridges. You put all the research, the work and the preparation in and then you start to shoot the film. That is when everybody has to try and find a way to create something that is going to work and going to be interesting.”
Insisting there aren’t any cons to working in a period film, the 63-year-old says, “I love costume dramas because you put on these clothes and when you go to the set everything is in the right period which helps you feel very much in that world. I find it all a great help and it is such a beautiful period as well. Women dressed so beautifully at that time in history. Everything about it was helpful. Sometimes your corset is a bit tight! (laughs) Apart from that it is all pros, no cons.”
Admitting to favouring the fashion of the 50s, Lesley who got an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Cyril, says, “I also like the decades before that. Post-war was a bit difficult because there wasn’t money or fabric. But I do like the 20s and 30s. The 40s were a bit austere because of the war. By the time it got to the 50s, it was so beautiful and then the 60s when there was the sexual revolution and a fashion revolution and it all started to change. I loved that period when you had a nice nipped-in waistline and it was so feminine.”
Lewis announced his retirement from acting before the release of Phantom Thread. Talking about working with the talented actor, Lesley said, “I had a marvellous time working with him. He is a great actor and a lovely man. We worked very well together we had a lot of fun making this film. None of us had any idea this would be his last film. It was a very private decision that he made afterwards.”
Lesley has acted on stage, television and film and frequently worked with Mike Leigh. “I have worked with Mike but have also worked with lots of other directors. I have collaborated with Mike a great deal since I was in my early 20s, although I haven’t worked with him for a while now. He works in a very specific way and I enjoy working with him because it is very collaborative. You work over great period of time to create the characters and then slowly a story would start to evolve. It is very hands on, you are very involved in Mike’s projects.
“On the other hand something like Phantom Thread and all the other projects I do is different because you are presented with a script that is complete when you start. The main thing, however, is to make sure you have a decent script, decent director, good actors to work with and good production values.”
Phantom Thread premieres on March 24 1 pm on Sony Pix