The Norwich Film Festival recently caught up with the delightful and ever so talented Caroline Goodall who is a renowned actress with film credits including Hook (1991), Cliffhanger (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Disclosure (1994), The Princess Diaries (2001) and was most recently seen in the wonderful dark melodrama comedy The Dressmaker (2015). Caroline, will also be starring in the upcoming Berlin Station and A Street Cat Named Bob. This is what she had to say………
NFF: Firstly, as an actress what is that attracts you to a particular project? For instance, your role in The Dressmaker allows you to play Elsbeth who was quite manipulative where as your role in Hook allowed you to play a caring compassionate character. Do you like variety?
CG: I always feel grateful to work at all! And I have been so lucky. I think if you start as a stage performer you are trained to try to be anyone. I also did a fair bit of stand-up comedy in my early twenties – which not many people know! I think I have a face that can change – a bit of a blank canvas if you will. There is nothing more fun than digging inside your emotions and psyche in an attempt to reveal humanity in its infinite variety. That said, people do like to box performers into types – and in order to earn a living it might seem we find ourselves ‘repeating’ similar roles. But even then, any character you play is written from a writer’s particular perspective and serving a unique storyline, so ultimately no two roles are ever alike. And as an actor it’s our job to serve the writer’s and director’s vision. People think that performers are inherently narcissistic. I think that most performers are only interested in serving the story in the best way they can.
(Caroline Goodall – The Dressmaker)
NFF: Looking back at the start of your career, have you seen the roles of film and TV change for actresses? What have you noticed from then to now?
CG: I think roles for older actresses may be improving. It’s part of a continuing social shift. Baby boomers are still the ‘big’ generation and they still want to see themselves reflected on stage and screen. Add to that the fragmentation of content and a broader viewing market, initiated by the proliferation of subscription channels. Women have more disposable income and so the ‘market’ is more open to stories that reflect the viewing public’s experience. The Dressmaker, which you mentioned, is ostensibly a ‘woman’s story but it also defies genres. It is a crazy comedy and a revenge thriller with a lot of drama along with a love story. In its home territory, Australia, it made more money at the box office than Mad Max and men and women of all ages flocked to see it. I have recently played Kelly Frost in the new US CIA series Berlin Station. It was refreshing to be among other leading actresses over 50 and to be allowed to be sexy, funny, smart and strong. 10 years ago they may well have cast a woman in her 30’s in that role.
NFF: You have worked with some incredible directors such as the legendary Steven Speilberg, Ridley Scott, Barry Levinson and Garry Marshall. As an actress what additional skills do you feel you learnt from working with these directors and how did that aid your performances?
CG: Wow that is a big question. But in short, great directors share common traits, such as insatiable curiosity, intelligence, a breath-taking amount of knowledge not just about their craft but about life. They are humble, disciplined, fearless, fun and generous. They create a safe space in which they encourage and guide rather than dictate. You are treated as an equal and expected to offer up suggestions. They also share a love of on-camera improvisation and spontaneity. The actor is expected to be technically adept while always living in the moment, true to the character.
NFF: Looking at your career in the early 90’s you spent a lot of time working on American films such as Hook, Schindler’s List, Cliffhanger etc…. How did these roles come about for you?
CG: I am also Australian and did the RSC tour of Australia of Richard 3 playing Lady Anne. It opened my eyes to the fact that I could work in other countries. I have always loved traveling. I found myself in Los Angeles playing the lead role in David Hare’s The Secret Rapture at The South Coast Repertory. I received good reviews. Steven Spielberg was looking for a British actress to play Moira, Robin William’s wife and the kids’ mum and I was invited to audition. I was flabbergasted when I got the part. I think I got it because I could improvise. Robin obviously loved to improvise and I guess I showed I could keep up (just). Cliffhanger was amazing The next 100 million dollar movie. We did everything for real. No CGI in those days! Ditto White Squall. I call those action movies, “extreme movie making.” It’s as much about stamina as acting skills. I lost count of the times I thought I would freeze to death or drown. But then there was the upside. Days off ski-ing or as in the case of White Squall, lazing on a Caribbean beach! Schindler’s List came about because Steven knew me and he just rang me up! I was floored. That experience was extraordinary. I will never stop being grateful to Steven for the two amazing gifts he gave me to work with him. We knew we were shooting something that would have a lasting significance. It’s quite something to see a film you made in your own child’s history book. But we also shot the film at a particular time in our history, when the iron curtain had just come down and deep social changes were starting to take place. It worries me that the intolerance, violence and dehumanization we were depicting then, has started to raise its head again today. Films such as Schindler’s List help us learn from our past and remind us we must stay vigilant. I do think the 90’s was in hindsight one of the ‘golden ages’ of movie making and I was so, so lucky to be apart of that. The Princess Diaries was made at the tail end of that era. And then we went digital….
(Top left – Cliffhanger, Bottom left – Schindler’s List. Right of picture Robin Williams & Caroline Goodall having fun on the set of Hook)
NFF: What was it that inspired you to become an actress? and what were the steps you took at the start of your career?
CG: I stuttered from a young age and being on stage freed me from that burden. I come from a literary family so the written and spoken word was hugely valued. My father was a natural actor and my mother trained as an actress although they both ended up in publishing. I was lucky to be raised in London and they took me to the theatre a lot. I studied Drama and English at Bristol University but I actually had my first break when I was spotted in a school play and asked to play a leading role in a BBC period drama The Moon Stallion directed by Dorothea Brooking, who was one of the few women TV directors at that time. I received my A-level results filming on top of a hill in Oxfordshire! That gave me the confidence to keep training, finish my degree and start auditioning. I was also a member of the National Youth Theatre. In those days Michael Croft, the founder, ran a professional theatre company at the Shaw Theatre. When I graduated, I already had a precious provisional Equity card and he was able to employ me. I managed to complete the 40 weeks needed to get a full union card. It was a mix of luck and hard work. I was pretty dedicated to the idea that this was what I wanted to do. I am forever grateful to Dorothea and Michael for their belief in me.
NFF: and at what stage did you get an agent? How important was that to the development of your career?
CG: My first agent was named Michael Ladkin. He rang me up out of the blue. Michael Croft had recommended me to him. He worked tirelessly, got me auditions for repertory companies around the country and I started off in time honoured fashion working in leading roles in rep in Southampton, Plymouth, Scarborough with Alan Ayckbourn, the Manchester Royal Exchange moving on to The Royal Court Theatre, The National Theatre and finally the Royal Shakespeare Company. Lots of different plays and a lot of Shakespeare. I cut my teeth on Viola, Portia, Juliet, Lady Anne as well as modern plays.
NFF: Hook was not a commercial hit at the time of release, but over the year’s I think it is fair to say it’s become a family classic. What are your fondest memories of this experience?
CG: Hook was the first $100 million film and going to work every day was like going to the candy store! It filled five stages at Sony Studios and the Neverland set was on the Wizard of Oz sound stage. A heady experience to know you are going to work where Judy Garland sang on the Yellow Brick Road! The sets were massive and there was a constant stream of visitors. I was often asked to show them around, because I would pop down on my ‘off days’ just to watch. It was so, so exciting. It was a life changing experience. I am still in touch with so many people from that time. I was lucky to see Steven at the Cannes film festival after the BFG premiere this year, as well as Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall, the producers; I am in constant touch with James V. Hart (Jim) the writer of Hook and his family; the Napiers; David Crosby. We have a Hook alumni face book page too! Hook is indeed a classic. It may have been ahead of its time with the multi-ethnic casting. Steven was not afraid to stray from the formality of J.M Barrie. Ironically it’s been more successful and long lasting than E T.
NFF: I am always interested to learn about an actor’s casting experience. Have you ever been cast in a project that you didn’t want to be involved in and how did you get around that?
CG You can’t do something you don’t want to do. I have said ‘no’ after meeting on a project for a variety of reasons and have learnt to my cost that it’s better to ‘pass’ immediately than go to a meeting for the sake of it.
NFF. And equally what has been the most interesting casting experience you have ever experienced?
CG: You mean apart from improvising with Robin Williams with Steven Spielberg behind the camera? Auditioning for a role in Kill Bill for Quentin Tarantino. He loves to chat and has such a massive knowledge of film. When he knew I had worked with Australian director Richard Franklin (Hotel Sorrento) we spent most of the meeting talking about him. Then he decided I should read. It was a role that never ended up in the final script (so I was never cast). I remember I jumped up on the table because I had to fight someone. The model Naomi Campbell was sitting next to me when we waited. I found her really fun and charming. She was worried she had to leave but she really wanted to meet Quentin, so I told her to go before me so she could meet him and catch her plane, no doubt to some exotic location!
NFF: What is the next on the horizon for you?
CG: I am currently returning as Duchess Cecily of York in The White Princess, for Starz, which is a role I played in The White Queen. In the first season I aged from mid 40’s to 75. I now start at 75! It’s great to be able to track a character over decades and orchestrate her change from a vengeful political matriarch to a woman who has learned from bitter experience. I have a fun role in a lovely British comedy feature called A Streetcat Named Bob as American literary agent, Mary Pachnos, which comes out in November. I wrapped the new CIA series in late April of Berlin Station for Paramount TV/Epix where I am a series regular along with Richard Armitage, Rhys Ifans, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes and Tamlyn Tomita and had fun playing the Queen Mother’s best friend Lady Doris Vyner in The Crown for Netflix. We rode horses along the beach in Scotland. So four very different roles. Two American, two British. The wife of the head of the CIA in Berlin, a literary agent, a Duchess and a Lady!
NFF: What inspiring words of wisdom would you have passed on to your younger self if you could travel back in time?
CG: Fear not and have fun.
NFF: and what inspiring words or tips can you offer to those actors/actresses trying to make their big break in the film world?
CG: The same. Plus, work hard and never give up! Only you know your true worth and you never know what is around the corner, so be READY to try anything once!
NFF: Finally, the Norwich Film Festival is passionate about supporting filmmakers to develop their craft and learn from others. We feel film festivals are pivotal places for this happen – what are your thoughts around the importance of film festivals?
CG: Film festivals are hugely important. They showcase filmmakers’ work and help get it out there. Networking is perhaps more important than ever these days. It is strangely, a lonely profession, and being able to meet and talk to your peers helps immeasurably.
Interview by Craig Higgins (Co-Director Norwich Film Festival)