Q&A: Shirley Henderson, actress


Shirley Henderson is a Scottish actress who plays the role of Frances Drummond on the series one of Happy Valley which is set to premiere today, May 25 on BBC First (DStv Channel 119).

Q: Have you watched series one of Happy Valley before working on series two?

A: Yes I did watch series one and was completely gripped by it. I couldn’t wait for the next week’s episode to see which way the story would go. There were so many different strands and characters involved which is always my favourite type of drama.

Q: How did you come to be involved in series two?

A: Sally sent me a couple of scripts to see if I wanted to be involved. I loved Frances’ introduction into the story and after having a chat with Sally about how her story might develop I was hooked. I said yes please!

Q: How would you describe your character?

A: Frances is a woman who observes life rather than participating in it fully. She seems a little lost to me and could almost disappear into the wallpaper. But she is watching and she has reached a point in her life where being alone and having all her feelings hidden away is no longer enough for her. Something has to give.

Q: Was your character challenging to play?

A: She was challenging to play. Underneath the quiet calm is a woman who has needs and desires longing to be free from just being thoughts. Even though she is a reasonably bright woman she is allowing herself to be drawn into a world where she is possibly just a pawn in someone’s game.

The challenge was to make that believable and that anyone can believe anything if they really want to. At this stage in her life the option of more loneliness or a bubble of excitement in her heart, is what she must try to weigh up and choose between

Q: Did you enjoy working with James Norton?

A: Working with James was everything I wished it to be. We played around a bit in the scenes and tried to let them just happen rather than plan too much. They were long and quite emotional scenes. So much of it we discovered on the day.

The two characters need each other in different ways and scare each other because they both hold the key to the other’s satisfaction and potential happiness. For Frances this man is danger and everything she has never come across until now in her life and she wants more. James gave all that and more on the day. He was exciting and fun and made it all look so easy.

Q: How did you prepare for the role?

A: I just kept reading the scenes looking for clue as to what Frances was looking for. I wanted to find the thoughts and feelings she was having, ones that she would never describe but were there.

Looking for clue in Sally’s writing was the beginning. Then the talking and the learning and imagining the way she might dress and relax or not when protecting herself.

I read a few articles on women who did change their lives because they fell for someone in prison. Frances’ story was about an unlikely woman having the strongest of feelings for someone that would make her change her life, her identity and fantasize of a future where a cocktail of danger and love were better than nothing at all.

Q: What appealed to you about this project?

A: The first major appeal was Sally Wainwright. I was excited to read the episodes she was sending me as I had loved the first series. The second major appeal was the character. She was intriguing to me when I read the scripts. The quality that you might hardly even notice her if you weren’t looking was creepy and made me want to do it.

The third major appeal was Sarah Lancashire. I think she is just brilliant. We went to college together many moons ago and I have watched her develop into a powerful and hugely respected actress. What a thrill getting to work with her. We had waited a long time for it to happen but it finally did.

Q: Have you ever worked with any of the cast before?

A: There was a huge cast in Happy Valley and I don’t think I have worked with any of them before apart from George Costigan. We did one tiny scene together in a little independent film called Frozen a long time ago. He made me giggle then and did again at the read-through.