Interview: Dolly Wells on Creating Sparks with Melissa McCarthy in CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
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Interview: Dolly Wells on Creating Sparks with Melissa McCarthy in CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
A familiar face on British stage and television shows like Doll & Em, Some Girls, and frequent collaborations with The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding, Dolly Wells takes a dramatic turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? 
 
Playing the bookish romantic interest of forger Lee Israel, opposite fellow funny lady, Melissa McCarthy, Ms. Wells chatted with LMD exclusively about creating on-screen chemistry, the “funny bones” she inherited from her actor/writer father, John Wells, and taking the helm of her own feature directing debut.
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  Your character, Anna, is kind of mysterious to me.  What did you make of her when you read her?
 
Dolly Wells:  I thought she was like somebody with like, a few less layers of skin than most people have.  The other thing I thought was that she’s like a child in a grown-up’s body.  She’s so naïve and sweet.  She hasn’t been ruined.  There’s something sort of like a little deer about her; and she lives in this bookshop.  She’s as invisible as Lee, in a completely different way.  She wouldn’t bang into people, or she would be so timid, or behind, not taking up nearly as much space as she deserves to.  
 
But then there’s little moments where you feel like -- come on, I’m so proud of her when she gives Lee her writing, because it’s so simple and brave.  So, I think she’s very good at being on her own.  I think she’s almost the opposite of Lee; I don’t think she’s discouraged.  I think if you were interviewing her now, I think she would think she’s very lucky; that she’s got a great life, that she’s really trying to do the right thing.
 
I know people a bit like her in terms of that thing of sort of being in the shadow of your parent.  Of trying to keep something going.  And that’s why it’s so interesting that it’s at a time with bookshops -- when it’s the end of something, and the end of something for her, as well.  Like, maybe she will get brave, and if she’s bold enough to show Lee her writing, I have sort of hope for her, that she will continue that.
 
I think that there’s a real parallel; that Lee hides behind her characters that she’s written these biographies of, and Anna hides behind the bookshop that her father created.  So, I found her, like I said, a little -- not slippery, cos that implies that you wouldn’t trust her -- but someone that just has this naïvety that you don’t normally have.  
 
I feel like when you’ve got to my age, or something, you very rarely are surprised by things, on the whole.  I remember this real strong image from about 10 years ago, when I looked out the window while I was doing a reading, and I saw all these white deer, and I said, “What is that?  Oh my God, those deer are all white.” 
 
And it felt like being a kid, and I feel like Anna is like that.  I feel like there’s not much cynicism; she gets a real joy and pleasure even in her new glasses, or eating, and there’s something so sweet about her.  So, I felt very fond of her, originally, and that it was a real treat to play her.
 
LMD:  What you mention about her being raised in her father’s bookshop, and having this innocence and naïvety about her, makes me wonder if that was why Anna, who is familiar with these archival documents, and the fact that they are frequently forged, is so willing to trust Lee as she brings in more and more rare and valuable items to sell?
 
DW:  Well, you know, that was so sweet when she says, “Oh, what a coincidence!”  I think it’s interesting, because as a writer, working in a bookshop, that’s actually terrifying, as well, because you’re reminded daily that you are surrounded by these greats, who are dead, and who have all made it. 
 
They have all been immortalised, and your job is to serve them, really.  So, Lee, suddenly it’s like a real writer walking in and connecting with her.  So, it’s so exciting that I think she’s just thinking, ‘Okay, so she wants to sell this to me. Okay.’  I think that she just believes the best in people in almost every case.
 
Melissa’s real husband, Ben {Falcone} who plays the dodgy forger; his instincts are how to make money, how not to trust somebody.  So, I think Anna is guileless; I don’t think she’s thinking any of those things.
 
LMD:  As you say, being surrounded by successful writers, is it also that Lee is a writer that Anna is very impressed by, as well?
 
DW:  Totally, she’s read all of her work.  So, it’s like, “Oh my God, you’re the Lee Israel!”  So, it’s starting off.  That’s all that everybody really wants, is to be sort of accepted, and loved; and it’s so basic, but it’s very hard to do, because one’s own ego comes in so much.  Whereas I think for Lee with Anna, Anna is judging Lee in just the way that Lee wants to be judged, which is just by reading her. 
 
She knows nothing else about her, and she loves her writing.  So, Lee can sort of get rid of the posture of being spiky and curmudgeonly, because this person is like a warm bath, or something:  She’s just completely embracing her, and so she can drop her front, and that’s what actually is so painful for her later.
 
LMD:  Tell us about the relationship between Anna and Lee.  There is a definite sexual attraction, and a sort of push and pull between them.  
 
DW:  Definitely!  But it’s almost like, purer than that.  There is an attraction, but I think both of their attractions -- their sexual attraction will come more from the mind, than the body.  I don’t think Anna is thinking, ‘Phwoar, I can’t wait to get her clothes off.’  You know what I mean?  I think she’s thinking, ‘I really want to spend time with this woman.’  And probably -- I can’t generalise, but I don’t walk down the street going, “Phwoar... .” 
 
What makes me sexually attracted to somebody is finding them interesting and liking them, or finding them funny, or peculiar.  It builds up into something that then becomes something, and I think that is probably the same with Lee and Anna.  It is definitely the potential for a romance between them, but it comes from a more cerebral place.
 
LMD:  How did you and Melissa McCarthy work on creating that spark between the two characters?
 
DW:  Well, it was a 28-day shoot.  It was very brief.  We didn’t have very many days together.  You have to have that thing as an actor -- and I’ve been doing it for quite a while -- you have to be pretty open and ready for each other, because you don’t get the time.  I mean, it’s different, I’ve just finished a play, and you rehearse, and you rehearse, and you rehearse: In a film, you don’t have that time; especially, we didn’t on this.  
 
So, it’s more just from the minute you step on the makeup bus to have practice looks, that you’re like, ‘Hello, I know I’m playing, and I know who you’re playing,’ and she was just everything I’d hoped.  She’s really open, really sweet, really kind, attentive, generous -- she’s lovely.  So, it wasn’t going to be hard.  She’s a brilliant actress, so it was just a joy.
 
LMD:  Like Ms. McCarthy, you have a lot of comedy in your background, and are playing this dramatic role.  I’m always curious about people I meet who do a lot of comedy, how do the gears shift?
 
DW:  Well, I agree with what Melissa says; I don’t think they do.  I think you make a character.  My strength, or my own comfort zone, is more comedy, or drama.  I’m not very comfortable in the middle.  So, I don’t approach it in a different way.  I think you think, ‘Who is this person?  How do I play this person?’  A lot of that is listening, and responding.  
 
I think with comedy, it’s about timing, and I try not to think about that too much. {Laughs} I remember Noel Fielding once being so sweet, and saying, “You’ve got funny bones.”  And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just not going to think about it anymore.’  Comedy scares me even to talk about, because you either kind of have it, or you don’t, sometimes.  But I think with drama, it’s not that different, you just listen, and make it real, and just try to inhabit that person.
 
LMD:  I’m grateful to Mr. Fielding for opening up the conversation about your funny bones, because you are the daughter of the late actor, John Wells, who was also known for comedy.  Was there any other way for you, or did you just feel that natural pull toward acting?
 
DW:  No, I felt that natural pull, because when I was eight, he was in a play called Anyone For Denis -- where he pretends to be Denis Thatcher -- and I remember standing on the stage and watching, and he took me onto the stage after the show, and I remember this feeling of standing on stage of like, ‘Oooh, I really like this. I don’t know what this is, but I really like this.’  Even though it really terrifies me being on stage, but I love it.  And also that every night, he would come back from the play, and he would bring people back -- and that’s the thing that I loved -- they would be so open, and childlike, and affectionate.
 
And that’s what’s happened, it all keeps going around: Noel was a big fan of my dad’s, that’s how we made friends.  Meeting Noel was very special because it reminds me of my dad, and he’s being very like that with my children.  So, to me, there was no alternative, just because I love that world of people being so open, and playful, and silly, and kind, and un-judge-y.  It’s a pretty hard world to reject, or not go for if you’ve grown-up like that.
 
LMD:  You have just directed your own feature film debut, GOOD POSTURE, starring your dear friend, Emily Mortimer.  As a director, and writer, as well as an actress, you brought a lot to the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?  Did director Marielle Heller allow you to interpret Anna as you wished?
 
DW:  Well, you have different hats; so when I’m doing this, I am definitely her puppet, or whatever, I’m just doing what she wants.  You do your homework, so you bring your Anna, and they just give you little nudges and steers.  And I just really loved working with her, I think she’s just incredibly intelligent.  And I think she’s got a real natural ability to direct.  She’s got a real lightness of touch, and she’s got a real confidence I really admire.  So, I add different layers; I’ve acted for a long time, so I’ve sometimes got confidence in that.  
 
Theater is a difference of experience, but I’ve only directed once, so I felt very confident in my relationships with the actors, but I felt scared about what language to use.  And then with writing, again, you’re learning all the time, so don’t feel, ‘Oh, I’ve nailed that,’ but they are very different things.  So, I suppose when you are being directed in a film; you are not a writer, or director, you are an actor.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
 
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biopicCan You Ever Forgive MeDolly WellsInterviewMelissa McCarthyRichard E. Grant