Lesley Manville on ‘Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ and Sexuality Onscreen

I’ve learned masses through Mike and his cinematographer, Dick Pope, and I always tune in to their conversations about how the scene’s going to be shot. Dick is so brilliant at understanding the scene and the nature of the scene and the heartbeat behind the scene and knowing how the camerawork will serve the emotion of the scene. That’s what he’s genius at. So I love it. I’m not one of those actors that doesn’t care about what all the other departments are doing. I absolutely love listening to those conversations and it’s one of the joys of it for me.

Going to Phantom Thread, there’s a Twitter account that posts clips of the nominated performances at the Oscars.

I’m not on Twitter as you probably know.

Yes, so I’m going to explain. Yours played right around when the account started last year. And it went far and wide.

Did it?

Yes, it did. I also noticed, listening to it, that there’s just enormous audience applause when the clip ends in the theater. I don’t know if you remember that.

There was. I know. I do, I do. Yes, I do remember that. And they played the bit at the breakfast table with Daniel Day-Lewis and I. “Don’t pick a fight with me, you certainly won’t come out alive.” [Laughs.] It’s a great clip. And it did, it got a big whoop in the audience. So I thought “Yay! It’s good. That’s pretty good. That was a good day. I met Steven Spielberg. He came up to say hello to Daniel, who I was sitting next to at the Oscars. And I thought, Well, I hope Daniel introduces me to Steven. And Steven turned to me and said, “Hello, Lesley.” Well, my life was made. Steven Spielberg knows who I am. What else can a girl want?

Phantom Thread is another incredible craft movie. Those costumes are unbelievable, and it’s Paul Thomas Anderson, so it’s going to look amazing. Given your interest in that side of filmmaking, I imagine that was a special, unique experience.

Oh, my God. Well, I just love Paul. I just love him. We had such a great time. I mean, 14 of the best weeks of my working life. Just wonderful because he left me to it in the beginning, very un-prescriptive, just let me come to set and start to do my thing. But once you start doing your thing, he sees all these things that you’re doing—and then he gets all fired up and then you’re just the pair of you. The pair of us were cooking with gas on a daily basis. It was absolutely joyous and such good fun. I mean, there were times when he’d have to leave the room because he was laughing so much. He just had to get up and walk out because he couldn’t watch the take without laughing.

Did you expect it to be that funny? You see the logline for the movie and you maybe don’t expect what both you and Daniel bring to it in that respect.

Well, because there’s a kind of ridiculousness to those characters. Isn’t there? And if you analyze the situation, there’s this brother and sister and they’ve always been together. They run this company together. She knows him better than anybody in the world. She’s getting rid of his girlfriends for him. I mean, it’s this weird setup. Very, very strange. And of course, Daniel’s character, Reynolds, is this man-child. And she’s trying her best not to enable it, but there’s only so much she can do. It’s not, as you spotted, out and out comedic. You can watch Cyril take off her glasses and tidy her hair. And that’s funny in itself because you just think, “How more anal is this woman going to be?”

You go from that, to Mrs. Harris, and you do see a chameleon, to go back to where we started. It is quite different.

It’s not just having that label that pleases me. I’d get bored otherwise. I would get bored if I only ever played the Adas of this world, or only ever played the Cyrils. It wouldn’t be so much fun.

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