She is about to appear at the National Theatre in a stage adaptation of the film Network, playing Diana, a savagely ambitious TV executive played by Faye Dunaway in the original , whose editorial and commercial values would be indistinguishable from those found at Fox News today.
Despite being written long before cable news was even invented, it eerily foretells reality TV, viral videos, ratings wars, YouTube terrorism clips, fake news and the triumph of sensation over truth. Her co-star is Bryan Cranston , playing an ageing presenter with plummeting ratings, about to be fired by his failing TV station. With nothing to lose, the anchor goes rogue and lets rip, venting misanthropic fury instead of reading the news, and threatening to blast his brains out live on air.
His rants send ratings through the roof, and Diana wild with excitement. Glimpsing the future, she grasps the lucrative potential for a channel willing to dispense with all journalistic integrity and broadcast partisan polemic instead.
The contrast between the young widow Lady Mary and the roles she has chosen since makes me wonder if she has deliberately set out to thwart any risk of being typecast, but Dockery shakes her head. And I just loved Alice, too, and instantly connected with her. Dockery plays a gun-toting rancher, fearless but haunted by heartbreak, twice widowed by the age of 21 and so cursed with ill fortune as to be warily regarded within the community as a witch.
In person Dockery looks nothing like a witch. Nor does she sound anything like an English aristocrat, or an American, but speaks in a surprisingly strong Essex accent. What she does share with both Lady Mary and Alice, however, is heartbreaking loss, which manifests itself in every movement and expression.
Although arrestingly beautiful, she is Hollywood thin, and the ethereal impression of fragility is heightened by a watchful demeanour, hesitant sentences and eyes that look pinched with fatigue. The actor chooses all her words with conspicuous care, but never more so than when talking about the death two years ago of her fiance.
She and John Dineen, an Irish public relations director, had been engaged for a year when he died of cancer , aged just And what it still feels like. So at the time everything just shut down. Work, everything. You suddenly become an [oncological] expert. This stuff becomes your world, and that of course was my priority. It took a lot. Lady Mary lost her husband shortly after the first world war, when to be a young widow was at least nothing out of the ordinary. When Dineen died, Dockery was only 33, and I wonder if the aberrant sense of isolation made her loss even harder to bear.
Can anyone in her life fully understand? I spent more time in hospitals that year than some people do in a lifetime. I ask if she describes herself as a widow. We were engaged, and married at heart, and so I do consider myself a widow. But of course. She was a young widow, and I connected with her.
My heart was racing before the first shot. I found myself having to do little rip curls to build my arms up. These towns solely made up of women and children were common in those times. We all talked about it on a Monday, and I think for a lot of people that makes them very nostalgic. So I would set myself a little 5pm routine on a Sunday when I was filming in North Carolina; I would watch each episode, and then wait for the next week. Dockery talks about acting with sincere vocational reverence bordering on that of a thespian luvvie.
As soon as I walked into the building, I felt it. But for me it became everything. Walking into a room with 20 other actors, I just knew: this is it.
It has taken her until now, however, to feel confident enough in her creative judgments to assert herself on set or in rehearsals.
Where these inhibitions came from is another mystery to Dockery. And I have huge admiration for those women who have come forward. Nothing much happened. I ask if she sees any danger of the uproar exhausting itself before anything has really changed. Dockery looks appalled. We cannot let that happen. It feels like the floodgates have opened, and I think that the casting-couch system — well, the couch should be burned. I just think something has to change.
And this is the start of it. There was this feeling after John died of, what do I do now? And so work was the next step. I just had to work. To throw myself into the next job was the only option for me. But after two or three years, we seem to think a death is no longer recent. It will always be a part of you. My decision was to keep going. Stylist: Melanie Wilkinson, assisted by Bemi Shaw. Blouse by Off-White. Dress by Alessandra Rich. Commenting on this piece?
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