Home Radio codes Penelope Wilton: Life After working with Ricky Gervais… I would do it all over again | Television & Radio | Showbiz and television

Penelope Wilton: Life After working with Ricky Gervais… I would do it all over again | Television & Radio | Showbiz and television

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Ricky Gervais and Dame Penelope Wilton in After Life (Image: Natalie Seery/Netflix)

In fact, Gervais who plays Tony in the award-winning series After Life – which is back for a third series – is a longtime fan of Wilton, having watched her in the 1980s sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles.

He used his character’s name on that show, Anne, in After Life and even cast his former co-star Peter Egan as Tony’s boss and love interest.

Wilton, 75, plays an actual angel for Tony in Netflix’s dramedy about a suicidal local newspaper writer who struggles to come to terms with his wife’s death because she takes the time to listen – something she says we should all do it more often.

“I think we do way too little these days. We’re all too busy getting our point across in all areas of our lives. I think we really need to listen to each other and then can -maybe we wouldn’t be scrambling much then.

“This polarization is because people aren’t listening. I think we’d have a lot more in common if we found ground that we could all live on.

“The thing about Anne is that she gives good advice but also listens.

Wilton’s scenes with comedian Gervais, where they sit together on a bench in a cemetery in front of their spouses’ headstones, are among the show’s most poignant, with fans initially speculating that Anne was a ghost or an angel. .

Netflix donated a number of benches to councils across Britain to mark the release of the third series last month, with plaques displaying QR codes that link to online campaign resources miserable life.

Wilton said she didn’t expect a TV show about grief and death to be so popular.

“I don’t think Ricky did either,” she says.

“I did a Q&A with him recently and he said the show wasn’t going to be all about mourning. That was the starting point.

“But he received so much public comment on the first series and on this very difficult topic that he continued. He felt it was incumbent on him to continue with these themes.

“I was in the park the other day and a young woman in her 30s came up to me and said, ‘I lost my mother and it was a big deal for me. great help.’ It affects people.

“Men are very bad at anything which means they have to show their vulnerable side, like going to the doctor.

“But seeing Ricky in extremis in After Life, when he’s watching old videos of his late wife, it’s very helpful for other men I think. It’s like when footballers come out as gay – it’s very brave and helpful to others. This macho business only seems to start wars.”

Penelope Wilton Alec McCowen

STAGE STRUCK: Wilton and Alec McCowen as Araminta and Philip in 1970 play The Philanthropist (Image: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty)

The veteran actress had never met Gervais before approaching her to play the role of her confidante, but was immediately drawn to her script.

“I can only trust the word. That’s all I have. I thought those scenes sounded very authentic. I didn’t know Ricky, never met him, but I was a great fan of The Office and had seen some of his one-man shows on television.

“I thought he was a very smart writer and I thought the whole show had something to say but was also extremely funny – and outrageous to say the least.” Gervais turned out to be a fan of Wilton, deliberately naming her character Anne, after the one she played alongside Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles. .

Wilton explains: “Ricky was a huge fan of that show and I think the reason he cast me was his tribute. He called me Anne and Peter Egan’s character was called Paul, like in the series.

“I think he secretly hoped that Anne and Paul would rush together and leave Richard’s character, Martin, all alone, putting the phone handset the right way around and organizing all these different companies that he cared about.”

The scenes between Wilton and Gervais are incredibly moving as she tries to help Tony through his crippling grief.

“When something is written well, it’s not always about the dialogue, it’s often about the silences between speeches, because that’s how we are in real life. I think he portrayed grief very well. He is a very empathetic person.

“In the scenes in After Life where you can see him with his wife in old videos, you can see what he’s lost. It’s such a wonderful relationship that they have.

“It was two people who found each other. Losing your partner like that is awful. But it’s the same for many, many people – and it’s hard to deal with a loss like that. “

Wilton – whose most famous roles include Homily in The Borrowers, Ruth in Calendar Girls and Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey – became the patron of bereavement charity The Good Grief Trust following her role in After Life.

“It’s a very helpful charity, especially in these times. But it’s not just now, it’s forever. People will always need help with their grief, but not everyone knows. no where to find it.

“We’re not very good at talking about grief in this country and that’s a shame. That’s why it’s important to be in contact with people you can talk to, like Anne and Tony.

This shared experience. But I can’t stress enough that everyone’s grief is unique to them. There is no generalization, everyone needs different help.

“The good thing about Good Grief is that it’s an umbrella for all of these groups and people to find what works for them at different times.”

Twice divorced, Wilton, born in Scarborough, now lives alone in London, close to her daughter Alice Massey, a theater producer, and her two grandchildren.

She experienced the grief firsthand, having had a stillborn son before Alice, who was never named.

Last September, her older sister Rosemary died of a Covid-related illness, leaving the star “heartbroken”.

“Fortunately, we were out of this period of restrictions and were able to have a proper funeral,” she says. “But I know people who have been through this horrific situation. A great friend of mine, actor Geoffrey Palmer, died in November 2020 and still has no memorial.

“He was older than me, so all his contemporaries are also older, which means his wife had to wait. These delays are a terrible, terrible thing and there is no end. There is no way for grieving families to feel they have made their loved one.The isolation of bereavement during lockdown must have been unbearable.

downtown abbey lady penelope wilton

TV ROYALTY: Dame Penelope with Dame Maggie Smith at Downton Abbey (Picture: ITV)

“Not being with someone when they’re dying and not talking about it afterwards or going to someone’s cremation and being told your son can’t sit with you, that was a terrible time.

“The emotional turmoil people went through cannot be underestimated. The poignancy of this image of the Queen sitting alone at her husband’s funeral – it was terrible.

“The British are the British. I think we have certain rituals that help us with grief and if those are removed, as they have been for the last two years, it makes life very difficult.

“We used to have times when people were mourning people. When I was very young, men would wear a black band on their arm to say they had lost someone.

“Funerals are very important, wakes are important, memorials are very important, and so are weddings and baptisms.

“They are there to mark certain key moments in our lives. If we shorten these things, it makes things very difficult.”

Acting is Wilton’s first love, having started her career at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1969 and winning an Olivier Award in 2015 after six Best Actress nominations.

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His mother Alice Travers was an acre and a tap dancer, as were his uncles Bill and Linden Travers, while his maternal grandparents owned theaters.

The impact of the pandemic on the industry she loves worries her a lot.

“It suffered tremendously. It was a terrible time, not only for the actors but also for the theater staff – stagehands, costumers, set designers. All those jobs were superfluous for a time.

“We bring a lot of money into the country and it’s been knocked over the head. The West End is dead.

“There were wonderful people like Andrew Lloyd Webber who fought for the theater and thankfully now it’s coming back.

“But there have been young people coming out of drama school with nowhere to go. It’s been devastating – it can’t be understated.

“I hope I’ll do a play at the end of the year, but we don’t know what the situation will be. Fingers crossed.”

Thankfully, Wilton has been busy reprising one of her most beloved roles as Isobel Crawley on Downton Abbey. Her character is a firm enemy of Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley.

As the original character from 2010, having starred in all six series and two movies, she said she reunited with her old friend and the rest of the cast to do the Downton

Abbey: A New Era Movie last summer was very special. “We had to stay together in a hotel because of Covid, in a wing of a hotel and we saw each other a lot and couldn’t go home on a day off.

“We had some very nice people joining us this time, like Dominic West.

“Young actors have such a work ethic and have achieved such success through the show.

“I don’t think any of us anticipated what a hit it would be, not even Julian Fellowes, the creator. I thought we signed on for three series and that would be it.

“We had no idea it would be such a hit around the world.”

The film comes out in April and Wilton will also hit the big screen the same month in John Madden-directed war drama Operation Mincemeat, which wrapped filming in early 2020.

And she says she would jump at the chance to work with Gervais again.

“He’s a lovely man to work for, I really enjoyed it. I’m sorry this is ending.

“He’s got an old-fashioned courtesy as a director and he’s got a tough job because he’s everything – writer, director, actor.

“He’s an extremely intelligent man. I’m very lucky to have met him. I hope to work with him again. I’m not sure we’ll do After Life again but there might be something else he finds for me .”

  • The Good Grief Trust’s Umbrella Day takes place on Thursday to remind those who are grieving that help is available and can be found at thegoodgrieftrust.org