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Sally Hawkins on Playing an Older, Cheating Housewife in Submarine

Submarine, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne, stars Happy-Go-Lucky's Sally Hawkins as an unhappy Wales housewife whose 15-year-old son (played by Craig Roberts) is determined to do two things: save his parents’ seemingly loveless marriage and lose his virginity. We spoke with Hawkins ahead of the film’s June 3 release about putting ego aside to play an older woman and the two words that a mother should never, ever, say to her son: hand job.

At one point in the film, your character, Jill, admits to her son that she gave someone a hand job. If my mother ever said those words to me, it would end in a lifetime of therapy.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Jill, bless her, she doesn’t really quite know how to … she’s just trying to get through that moment efficiently and precisely, without fuss. It is excruciating; I think that moment is just as painful for her as it is for Oliver. It was a pleasure to play, though, and to see Craig squirm.

How did you get into Jill's head, to play a woman who cheats on her husband with a shady self-help-guru type?
You can see that she’s quite uptight, frigid, and almost very cold just by looking at how she holds herself and her dress sense and the way she talks and her anger and frustration. She’s almost forgotten how to breathe and how to have fun, and Graham [whom she has an affair with] reawakens that. They were teenage love interests and it makes her remember who she was. She almost believes that it lights something in her. She hasn’t felt attractive in that way probably for a long time. To put it bluntly: She remembers that she’s a woman.

Did you mind playing a character who’s a few years older?
I mean, if you’re worrying about people thinking that you’re older, then you’re not doing your job. You’re thinking about your own ego, I suppose. It’s just a brilliant opportunity. The best parts are always the ones that — or, rather, the best parts I’ve always had are playing old women. Not that Jill is an octogenarian; it’s fun because you’re playing. It’s true playing. I’m always inspired by actors who go beyond themselves. Great acting does that and great filmmakers give actors the opportunity to do that. When I first read the script, invariably your ego sort of grabs hold of you and says, “There’s no way.” But playing older is just fun. And then it’s always fun to go back to being yourself at the end of the day, to reclaim that youth [laughs].

There are no actual submarines in the film. How many people do you think will see this movie thinking, Well, I loved Das Boot and Crimson Tide … one ticket, please?
Yeah, I think I would be disappointed if there weren’t at least a few of the audience thinking they were going in to see a couple of submarines. Yeah, I’d be really sad if that wasn’t the case. Even I went in to this film expecting to see a couple!

Photo: Michael Kovac/WireImage