What attracted you to the role of Helen?
It was the project as a whole as opposed to just the character of Helen that attracted me. Richard Laxton – the director – was seeing people for every role and I originally really wanted to go for Viv, he kept saying: “Have a look at Helen, have a look at Helen.” When I did I felt she was such an interesting character, so difficult and also quite embarrassing to watch.
You really have to face up to some of your own insecurities to play a character like her because she is so vulnerable, fragile and naive. It was interesting to try and recall whether I had ever behaved like her.
But Helen is also lovely, you want to help her. She is like a friend who continually makes the wrong decisions, even after the advice you give them.
Helen has two main relationships in this film. How would you define her relationship with Julia?
Helen idolizes Julia, and just wants to be her. It’s a situation where Helen feels she is going out with someone who is a lot hotter and more interesting than her and she’s always thinking that Julia is going to leave her for someone else.
Julia is very emotionally distant which only exasperates the situation and she’s in the relationship for a lot of different and complicated reasons. Helen left someone to be with Julia, which makes Helen feel: “If this doesn’t work then I don’t know what I am going to do.”
It’s definitely a last-ditch attempt by Helen to find happiness, but it’s a very destructive relationship; she is constantly pretending to be someone she isn’t and in reality she feels awful. Helen’s behaviour gradually wears Julia down and ultimately makes her want to leave Helen.
How does Helen’s relationship with Kay differ?
It’s the complete opposite, Kay gives her so much love and because she gives her so much love, Helen takes it for granted, forgetting what an amazing person Kay actually is.
Helen just feels smothered and embarrassed. Helen does love Kay, yet doesn’t find her attractive any more, and she’s not brave enough to break up with her or tell Kay how she feels. When Kay initially met Helen, she was so vulnerable, in need of guidance, help and love. Kay gave her all the support and stability she needed and is now looking for something else.
When Helen becomes involved with Julia I think she realises she was actually better off with Kay – who would have looked after her forever. Helen might never have felt happiness but she would have been content. With Julia, it is hell on earth, every day. She loves her too much.
Did you think the audience will be shocked by The Night Watch?
I don’t think they will, because all the relationships really suck you in. When reading and watching it, I never felt shocked. There were so many stories of women having relationships during the war and I think it will surprise people that everyone felt they had to live a lie, which happens to a far lesser extent these days. I just hope people believe in the love stories we portray.