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'Help' star Jodie Comer: Why I wanted to work with Stephen Graham

Help
Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham had been searching for a project to work on together (Image credit: Channel 4)

Help — starring Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham — takes us back to the dark days at the start of the pandemic, when thousands of people lost loved ones as Covid-19 swept through Britain’s care homes, to share a touching tale of love, loss, and true friendship. 

Jodie and Stephen lead a star-studded cast in the powerful feature-length drama about Sarah, a young carer at a fictional Liverpool care home who forms a special connection with Tony, a middle-aged resident suffering from early-onset dementia.

When the pandemic strikes in March 2020, Sarah and her colleagues are left poorly prepared and increasingly isolated by the powers that be — yet they fight tirelessly to protect their residents as the infections rise. 

We caught up with the pair, both proud Liverpudlians, to find out more about a moving drama, which was created by BAFTA-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne....

Help star Jodie Comer on finally getting to work with Stephen Graham...

"We actually have the same agent, because Stephen kindly introduced me to his a few years back, and we’ve been begging her to find us something to do together for ages. It was strange because we'd both had conversations with (writer) Jack Thorne separately about wanting to work with him and wanting to work together. We thought there had to be something out there for us, but this was perfect because it’s a beautiful story and something we both really believe in. Plus it’s set in Liverpool, our hometown!" 

Stephen and Jodie on what makes Sarah and Tony's relationship so special... 

"They both bring something out in each other and there’s a naughtiness to them, so they're kindred spirits really," says Jodie. "Sarah’s taken aback by how much she ends up caring for this man and there’s a moment at the end of the drama where they say they love each other. I've never felt a line as much as I felt that one, it really got me."

"They just click and it’s one of the most beautifully platonic relationships I've ever been able to explore on screen, because the intimacy is there," adds Stephen. "They both need each other at that particular moment in their lives. Sarah isn’t academic and she’s struggled in other jobs, but she really finds her purpose as a carer and we wanted to show how these people are superhumans in the way they look after people with grace and dignity."

Stephen and Jodie on the research they carried out for the film... 

"I spoke with a lot of carers and they were very honest about what it was like during those early days of the pandemic," explains Jodie. "There were times when I was wondering why my character wasn’t wearing a mask, but then I remembered they were told they didn’t need them at that time!

"I watched a documentary about this lovely little care home in Manchester, where everyone was dying, but we also learned a lot through the script, which was so thorough," says Stephen. "People in care homes were treated like they were at the bottom of the ladder." 

Stephen on his preparation for playing Tony...

"Playing someone with early onset dementia was an interesting challenge. I was lucky enough to chat to men and women of a similar age to me who suffer from it and I even joined them on a couple of coffee mornings, which was an amazing experience. They told me about the frustrations of knowing what you want to say, but not being able to find the words. What I really wanted to do was not play a disease, but play the person. Hopefully I managed it!" 

Help

Tony and Sarah form an unlikely friendship. (Image credit: C4)

Jodie and Stephen on the film's stellar support cast...

"The writer, Jack Thorne, and the producers really wanted as many actors from Liverpool as possible, to make it more authentic," says Jodie. "The cast was absolutely amazing. Every day on set was a real ‘pinch me’ moment, because there are no small parts and everyone came to it knowing the story would be bigger than all of us."

"To work with such icons was amazing," adds Stephen. "I remember seeing Ian Hart on screen when I was younger and he’s one of the reasons I’m an actor today. He showed that it was possible to be an actor and be from Liverpool. It was like hearing my voice on telly! I've been fortunate enough to work with Sue Johnston once or twice before and I actually call her ‘Ma’ and she calls me son. Her performance is remarkable. She played a vulnerable care home resident with no essence of vanity and stripped herself of all make-up. In fact, everyone played these roles with such bravery — it was beautiful to see." 

Jodie on people's reactions to Help...

"Everyone's had their own personal experiences throughout COVID," says Jodie. "So everyone's reactions are going to be different. I hope people keep an open mind and an open heart and not presume or have presumptions of what this film is going to be. Some people may go, I'm living in this now. I don't want to watch it. That's fair enough. But one thing that I have learned about doing this piece is that art is here to explore these things. Sometimes things are difficult and they are uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean that we should shy away from them. Also, what this film does is hopefully gives a voice to these people who haven't had the opportunity to speak of their experience."

Jodie on using her native accent... 

"Changing my accent for things like Killing Eve is something I've always leaned into," she says. "Firstly because I'm always asked if I can change it and the other is because I always felt like it really helped me separate myself from the character. But I loved playing Sarah I loved exploring this part of myself and also this part of so many women who I know from Liverpool. There was something very kind of exposing about it but also very cathartic. When we were filming, Stephen and I spoke to Jack and just changed tiny little details in the language to really make sure that it was a felt like a real representation of how scousers speak in their day-to-day life, which was wonderful to be able to do."