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Samantha Morton on I Am Kirsty: ‘This story needs to be told’

Samantha Morton as Kirsty in improvised drama I Am Kirsty
Samantha Morton as Kirsty in improvised drama I Am Kirsty (Image credit: JOSS BARRATT)

Samantha Morton interview about a woman facing the terrifying prospect of sex work in C4’s I Am Kirsty

Samantha Morton is known for a career full of raw and realistic performances. A child actress she started with memorable roles in Soldier, Soldier and Band of Gold, before going on to receive Best Actress Oscar nominations for In America and Sweet and Lowdown.

This week the respected 42-year-old actor joins forces with director Dominic Savage for haunting TV film, I Am Kirsty, which they created together. In the second standalone episode in Savage’s trilogy - arguably the hardest hitting in terms of subject and execution - Samantha plays loving mum Kirsty who discovers gambling addicted partner Steve has suddenly upped and left her deeply in debt.

Struggling to feed daughters Maddison and Tilly, hotel cleaner Kirsty reluctantly borrows money from Ryan, a sympathetic dad who befriends her at the school gates. Things turn ugly, however, when Ryan (Paul Kaye) reveals himself to be a predatory and unpredictable loan shark, who threatens Kirsty’s family.

Running out of options, Kirsty contemplates sex work in order to survive.

Here Samantha Morton reveals more about this powerful new film…

Can you set the scene for Kirsty’s story?

SM: "Kirsty Chapman is a single mother of two, who has fallen on hard times. She’s in a very difficult situation and the story is about how this woman goes about finding solutions to her problems."

Why did you want to tell this story?

SM: "This story needs to be told. It has been said in many different ways but until things in society change it will come to the surface again. I hope this opens up a dialogue, listening, and change."

Do you identify with Kirsty? Have you ever faced similar problems?

SM: "As a child, I was around two different women forced into sex work through poverty, or a man making them do it for money. When I played Tracy in Band of Gold [1995 – 96] that was my source material. Also, I was brought up in children’s homes, and I was around children who were exploited into sex work."

How did you manage to survive those years?

SM: "Me, personally, I’ve been a lucky duck. I got into acting really young. There are my formative years in care and what some would say a troubled childhood, but I’ve had a privileged life since, which acting has given me. I’ve never been in the situation of being forced to take out loans with dodgy people, but it’s close to my heart."

How did you create a bond with Kiera Flack and Eva Daniels, who play Maddison and Tilly?

SM: "For the kids you have to make it fun. They didn’t see anything bad, we protected them from all that. I like kids and would leave my trailer door open, so they could come in and out, be with me and ask me anything. I was a child actor - I was in Soldier Soldier when I was about 11 - and I remember thinking everybody was so busy doing their thing that it wasn’t fun. Dominic was a child actor too, and the way he spoke to the children was beautiful. He never talked down to them. And all credit to Kiera and Eva; they’re amazing kids."

Do you enjoy Dominic’s filming style?

SM: "It’s very liberating. When you’re improvising with cameras now it’s just shoot, shoot, shoot! We filmed incredibly long takes. I would get on the bus, pick up the kids from school, take them to the shops [thinking] ‘is he going to call cut yet?’ I’ve done improvisation before but never anything where you’re trusted to stay in character until the director says ‘cut’. I thought, I could do this all day! We also had safe words for the scenes I performed with punters. I didn’t feel exploited as an actor."

MORE: Our interview with Vicky McClure for I Am Nicola

I Am Kirsty airs on Tuesday on C4 at 10pm