INTERVIEW: Breaking Bad’s Laura Fraser talks ITV’s Peter & Wendy
Glaswegian actress Laura Fraser first won our hearts back in 1996, in Neil Gaiman’s BBC fantasy series Neverwhere, alongside Peter Capaldi. Since then, the raven-haired beauty has starred in films such as A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger, and Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise. Perhaps most notably, Fraser rocketed to international fame in 2012 with her role as the neurotic and calculating chemical supplier Lydia Rodarte-Quayle in AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad – a character whose personality could not be further from the actress’s own.
Now, after years of living stateside, Fraser is back in the U.K. and about to appear in ITV’s original Christmas feature film Peter and Wendy. A modern retelling of J. M. Barrie’s children’s classic Peter Pan, the story primarily takes place in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, while jumping between contemporary settings and the fantastical world of Neverland, as seen in the dreams of 12-year-old Lucy Rose (Hazel Doupe), who awaits treatment for a serious heart condition.
I caught up with the infectiously effervescent Laura – who plays Lucy’s mother Julie as well as Wendy’s mother Mrs Darling – over breakfast. Much to my amusement, she brought her own teabags.
Here’s what she had to say about what drew her to the role:
“As a mother, I like playing mothers. Especially to play a mother who’s going through such a traumatic experience – a mother’s worst fear, the possibility of losing her kid – is something I indulge myself in in my head when I’m having a day of worrying. So it was an excuse to get paid for indulging in my fears!”
So who is the character of Julie, exactly?
“Well, she’s a single mother, and she tries to be positive and brave for her daughter, because her daughter’s been in and out of Great Ormond Street Hospital her whole life with problems with her heart”, Laura explains. “She tries to hide her fear, but she really doesn’t do very well at that. Because she’s a single mother, the relationship [between Julie and her daughter] can spill over into friendship as well, and I think the daughter would prefer for her to be a more generic, motherly role, which she doesn’t quite manage! They do have a good relationship, but she’s a wee bit of a mess at the beginning!”
While Fraser’s acting chops are well renowned, she explained to me that playing the dual roles of Julie and Mrs Darling was something completely new for her.
“Apparently there’s this old tradition of actors playing dual roles, and sometimes even having three roles. I’ve never done it before, and I’ve always admired actors that can do it. A lot of actors you meet have done a year or two in the Royal Shakespeare Company, where they’re playing all these different parts at the same time, with masses and masses of dialogue and monologues… I just don’t know how their heads cope with it! Luckily for me it’s only a couple of scenes, and even that was like ‘Oh, hang on! What?!’. Because it’s [alternating between] English accent and Scottish accent… I just about scraped through! But it was great fun.”
Of course, the film’s multiple settings offer an excuse for numerous costume changes. Laura didn’t necessarily revel in the period clothing, however. She explained to me:
“I did a lot of period dramas in my twenties. I don’t know why, I just ended up doing a lot of them, and grateful as I was to be working, I was kind of annoyed, because I find it so uncomfortable; not that anyone finds it comfortable being in a corset! Month after month I ended up getting all sorts of weird infections, because everything gets squished in the wrong way. This was only for a couple of days, and they were nice silky, comfortable 1900s costumes, so I quite enjoyed that.”
And what was it like filming at Great Ormond Street?
“Oh, God, it was incredibly moving filming there. We only had two days, and we had to stop every now and again … when parents would come through with their kids on either a stretcher or a wheelchair, and everybody would just breathe a huge sigh of relief that it wasn’t their kid, while also feeling such compassion for the people bringing their kids in. It was quite upsetting, but at the same time you just felt so grateful for your own kid’s health. I think it’s lovely that they’re setting it in Great Ormond Street where the gift [of J. M. Barrie handing the universal rights to Peter Pan over to the hospital] was given all those years ago. I think it’s the first time that they’ve done that.”
Laura also told me that being in the setting of the hospital helped her portrayal of anxious mother Julie:
“Your state of mind really gets affected by the atmosphere. I suppose I would have no excuse if I were really shit in it – people would say ‘What’s your problem? You were there in the hospital! Couldn’t you cry?'”
Naturally, Peter and Wendy sees Laura working with lots of kids, which is something the seasoned actress really enjoyed:
“I actually love working with kids!” she exclaimed. “I know people say it’s a nightmare working with kids and animals, but I had both, and I loved it. I like to work with kids as much as possible, and not just because you get time off because of their hours situation! They were lovely kids, as well. They were quite wild, and there was a lot of skateboarding in the studio space… We were outside in Luxembourg and it was really warm, and the little Lost Boys were all crashing about on their skateboards. Also, the girl who played my daughter knew a lot of the same hand-clapping games and rhymes that my daughter and I do, so we were doing that all the time and annoying everybody.”
The conversation turns back to the topic of Peter Pan. Surprisingly, Laura chose not to watch some of the other on-screen incarnations of the story in preparation for the role. She did, however, refresh her memory by some other means:
“I bought the book and started reading it, and then I decided I wanted it read to me like a bedtime story, so I bought the Christopher Cazenove narration of it. It’s such a good narration, and I really enjoyed it. But I haven’t rewatched Peter Pan. I might do that, actually!”
Laura went on explain why she thinks the appeal of Peter Pan is so everlasting:
“When I heard the actual story I thought it’s like Peter Pan is living almost a Buddhist philosophy; he’s dropping all his attachments, he’s letting go, he’s completely free, he’s awake, he’s present… I really like that aspect of it. And I think it taps into all generations, like the fear of a parent of losing a kid, the idea that you can always be a child at any point, the idea of being free of all your attachments… I think ultimately it’s about freedom – being truly free and enlightened.”
And what sort of a Hook does she think Fortitude‘s Stanley Tucci makes?
“A perfect one! He was born to play that part. It was a hoot filming with him on set. He’s a really funny guy, and really easy. I already knew he was doing this when they offered me the part, so it was an added element of me saying ‘Yes, and yes’! He’s just got that swagger, that confidence, and he plays with being dark while light and charismatic… He’s just that lovely balance of evil and cool. [In the dual roles of Hook and the surgeon], one minute he’s trying to save these kids, and the next he’s trying to kill them. I wonder what that’ll be like for the kids watching! Maybe they won’t realise it’s the same person. It’ll be one of things when they’re older where they’ll go ‘whaaat?!'”
How about working with Paloma Faith, who plays Tinker Bell?
“She’s just so cheeky! She’s so perfect for Tinker Bell. I didn’t get to meet her actually, but I saw her once on a talk show, and I thought ‘She’s f***ing excellent!’ She’s so funny! I’ll be so nervous when I finally meet her at our BFI screening. Shit!”
Since this is more of a family film than some of Fraser’s prior work, I ask her what she thinks her nine-year-old daughter Lila might think of it.
“I don’t know!”, she responds. “She’s going through a phase of finding everything I do deeply humiliating and embarrassing at the moment. I just hope I don’t embarrass her, that’s all”.
So will she be sitting around to watch Peter and Wendy with all the family when it’s on ITV this Boxing Day?
“I’m not very good at watching myself – I do it less and less”, says Laura. “I don’t know, I just get cringey and embarrassed. But I think this is one of those ones that I might be able to withstand, because of the spirit of it, and it’s a family film. I don’t normally do stuff that my kid can watch, legally… So maybe we’ll all watch it together when it’s on!”
Make sure you’re watching Peter and Wendy when it airs this Boxing Day (December 26th) at 8:00PM, only on ITV.
Laura will next be appearing in ITV’s Houdini and Doyle, and the BBC One’s One of Us, in 2016.