Award winning actress, Ruth Wilson, visited St John’s Academy today, March 3, to speak to students and to launch the many activities planned for World Book Week which has as its theme – ‘Let’s share a million stories.’
Most recently on our screens as the manipulative, sinister, glamorous Mrs Coulter in the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’, Ruth spoke about her life as an actress, the importance of storytelling and the power of the imagination.
“I think that telling stories is one of the oldest traditions. It’s the way we reflect humanity, educate and entertain. It’s vital that kids involve themselves in either reading or performance and that as we get older we keep feeding the imagination which can be minimized by life.
Stories teach kids about empathy and what it is to be human. Book week is great as it’s a chance to indulge the imagination.”
The students were fascinated to hear about her role as Mrs Coulter and the interaction with her daemon. In Pullman’s world every human is born with a daemon – a physical manifestation of a person’s inner self that takes the form of an animal. Mrs Coulter’s daemon is a monkey and CGI was used in the series to portray the creature.
Ruth explained the difficulty as an actor in interacting with a creature that wasn’t physically there. “It’s a weird process, acting to nothing.”
She also spoke about the character of Mrs Coulter, who she believes is very complex. “I was trying to find the human side of her – understanding why she acts as she does. She supresses part of herself, keeps it locked down but every time she gets angry a bit of the monkey comes out of her. I watched what monkeys do when they get cross and they use their arms a lot – so that’s what I did.”
She has often been asked what her own animal daemon would be should they exist. “Maybe an urban fox – I’ve seen one in London – independent and cunning!”
Ruth enjoys playing ‘baddies’. Alice Morgan in ‘Luther’ is another character who falls into this category. “I enjoy exploring the yin and yang of what could be good about them. However, her favourite roles have been on the stage.
As well as ‘His dark Materials’, she has starred in many adaptations of novels such as ‘Small Island’ and ‘Jane Eyre’. “I like adaptations because you have the novel as a blueprint and have lots of character details you can use.”
One of her most unusual roles was playing her own grandmother in the BBC drama, ‘Mrs Wilson.’ “My grandmother died ten years ago and I only ever knew her from the age of 55. In the drama I play her aged 20 and 50. It was crazy but special.”
Ruth is always very critical of her performances and avoids watching herself on screen.
“I’m scared that what I do won’t be convincing all the time but it’s an amazing feeling to go into the unknown and be creative.”
The second series of ‘His Dark Materials’ with Ruth as Mrs Coulter will be on BBC towards the end of the year.
Matt Wilson, Ruth’s brother, is an English teacher at St John’s.