The Lady in the Van: Press Conference Coverage

The Lady in the Van is a story written by Alan Bennett about Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), who lives out of a van and 'temporarily' parks her van on Alan's driveway for 15 years.

We attended the Press Conference for The Lady in the Van at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. At the front of Claridge's Hotel's 'Ballroom' were Kevin Loader (Producer), Nicholas Hytner (Director), Maggie Smith (Actor), Alan Bennett (Writer), Alex Jennings (Actor). Written below are some of the best and most interesting questions and answers.

The Lady in the Van arrives in UK cinemas 13th November 2015.
You can read our ★★★☆☆ review of the film here

One of the most striking things about the film is that it is a true story, but watching it again, one of the things that spoke to me most was the fact it was filmed in the actual location in which it took place. Nick, how important was it to be there in Gloucester Crescent?
Well it certainly has an element of authenticity to the film. Since we never considered doing it anywhere else, I’m not sure I could quite imagine or visualise what it would have been like. It was entertaining to see the look on all the residents’ faces, many of whom were there when all this was happening. When the van drove down the close, a few people had mixed feelings about that and it was very interesting talking to them about Miss Shepherd and about Alan, you could have maybe wrote another movie about the various different versions they had, although on the essentials they were all in agreement.

Authenticity, Alex, presumably that would be important for you to be in the real location.
Hugely, it was amazing to be sitting at his desk in his window with the van back on the driveway. [It was an] immense help to your imagination.

Alan, a question not really as a writer, but more as a householder, what was it like to have a film crew coming back into that house that I believe you still own?
Well I don’t live there. If I lived there it would have been a nightmare. I’ve never had a film crew in any place I’ve lived in because with the best will in the world, they always cause chaos. I didn’t live there, Antony Crolla, a photographer, lives there and it’s different to when I lived there anyway. I didn’t have any pangs about it. If we hadn’t had the house I don’t suppose we would have been able to make the film, so it’s a very good thing we did.

Of course, the house is only part of the story, Maggie, you spend a lot of your time in the van. How was that?
Well they [nods at Alex Jennings] were in luxury. They were actually in a real house. The van wasn’t the most comfortable place, but it was where I spent most of the time I must admit, but they were all in comfort. Figures doesn’t it.

Kevin, we’ve heard the valid creative reasons for doing all this, but you mainly had to make it happen. How easy was it? And tell us a little bit about Gloucester Crescent itself and the importance of it.
Gloucester Crescent is a unique street really, obviously Alan knows far more than I do, but it’s sandwiched between Regents Park and the railway line and the ever-moving stream of urban activity that is Camden High Street and Market, so it’s this little oasis really and when Alan lived there, and indeed now, it seems to be inhabited by quite creative liberal minded, quite well off, but kindly people and therefore they tolerated Miss Shepherd for many years and they tolerated us.

Maggie, how was it re-visiting this character that you played on stage, I think 15 years ago, and how method did you go in terms of immersing yourself in the squalor of it all?
Maggie - Not a lot of that is required if you are dressed as I was. That was method enough. I really didn’t go into the inner what-not. I didn’t dare do that. I just kept thinking about her. [Re-visiting the character] was very, very different, very different, because on stage it was much broader, but the film was much more concentrated. It was a whole different thing.
Alan – They were both physically demanding weren’t they, the stage as well?
Maggie – The stage was more demanding, but it was a long time ago and I could handle it. It wasn’t very easy being constricted by the van. I did go out and about though, I just wasn’t in a house very often [laughs].

The Lady in the Van: Press Conference Coverage

Maggie and Alan, your respective ages are a matter of record and yet your energy level is enormous, how do you keep that up? Is it diet? Is it attitude? Is it some secret?
Alan – I think the only thing that makes me not look my age is my hair. Otherwise, I feel every minute of my eight-one years.
Alex – It’s all that work you’ve had.
Alan – [Laughs]. It’s a blessing to be able to go on working and for both of us [points to Maggie] that the public still has an appetite for what we do. Play writes particularly have quite a short life. They often have a vogue then they go out again. People go off them and that’s it and I am very lucky in that people still want to read the stuff I write and I suppose Maggie, see the stuff that you do.
Maggie – Well, yes, I am very lucky because there’s always this endless thing about “there aren’t any parts for women over a certain age”, well I’ve kind of reached the limit now because I’m sure there aren’t many after the age I am, but I think they’re talking about a middle age. I don’t know what the energy thing is. The energy comes from the people who are around you and one’s director, and a lot of energy came from Nick to get us through, but it is tough and I can’t say it’s easy at the age I am. [Looks at Alan] I am not speaking for you because you’re okay. Because he’s always on a bicycle and things, you know.
Alan – Well, I always used to watch you and think “I couldn’t do that”, but you were doing stuff that I would never have been able to do.
Maggie – I’m not sure I could do it anymore. Not really, but who knows.
Nicholas – I was sometimes a tricky call as to whether I could ask you to climb into the van yet again for yet another take.
Maggie – When it was dry it wasn’t too bad. It was wet most of the time, because of the rain.
Alan – There’s a scene where Miss Shepherd is at mass and she is very devout and she would prostrate herself before receiving the host and I think we did three or four takes and I couldn’t have done one of them.
Nicholas – I’ll tell you one morning when I didn’t dare ask you [looks at Maggie] to climb into the van was on a Monday morning, the van was parked outside the house through the weekend and you know Camden town is party central on Saturday, and it turned out to be Sunday night. When they turned up first thing on Monday morning to re-open the van, they found a couple of people who had been having a good time with each other and whatever substances in the van. They’d apparently been there all weekend and when I arrived a little later they were evacuating the van of all its filthy contents, which were fake filthy, they were our department filthy, to have them deep cleaned because they had no idea what these two youngsters who were flat out in the back of the van had been doing through the weekend. They all had to get deep cleaned and then made filthy again. I had to keep from Maggie why we were suddenly swapping the schedule for the whole day around because I never dared say that you’ll now be occupying a van that has been occupied by two people who had been indulging in various activities, legal and illegal right through the weekend.
Maggie – I was told much later. Cowards they all.

Alan, you’re used to seeing yourself on stage, but to see yourself in your house must have been a strange sensation.
– We used it as a green room as well as for shooting and sometimes when I was sitting there and saw Alex pass the door that seemed quite weird really when you’re not thinking about it. [Points at Alex] He’s more socially adept that I am. Am I right?
Alex – They got my hair right for the film, which they hadn’t done for the stage version.
Alan – It was a bit too Veronica Lake on the stage wasn’t it.

Maggie, whose life is more adventurous, who is more preferred to you and who are you closer to, Lady Violet Crawley (Downton Abbey) or Miss Shepherd?
– I am not very close to either. I feel easier with the lady in the van than with that lady with the hat on. I can only talk as an actress, it was much easier to be Miss Shepherd because she didn’t mind how she looked and it was such a relief because Lady Violet was forever in those corsets and things that Miss Shepherd would never had dreamed of going near. For comfort alone it was nicer to be Miss Shepherd. That’s as much of your question I managed to hear. [Laughs]


The Lady in the Van arrives in UK cinemas 13th November 2015.
You can read our ★★★☆☆ review of the film here


Article Written On:
17th October 2015 00:25 AM

Interviewed On:
13th October 2015 11:45 AM

Words By:
George Armstrong
George Armstrong

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