featured Interview

Actress Rebecca Callard on the ‘Promise’ of Her New Short Film

July 25, 2018Ben MK

In director Neville Pierce's and writer Hannah Lee's Promise, a desperate Syrian refugee named Hajar (Lara Sawalha) enters into a secret pact with a couple named Abe and Sarah (Nabil Elouahabi and Rebecca Callard) to be the surrogate mother of their child. But when fate takes an unexpected twist, the ugliness that follows exposes the cruel lengths to which some will go to fulfil their own selfish intentions, and just how little a human life can mean to someone who, ironically, is trying everything in their power to conceive.

I spoke with one of the stars of Promise, British actress Rebecca Callard, to find out more about this short film, and to chat about her career in television, film and on the theatre stage.

Promise is very topical, but it's also subtle in that it doesn't hit viewers over the head with its message. What was it specifically that drew you to this project?

Callard: The script was simple yet so relevant. Hajar being disposed of by Sarah so cruelly when she's of no use struck such a chord with the world around us. We are living in a time where compassion and taking responsibility for our fellow humans is absolutely essential. We have to look out at and to others.

You've worked on numerous television shows and miniseries, with some your more well-known roles being on Coronation Street, Ordinary Lies and The Detectorists, but you've also done a handful of short films. As an actor, what are some the challenges of working on a short film versus the television format? And looking at it from the opposite perspective, what are some of the benefits of working on short films compared to television?

Callard: Time. You just have less time. There's no indulging. Everyone cracks on with the job, and actually I've always found on shorts you are surrounded by people who love film. It was a fast turnaround but we were all inspired to tell this story elegantly.

What's your secret to crafting a character such as Sarah, one where your performance is very much introspective and there isn't too much in terms of backstory given to the audience? How do you approach a role of that nature?

Callard: I had to approach Sarah from an emotional level. She's blinded by her need for a child but there's no getting away from it, she's a complete baddy. There's the technical side of giving that a nod but not playing that, yet knowing what drives Sarah. Nabil and I did meet up in our own time and discussed a timeline of our relationship.

What was it like working with your co-stars, Nabil Elouahabi and Lara Sawalha, director Neville Pierce and writer Hannah Lee on Promise?

Callard: I got on really well with the actors. It was a blend of honouring the piece and actually enjoying being together. The cab scene was all done very last minute as we were running out of time, and Lara and I really got to know each other driving around. Nev I knew each other and have a love of films and discussing them, so we slipped into an easy way of working. Hannah was lovely and there if you needed her.

You've also done some theatre work, where you worked with Dame Judi Dench on Romeo and Juliet and also Benedict Cumberbatch on A Midsummer Night's Dream. And you also wrote your first play, A Bit of Light, which premiered last year and was shortlisted for the Bruntwood Prize. What is it about the stage that beckons to you?

Callard: I wrote A Bit of Light having been in a Bruntwood play. I always wanted to write. The Bruntwood deadline spurred me on but I didn't imagine it would be the start of anything. You don't dare hope for that. Theatre was a good arena for the story because it gave my characters the space to get to know each other. I've just finished the screenplay and it's very different, because that sort of dialogue just wouldn't work on screen. But I've been able to expand their locations and put some images in I'd like the audience to be part of. I do hope to see it on stage one day.

Now that you've added playwright to your resume, do you have any plans to branch off into writing or directing for film or television one day? If so, do you have any actors or other collaborators in mind, with whom you'd like to work with?

Callard: So yes, we're making the film of A Bit of Light, which is wonderful. I'm also writing a series and have signed with a writing agent now. I'd really like to write for Susan Wokoma and Sophie Thompson, they're in my head for a lot of things. I met a young actor at the reading of A Bit of Light, he played my lead, called Michael Ajao, and he is a dream to work with and I keep thinking of him. Anne-Marie Duff. Kate Dickie, Kiza Deen, John Macmillan, Fisayo Akinade, Amanda Abbington, Sarah Ridgeway. An endless list, actually. Also my mates who are superb at what they do but don't work as much as they should or could tackle something different.

What's next for you? Do you have any upcoming television, film or theatre projects that you’d like to share?

Callard: I'm playing a lead in a film called Need this summer. My first lead, really. Kate Dickie is the other lead and she's one of the most amazing actors I’ve met. I saw her in Couple in a Hole and was blown away. One of those people you want on set because they're easy and nice and so good at their job. I'm nervous to return to acting, I suppose I've had my head stuck in my words for a year now. But my screenplay is finished and I'm writing a pilot, so I've still got my writing at the front of it all. Nev and I have two projects on the go. You might have to ask him if were allowed to talk about them...

Promise is now available for streaming on Vimeo.

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