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Sweeney Todd
Essie Davis as Mrs Lovett

Sweeney Todd - coming soon on BBC ONE



Essie Davis is Mrs Lovett


Essie Davis plays Mrs Lovett, friend to Sweeney Todd, who becomes his accomplice in crime.


Davis really liked her character, and describes Lovett as "a great survivor, although she gets herself into trouble because she is very ballsy and, of course, her conscience eventually catches up with her."


Australian actress Essie Davis, now resident with her director husband in New York, was more than happy to pack her suitcase and head first for London, and then Romania, to make Sweeney Todd.


"I'm a massive fan of Ray Winstone's work, and I'd seen a video of the Sondheim musical in my first year at drama school, and we'd learnt the songs as part of our singing group.


"Then Joshua's amazing script arrived, which was so original and vivid, my answer was, 'Yes, yes, yes!'" enthuses the Olivier award-winning actress, who gained her top British accolade in 2003 for her role as Stella in A Street Car Named Desire.

Sweeney Todd Essie Davis


Shortly after, Davis went on to be nominated for a Tony Award in Tom Stoppard's play, Jumpers.


A graduate of Sydney's National Institute for Dramatic Arts, Davis explains how on her arrival in London she wasted no time and bought all of Winstone's work on DVD to watch and listen.


"I'd arrived in London from far north Western Australia via New York, and was completely unfamiliar with Cockney. I needed to submerge myself in the accent.


"Kathy Burke had directed me in a script workshop a couple of years back, and when I called her she was kind enough to come and spend a few hours with me, which made a huge difference. I had to learn the accent and make it my own in a week," explains Davis.


"Before shooting, I'd only spoken to Ray on the telephone and he really was helpful, as was my voice coach, whose services I had for a couple of weeks.


"Then I just had to get on with it! Reading about the period and the sort of lives women of Mrs Lovett's social class endured was also enormously instructive."


But how did this intelligent and focussed actress tackle Mrs Lovett's change from vibrant beauty to a woman ravaged by the pox?


"I made a map in my mind of her journey and basically put myself in her shoes," says Davis.


"When the transformation came it took ages; it was hot but great fun. My scalp got very tired of the endless pulling and pinning for the wigs and blooming bald caps. Ouch!


"In the crazy heat waves we had in Bucharest, followed by the torrential downpours, the whole look wigs, make-up, corset and layers of heavy costumes was hard to put together. But working with Ray was a joy, and we all pulled together."


Davis is full of praise for the production team and in particular make-up designer, Penny Smith, who created the actress' favourite look.


"I christened it my baby Orangutan look! It's when Mrs Lovett is dying of syphilis, and is covered in pustules, bloody welts," she explains.


"And I had coffee and mint-flavoured blood filling my mouth. Then to top it all off, I had the sweetest balding red wig. Not flattering but unforgettable!"


Davis' recent film credits include the critically acclaimed A Girl With a Pearl Earring, in which she starred opposite Colin Firth, playing Vermeer's wife.


Shortly, she can be seen swapping her Cockney accent for an Irish lilt when she plays Orla in Isolation, a horror film set on a lonely farm in Ireland.


She also features in the forthcoming movie of the popular children's book, Charlotte's Web.





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