Friends and Crocodiles
Jodhi May plays Lizzie
Jodhi May portrays Lizzie, the self-contained young woman who starts off working as a lowly clerk in an estate agency.
She is recruited to work as Paul's right-hand woman when he sees her walking across his vast country estate every day.
Paul and Lizzie inspire each other and embark on a riveting, symbiotic,
can't-live-with-can't-live-without-you business relationship that stretches over many years.
May has made a name for herself with a succession of thoughtful and
thought-provoking performances in such weighty dramas as The Other Boleyn Girl, Warriors, The Last of the Mohicans, The Mayor of Casterbridge,
Tipping the Velvet, Daniel Deronda, A World Apart, The House of Mirth,
Aristocrats and Signs and Wonders.
She was acclaimed for her performance opposite Roger Allam in Blackbird, directed by Peter Stein in the 2005 Edinburgh Festival. In February 2006 May reprises her role as Una alongside Allam as Ray at The Albery Theatre, in London's West End.
Lizzie appealed to the 30-year-old actress because the character is equally three-dimensional.
"She's so fearless. She's not phased by anything and has an absolute sense of direction. She possesses real purposefulness, and those people are always very charismatic."
The actress continues that she and Damian Lewis as Paul had "a fantastic chemistry. He's a joy to work with, an absolute gentleman."
May adds that Lizzie's relationship with Paul is a constant source of fascination to her.
"She has a natural confidence, which is what attracts Paul to working with her in the first place. She is also continually challenging for him.
"What interests her about him is the fact that he has ideals and aspirations. Paul's creative genius is what inspires her. That's often very erotic, even though it's not sexual. There is a great charge between people who co-exist like that."
She goes on to praise Poliakoff's daring for conjuring up an intense male-female relationship that is not predicated on sex.
"It's a fascinating exploration of an unconventional relationship," enthuses May.
"Why does it work so well at the core of a drama? Because it's a universal
subject. Everyone can relate to those major relationships that have meant an awful lot, but are purely about work. They never usually get the spotlight, but it is Stephen's genius that has put them there now."
So how would she characterise the relationship between Lizzie and Paul?
"In crude terms," May opines, "it's love-hate. They bring out the best and the worst in each other. There is a terrific ambiguity about it.
"Paul is such an enigmatic character, while Lizzie is so pragmatic and straightforward. It's often very difficult to tell who's in the right and who's in the wrong.
"They're trying to help each other, but nothing is cut and dried. That's what makes the drama both complicated and compelling."
The actress was also magnetised by the weightiness of the ideas behind
Friends and Crocodiles.
"It's about how the landscape of British society has changed. In the political Eighties, things like mass unemployment and the Toxteth Riots beset it. The country was also much more parochial and less cosmopolitan at the time.
"The beginning of the film conjures up a utopia impervious to that outside world. Perceiving Paul's universe through Lizzie's outsider's eyes, we see
the contradictions inherent in society at that time.
"Later on, when the dotcom boom bursts like the South Sea Bubble, Lizzie has to play by business rules and there is no room for individuals like Paul."
May continues: "The film is also about corporations and what they do to creative free will. We've become a global village, but in doing so, we've lost a certain romance.
"Lizzie has had to transform herself in order to buy into the ideals of her work. She is a chameleon who adapts to her environment, as opposed to Paul, who has resolutely stuck to his own individualistic vision.
"Lizzie admires the fact that Paul always stays true to himself. She feels she hasn't done that, and she aspires to be more like him.
"That maverick quality is something she really likes. It's about not selling out. Lizzie is duped by the corporate culture that Paul never buys into. The conflict between those two worlds is the motor that drives this gripping story."
Like Lewis, the actress is in awe of the writer-director, an artist clearly at the peak of his creative powers.
"Stephen writes about relationships in a way that no other filmmaker does. He creates such an all-consuming world. He has such power and such subtlety.
"He's also an extraordinary and brilliant director. He's so clear and so specific, and because you know he has an absolutely lucid sense of what he wants, that endows you - as an actor - with great confidence.
"Being directed by Stephen, I found myself doing things I hadn't done before and exploring things I hadn't explored before.
"I learnt an immense amount, and it was a very humbling experience.
"Would I work with him again? Without a moment's hesitation."