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24 September 2014
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Catherine Tyldesley is Iris

Lilies by Heidi Thomas - a new drama series for BBC One: Liverpool, 1920. Three girls on the edge of womanhood, a world on the brink of change

Catherine Tyldesley plays Iris

Iris (22) is possessed of a strength so quiet it is often dismissed as gentleness. Since the death of their mother, she has adopted a maternal role within the family and her energies are spent mainly within the confines of the home. This frustrates her, but she will not show it. The only outlets for her sensual nature are the chocolates she lovingly crafts by hand, and her passion for the Catholic Church. When a whirlwind romance offers her the chance of independence, Iris looks set for happiness – but destiny has a shock in store.


The eldest of the three Moss sisters is as sweet as the chocolate bonbons she makes and sells to bring in a little money to the family home. But, says young actor Catherine Tyldesley, just because Iris has a soft centre, it doesn't mean she's a soft touch, she tells Nicola Hicks.


Manchester-born Catherine (23) was captivated by the stories of the Moss sisters and their lives in Twenties Liverpool from the moment she picked up Heidi Thomas's evocative scripts.


"I absolutely fell in love with the sisters from the outset. I was especially intrigued about what was going to happen to Iris and I wanted to know more straight away," she says.


"She's young and she's experiencing a lot of things for the first time and it's so exciting to think about how she's going to negotiate her way through life. After reading one script, I was desperate to read the next and I think it's had that effect on everyone who's come across it so far."


Following the death of her beloved Mamma, 23-year-old Iris has stepped in to run the house and help raise her family: younger brother, Billy (played by Daniel Rigby), and two sisters, 21-year-old May (Leanne Rowe) and 19-year-old Ruby (Kerrie Hayes).


"As the oldest, it's fallen upon Iris to fill Mamma's shoes. She looks after the house and all the messy chores tend to come to her. She also brings in money by making these beautiful chocolates. But it's not just about the cooking and cleaning – she has an awful lot of responsibility. Whatever situation the family has to deal with, she endeavours to think about what Mamma would have done and to make the right decisions on behalf of everyone," explains Catherine.


Warm-hearted Iris has an especially close relationship with her sisters.


"She's very maternal and I think she sees caring for her younger sisters as a rehearsal, really, for the day she has her own family, which is a huge ambition for her – it's what she wants from life," says Catherine, who landed the role of Iris just a year after graduating from the Birmingham School of Acting.


"She loves them to bits and she's looking out for them all the time. She's always monitoring their behaviour and trying to keep them steadfast and strong – especially because they're at the stage where they're possibly a bit more streetwise than she is because she spends an awful lot of time in the house."


Not that Iris resents that, adds the actor.


"She has her moments but generally she's not unhappy to do it. But that doesn't mean she's a soft touch. I think you see that as the stories go on – the more that is thrown at her, the stronger she becomes. She might be the quieter of the sisters but she's by no means the weakest. She's got a lot of weight on her shoulders and I think she deals with it well."


One thing Iris does lack, however, is a shoulder to cry on.


"She's often the agony aunt – the first person the family turn to when they've got problems or something's troubling them. She's quite emotional but, when it comes to her own problems, she finds it harder to find someone to talk to."


There is, of course, always Dadda, the charismatic and mercurial head of the family, for whom Iris has the greatest respect. But in times of trouble, she is more likely to turn to her priest, Father Melia (Scot Williams), says the actor.


"Iris and Dadda share a lot of the same values but Dadda doesn't share Iris's faith, which is very important to her. Ultimately, though, nine times out of 10, their morals and objectives are the same and so they make a good team and guide the family as best they can."


Fascinated by the period in which Lilies is set, Catherine threw herself into research for the role and found a very handy resource right on her doorstep.


"I didn't know a great deal about the First World War or what was happening on the home front, particularly in terms of how it affected the women and their responsibilities. But I knew a good deal more after speaking to my great grandma," she explains.


"She was growing up in Salford at the time, one of 14 children, and so she experienced a lot of change around her and lost a lot of people. She told me all about what went on and showed me some old photos.


"It was a very sad time and I don't think there was anybody who was untouched by it; everything was changing so dramatically. But it was amazing how people came together at home. The community feel at that time must have been incredible and I don't think, in my lifetime, we'll ever see anything like that again.


"It felt lovely filming some of those scenes, the big street scenes, where everyone knew everyone and everyone helped each other out – it was such a nice feeling."


There was, however, one aspect of her research that Catherine was even keener to get her teeth into.


"The chocolate making!" she laughs. "I learnt how to do it at a place called The Chocolate House in Blackburn and it's much harder than it looks. It's a real craft. The most difficult part was dipping the truffles into the chocolate to coat them because I just kept losing them in the pot and having to fish around for them. Not very professional!


"But I got the hang of it in the end and I've even been making them at home. The only downfall is that now I keep eating them..."





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