Thursday 27 Nov 2014
"Filming A Short Stay In Switzerland is definitely up there as one of the best jobs I've ever had," says Liz White, the actress best known for her role as WPC Annie Cartwright in the award-winning BBC drama series Life On Mars.
Liz plays Sophie in Frank McGuinness's powerful film and admits that she was blown away by the story, which was inspired by the events in Sophie's mother, Dr Anne Turner's life.
"The story is incredible, it had such an impact on everybody, and the real family had such close ties with it. They worked with Frank (McGuinness) on the script and made themselves available to us for any questions – we could ask them anything we wanted to. They just imbued the whole process with such dignity and integrity that everyone involved in the drama had such respect for the project.
"Edward Turner said to us, 'This is not a biopic, please don't be concerned what we would think of your portrayal of us as people, we want you to take your artistic freedom and run with it.'
"I thought that was such an incredible thing to say because they were handing over the story of their family to complete strangers, and the trust they put in us, just the dignity in saying don't worry about our vanity, I thought was incredible.
"It would have been perfectly understandable for him to say to us, 'I've got to be honest with you, we don't want to look like this, that or the other, please be generous to ourselves and to our personalities,' but they just said do what you think is right."
Liz, a LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) graduate whose credits include BBC dramas, A Thing Called Love and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet as well as Teachers and, more recently, The Fixer, says that she can see similarities between Sophie and Dr Turner.
"Sophie and her mother, I think, were very similar people, both really very strong and with a great sense of humour. They had a very interesting relationship and obviously loved each other very much.
"I think A Short Stay In Switzerland deals with the consequences of choosing between life and death when someone has a terminal illness and how it impacts on yourself and the family around you. Also seeing the best thing for somebody is not always the best thing for you.
"The Turner children could see their mother was in so much pain, and even though they were devastated by her decision, they knew it was the right decision for her."
Liz believes, ultimately, the story told in A Short Stay In Switzerland is one of family love: "I don't think this is a campaigning drama or a piece of propaganda, this is a story about the love of family. There is a balance in the film because the Turner children found it difficult. They had to struggle with their boundaries. Initially it was, 'If I love you, how could I let you die?' It tests what love means and how to respect someone's free will when it will hurt you irrevocably.
"You can't decide what you would do until you're in that situation. I don't know necessarily what I would do, but being involved in this project made me look at my own parents and really appreciate that they are still here and are healthy."
Liz admits that while she felt emotionally drained while filming the drama, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences she has had in her acting career.
"The whole thing was an incredible experience, it did challenge me on every level, emotionally and philosophically, and I just felt truly honoured to be a part of it.
"Working with Julie [Walters] was incredible; it was like watching your own mother sometimes. She was just brilliant and so professional, she would stay 100% focused until we had finished that scene and then instantly she could drop her guard and relax. She is just extraordinary, really extraordinary."
Liz is now contemplating what role to take next but admits that she's not going to rush into anything: "I don't have any plans for the New Year, I will have to see what comes up, but I don't mind because that part was so fulfilling it was like eating a hearty meal, it will last you."
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