Kate Winslet had to fight every ounce of maternal instinct in her body on the set of her latest project, I am Ruth. The feature-length Channel 4 drama stars Winslet and her real-life daughter Mia Threapleton as a mother and child caught in the cold, lonely grip of a mental health crisis. “There were moments when I looked at Mia and was like, ‘Oh my god, she does. She really does. “And I wanted to give her a hug and make it stop,” Winslet told press at the launch of the event last week, blinking back tears as she recalled her 22-year-old having a panic attack would have. “My instinct was to say, ‘I got you,’ right away, and I had to fight it at every turn.”
The drama, which will leave every parent and anyone who remembers being a teenager shaken, is the latest in writer-director Dominic Savage’s female-led anthology series I am…, in which he has previously worked with actors ranging from Vicky McClure and Letitia Wright to Lesley Manville. Savage works with his leads to find a topic close to their hearts – for McClure it was coercive control; for Suranne Jones it was fear. This time it’s about teenage mental health and the tyranny of social media. The result of Savage and Winslet’s collaboration is a claustrophobic, heartbreaking two-hour game of cat-and-mouse in which a deeply depressed Freya (Threapleton) sinks beneath the surface and Winslet’s Ruth struggles to pull her out of the Riptide .
Winslet was approached by Savage for the project and after considering a long list of young actors for the role of Freya, the pair finally settled on casting Threapleton, which went through an official audition. When Savage first contacted Winslet, she immediately said, “Yeah, whatever it is, let’s do it.” Winslet jumped at the project because she knew how Savage worked. “I knew that he made up the story with the lead man and that everything was improvised,” she said. “The idea of it was fascinating and frightening at the same time. Not a word that comes out of our mouth is written. Everything we say is what we made up that day at the moment. Nothing is written on a piece of paper.”
Savage worked with the actors to create a loose structure, but when it came time to actually shoot the drama, they barely looked at the brief. “We didn’t look at the content of the planned scenes,” Winslet said, “because it’s very experimental. It would always change. Sometimes the takes were very long – one of our takes was 59 minutes, with a camerawoman just following us around the house with a camera on her shoulder.”
Winslet entering this I am Ruth Screening and Q&A as she waved her phone in the air while a tiny, blushing Threapleton said a quick “hello” on FaceTime (she couldn’t attend the event as she was working in Edinburgh), saying it certainly was “Personal overlap” was about the relationship between Freya and Ruth. “It’s a mother-daughter thing, so that was inevitable,” she said. “And we know how to push each other’s buttons … I was a parent of teenagers and I was on the edge of friends raising teenagers who went through some absolutely horrible things. Many of the things you hear in the film come directly from things that friends have said to me. There’s the scene where Ruth sits on the bed and says, “I don’t know who I am, I’m really struggling, I don’t like myself, I’m not looking forward to anything.” That’s literally a conversation I have in mind a few years with a very close friend.” Winslet even hired one of Threapleton’s old acting coaches to play a troubled teacher on the show.
In making the film, Winslet wanted to tell a story “about our time” and “create a path for conversation.” “I wanted to tell people, ‘I didn’t know what to do either, it’s fine,'” she said. “There are moments when you look at yourself as a parent and you’re like, ‘What the hell am I doing? Where is the manual?’ and so much of that we make up for over time. When you’re a person in the public eye, the media anchors you in that bull*** perfection and I’ve always hated that and was a bloody famous person anyway. So I just wanted to tell a story that felt timely, immersive and real, even though there are parts of it that are very difficult to watch.”
The film is set in an unfamiliar suburb and one of the priorities in making it was to make it feel relatable and accessible to people from different socio-economic backgrounds. “I wanted to identify specifically with parents,” Winslet said, “and I definitely wanted to be able to cover things that I think are often shrouded in shame for parents.” ‘Have I failed? was i too busy ‘Didn’t I hear you?’ Sometimes I think the world we live in suggests we need to be strong and have the answers and now more than ever people don’t know what to do.”
“We wanted to tell a story that resonated,” she said, “and open up a conversation for people who just don’t know how to lead it.”
“I Am Ruth” airs Thursday 8th December at 9pm on Channel 4
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/kate-winslet-i-am-ruth-daughter-mia-threapleton-b2238899.html Kate Winslet on filming the devastating drama I Am Ruth with her daughter Mia Threapleton