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Frisky Q&A: Sally Hawkins Of “Made In Dagenham”

Beating Meryl Streep for a 2009 Best Actress Golden Globe is no small feat. After watching actress Sally Hawkins in her latest film, “Made In Dagenham,” I now fully understand her talent. In the movie, which is based on a true story, Sally plays a working-class woman in 1968 Britain who sews car seat upholstery at the Ford Motor Company factory. Her fictional character leads a strike of women workers against Ford until they agree to pay the women equal wages to male workers. The strike made history because it led the British government to enact equal pay legislation into law.

After a recent screening of “Made In Dagenham,” I briefly chatted with the soft-spoken, almost shy Sally Hawkins about the film:

If you’re a woman and you say that you’re not a feminist then you’re an idiot, basically.

In “Made In Dagenham” you play Rita O’Grady, who leads the women of Ford Motor Company in Britain in a strike. Why did you choose this role?

I didn’t choose it — it sort of arrived. [I got] a very early draft of the script with an incredibly passionate letter about the film and what they envisioned and the concept and history behind it. I read about two lines and I knew it was extraordinary subject matter. I’d be an idiot to turn it down! It was in the very early development stage at that point — I didn’t know if they’d get all the money at that point — but I knew that I really wanted to help. It was a real gift, something that was incredibly important as a moment in history. You can’t be a woman and not be passionate about it, really.

Do British kids grow up learning about the Dagenham strike and women’s fight for equal pay?

No — but perhaps it now will be. We didn’t know. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing; my parents were aware of it. But [the reason Brits don't learn about it] was probably because of who the women are: they’re not politicians and not interested in getting accolades or credit for their work. Are there different women that we don’t know about doing extraordinary work, like those women in that room there doing incredible work? (Hawkins gestures towards a room full of female lawyers and activists who attended a screening of the film.) Some of them we know about and some of them are behind the scenes, doing incredible work to make sure [women] keep progressing. For example, in everything that is happening on Wednesday [when the Senate is set to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will make it easier for women to file class-action lawsuits regarding pay discrimination]. If it was up to the women in that room, certain things would get passed.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I don’t think you could—I don’t think I could … you can’t be a woman and not be a feminist. I couldn’t do this film and not be a feminist. If you’re a woman and you say that you’re not a feminist, then you’re an idiot, basically. How can you not be passionate about our rights? It doesn’t make any sense.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m currently on Broadway. It’s very exciting and wonderful. It’s with Cherry Jones and it’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” I’ve got about three weeks left. It’s been amazing. To see New York in that way is extraordinary and so special. It’s really a magical time, actually. I’ve got a few films, smaller parts: “Jane Eyre,” which is coming out in the spring [with Mia Wasikowska and Judi Dench]. What I do beyond this time, I have no idea. I’ll deal with Christmas and find out what happens then!

Read my review of “Made In Dagenham” here!

Image via iStockphoto

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