'I, Daniel Blake' Breakout Hayley Squires' 3 Ways to Give a Character Backstory

Article Image
Photo Source: Joss Barratt/courtesy sundance selects

British breakout Hayley Squires gives an impressive (and devastating) turn in the Palme d’Or–winning indie “I, Daniel Blake.” She stars alongside Dave Johns as Katie, a struggling single mother of two living in poverty, a victim within England’s welfare system.

On landing the role of Katie.
“I had a call from my agent to say that [director Ken Loach] was casting, but unlike any other audition where you get sides or you get breakdowns of the project, you don’t have any of that. You just have a meeting with him and Kahleen Crawford, the casting director. And he has a chat with you for 10 or 15 minutes about who you are, where you’re from."

On giving Katie a backstory.
“I had a lot of conversations with Paul [Laverty, the writer] and Ken about who [Katie] was. Paul actually wrote me out a very detailed character bio, kind of a dossier about how she ended up having children, her education, her relationship with her mom. He and I spoke about a lot of elements that made that backstory up. And I worked with Shelter, a U.K.-based charity. They work with homeless people, and they put me in touch with two women who were in similar circumstances to Katie. So I went and met with them and their children and spoke with them about their story.”

On being a responsible actor.
“If you’re lucky enough as an actor to be given such a part that allows you to go into so many different places, with that comes a responsibility because you’re a voice for a particular group of people.”

On the film’s real-world impact.
“Over in the U.K., there’s been a lot of debate around this film and people have been talking about it on political panel shows and members of Parliament have been speaking about it. Some on the right have stood up and said it’s a fictional piece of work and wasn’t even based on fact. And that’s absolutely untrue. Everything that Paul has put into this film happened to somebody that he met and researched.”

On finding the truth on set.
“I would read through everything we were given, I would think about any questions that I had. But because Ken takes his time, there’s absolutely no rush in the way he shoots. Quite often, we weren’t doing more than one scene a day. If there were two moments in the flat, for example, that would take the whole day. He does so many takes. You might do 12 takes of something, and what it allows is for you to find the rhythm of it, find the truth of the scene as you do it.”

Want to star in an indie film? Check out our film audition listings!