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Jacqueline Haworth on being an extra, filming with Hugh Grant and her latest production

PUBLISHED: 15:38 20 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 April 2017

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From gliding around behind Meryl Streep to ducking from the explosive antics of Tom Hardy in Taboo, a Wendover former teacher gets to see it all. Sandra Smith met her

“Hugh Grant was really lovely when filming Florence Foster Jenkins. Sometimes there were up to 20 takes, just going over and over the same scene. As if Meryl Streep could ever get it wrong – she’s an absolute goddess in my eyes!”

With shoulder length hair pinned into tight curls and suitably glamorous in a fur stole and pearls, Jacqueline Haworth’s role as one of the Verdi ladies saw her applauding and encouraging the would-be opera singer who entertained troops with her memorable voice.

“It was a seminal experience,” Jacqueline continues with a broad smile. “Filming took place in the Hammersmith Apollo which doubled as Carnegie Hall. The venue was packed with over 400 extras in army uniforms.”

Discussing award winning actors could easily sidetrack us. You see, in creating a career as a film extra this energetic 72-year-old has clocked up over 100 roles during the last three years, appearing in numerous productions from The Lady in the Van to Bridget Jones’s Baby. Iconic names – too many to list but how about Alison Steadman and Celia Imrie (“really lovely people”) to give you a flavour – filter into our conversation. And whilst Jacqueline in no way gives the impression of being star struck, she clearly appreciates the escapism her calling offers.

“I enjoy going into a different world. It’s both random and fantastic. For Endeavour I was part of a 1960’s party in Halton House. The costumes and masks were amazing.”

One of her early gigs turned into a regular. The first series of Call the Midwife not only featured Jacqueline as the only random nun, but numerous passers by as well. She recalls the experience.

“We filmed at Longcross Studios near Chertsey and also Chatham Docks. The costumes you wear are very specific, even down to the sort of stockings. Hair and make up can take 45 minutes. There’s a lot of sitting around and waiting, you have to be okay with that. Sometimes it might be three or four hours before you’re doing anything. But food is provided, which is usually excellent.”

Although she drives home still wearing theatrical make up, hairstyles are deconstructed before leaving, hairpins being valuable items for any wardrobe department.

Given the legendary unpredictability of the industry, early starts and late finishes are commonplace. Jacqueline recalls once having to arrive at Shoreditch Town Hall for 4.30am; recent filming at Alexandra Palace didn’t finish until 3am. When I ask about this latest production her response is a blend of politeness and professionalism.

“I can’t say too much; I’ve signed a disclosure. All I can tell you is it features Benedict Cumberbatch.”

Sitting in Jacqueline’s first floor apartment overlooking Wendover High Street we sip white wine while discussing her early interest in the acting profession.

Her father, having been offered a place at RADA, instead chose a “proper job” in the RAF. His daughter, despite reservations, trained as a teacher and it was only years later when accompanying her sister to an amateur theatre company session to which Jacqueline tagged along that she realised her calling.

“It was a lightbulb moment. I thought, ‘My God, this is what I was meant to do’. But I couldn’t make a living from acting. I got married, had children, then worked in a special needs school. I finally plucked up courage to go on a drama course after my divorce.”

A theatrical part in The Boyfriend followed. She’d always been told she couldn’t sing but lessons from a Musical Director prepared her to audition for Hello Dolly. She was offered the part. Next came a stint at Central School of Speech and Drama after which she launched herself into professional pantomime before joining a casting agent who invited her for a photoshoot.

Since then work has consistently come her way, yet Jacqueline remains eager to learn new techniques. A two day role play audition workshop is currently lined up (“Fascinating and quite a departure for me”). The multi lingual extra has also completed courses covering improvisation, singing, movement conditioning, clowning, speaking Shakespeare and Meisner Acting Technique, the latter encouraging actors to respond instinctively to their surrounding environment.

She goes on to talk animatedly about Assistant Directors whose guidance helps her to lock down characters and recalls those occasions when even a few syllables demand rehearsal.

“One episode of Call the Midwife involved a chap coming into the village hall. He was gay, which was a real no-no in the Sixties, and after the character next to me commented I had to say ‘Nerve!’ I practised and practised that line. For crowd scenes sometimes you’re often miming, but for a scene in EastEnders my line was, ‘Oh, how much is that?’”

Speaking parts carry a premium and Jacqueline is entitled to both travel expenses and holiday pay. Apart from the occasional emergency, she is usually given at least 24 hours notice, with filming taking place months ahead of the film or programme being aired.

One of the most recent television hits in her portfolio is Taboo. This gritty epic starred man of the moment, Tom Hardy, with Jacqueline appearing in a scene featured in the final thrilling episode.

“I was a villager when 11 horses galloped through our village. You could hear them thundering towards you; the ground shook.”

In her spacious oak beamed sitting room whose traces of bohemian décor reflect an independent spirit, this laidback actor has found her feet. Yet popular as she is as an extra, does she also harbour bigger ambitions?

“I loved that feeling I had when I performed in Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables. It’s lovely to be a different person and I’m always totally focussed. Being an extra is worth it because of the experience, but I would love one really good role.”

Perhaps such an opportunity isn’t so far away. At the moment a major understudy role is being discussed and she takes a call from her agent just as I’m leaving. Who knows what might be on offer? Maybe it won’t be too long before she enjoys star billing.


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