Magazine article Screen International

Stars of Tomorrow One-to-One: Abi Morgan & Marnie Dickens

Magazine article Screen International

Stars of Tomorrow One-to-One: Abi Morgan & Marnie Dickens

Article excerpt

Marnie Dickens: When did you first feel that you could call yourself a writer?

Abi Morgan I think I felt like a writer from the beginning but I do go through phases where I think that I don't know if I can hold my own against some of the heavyweights. It's just an inherent state of doubt that every writer lives with. Theatre was a good stomping ground for me as I had the experience of an audience listening. Television is a very different medium because you don't necessarily sit with someone and watch them watch TV. And with cinema, your film can be going on multiple times meaning you rarely sit with an audience and watch it beyond a first screening.

On that note, do you have a favourite medium between film, theatre and television?

I don't have a favourite because they give me different things. Theatre is still a magical art form as there's something wonderful about being absolutely central to the work. I really love the collaboration of television, and I love how political it is and that you can now be watching on a laptop or on your iPhone. And I love the muscularity of film and the breadth of the landscape I can write for. As an experience, film is the most brutal because you have to realise you're not the most important person in the room, the director is. Television is a very empowering medium for a writer because, as time goes on, you become an executive producer so you can really own and control the creative making of that work. I know very quickly if the story feels right for television or film.

Has that always been the case or is that a skill you've developed over time?

It's developed. I think there are certain ideas now which I know there's a character you want to come back to and that there are a myriad of stories and possibilities with them. Then there are certain characters who just serve the one story and that's where they need to be, so it feels like it's the domain of film.

With your historical work like Suffragette and The Hour, do you have to find a different approach compared to tackling a contemporary piece?

I sort of do exactly the same, really. Even with a biopic, I'm still treating a real character as a character. One of the things that was very rich with me for The Hour, and why I'm really disappointed it didn't go to a third series, was because I felt I was just getting going. With The Hour, the historical research generated a lot of story and that was very useful. In a weird way, choosing something contemporary feels like there are fewer places to go.

When it comes to biopics like The Iron Lady, how do you begin to decide what to focus on?

The first thing is doing a biopic can always end up feeling like you're cramming a too-large lady into a too-small dress, and there's always a bit that's just squeezing out. With The Iron Lady, the starting point was the loss of power and the power of loss, and about a woman who has to come to realise her husband has gone. It became a prism in which to see her life and that was a very useful structure to navigate my way through an enormous life. Invariably, there are frustrations and there were huge areas that I'd have loved to cover, but it was just too much. It's incredibly hard to truly do justice to someone's life, so my instinct is now to avoid biopic or choose a specific period in someone's life with a very clear reason why you're writing that person's story. …

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