CLEVELAND, Ohio — Early on in the new feature film “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” which opens Friday in theaters, the titular character declares, “We need our dreams now more than ever.”
Starring as the ordinary British housekeeper who turns her dreams into reality by taking an extraordinary adventure to the City of Lights is Academy Award-nominated actress Lesley Manville (”Phantom Thread”).
Based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris,” the Anthony Fabian-directed film is set in post-World War II London where an English charwoman tries to cobble together enough money for a trip of a lifetime hoping to buy a couture Christian Dior gown.
We recently caught up with Manville to discuss “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” her love of fashion and playing Princess Margaret in the next season of “The Crown.”
Hello, Lesley, congrats on the film. You’re portraying a really interesting character who seemingly comes across as naive yet street smart. How did you approach the role of Ada Harris?
It’s very clear that she has got this fiery spirit, that she takes the knocks of life, she plows forward and sees everything in a positive vein. She still wants to have something to aim for. The dress becomes that thing but the dress is very much a sort of metaphor really for everything that she’s trying to achieve. I work off my instincts pretty much mostly these days. I was quite clear of what she would be like. She was very present on the page and it was not too difficult to bring her to life because I kind of understood her.
Something that defines the role of Ada Harris is despite the pitfalls and curve balls thrown at her in life she maintains a sort of magical kindness to strangers.
Definitely, because she is a good human being. She’s kind and therefore the audience I hope is going to feel worse when she does get knocked back and people don’t quite treat her in the way that she’s been treating them. I don’t want to reduce it by saying it’s a feel-good film. I mean, it is, but it’s got bite to it as well and substance. The film has a really lovely style to it. We did have an amazing creative team working on it, not least of all Jenny Beavan, the Oscar-winning costume designer. I think all of the elements came together very nicely.
We know Mrs. Harris loves fashion. Can you relate?
I love fashion, love it. I’ve always liked my clothes, even as a teenager. I can absolutely understand why Mrs. Harris would see this dress and even though she knows it’s 500 pounds — that’s just so much money in the 1950s — somewhere she’s got this dream to get it. And good on her. She’s got no idea how this money is going to come her way and, of course, all of these lovely things happen to make the money come her way. I’m absolutely with her. I used to look at things when I was a kid and think, I’ve got to save my money. I’ve got to have those shoes. I completely understand her.
How ironic is it that your appearance in “Phantom Thread,” which also involves a 1950′s fashion house, actually provided background for “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris?”
The great thing about it was having done all of that research for “Phantom Thread” on the ‘50s fashion I really knew about the House of Dior and what the style was like at that time. So, yeah, I felt more equipped than Ada Harris to talk about ‘50s fashion. She’s just seeing this one dress that she loves. I’ve got a pretty good all-around knowledge of fashion in that time.
Something fabulous and surprising in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is what appears to be a little bit of a wink-wink toward your next project portraying Princess Margaret in the last two seasons of “The Crown.”
I know there is but honestly that was in the script even before I knew I was going to be doing Princess Margaret. It’s purely coincidental but I thought, yes, everyone is going to pick up on this. I can’t remember the line, something like she’s got a naughty twinkle. And she’s absolutely right, Princess Margaret does have a naughty twinkle. You’ll have to wait for November for that.
It’s quite the exciting time for you with “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” and “The Crown” coming out back to back this year.
Fantastically exciting. I’m a person who likes to mix up the kind of range of roles I play — doing Ada on one end and Princess Margaret on the other. It’s kind of what gets me up in the morning, that sort of variety of work. So yeah, it’s great. And I’ll be going back to Margaret in August for the final season.
Considering “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is actually a book series, is there a chance a sequel is in your future?
There might be. I mean, the producers have given me “Mrs. ‘arris Goes to New York” to read. I think the idea is very much they’d like to do some more films, but let’s see how this one goes down first of all.