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'There's a culture of pitting women against each other, but it doesn't have to be like that'

Good Posture, a new comedy drama written and directed by Dolly Wells, explores female friendship. Star Emily Mortimer, also Wells' best friend, talks to Georgia Humphreys about her experience on set and reveals what she thinks needs to change in the film industry

Buddying up: Emily Mortimer
Buddying up: Emily Mortimer

Frosty, frightening and intimidating perfectly describes Emily Mortimer's latest character. It's the complete opposite to the London-born actress's real-life personality, so playing reclusive author Julia Price in new comedy drama Good Posture was a fun experience.

"I would love 1% of that character's frostiness," says 47-year-old Mortimer. "You need it for life and I don't have it. I'm always trying to just ingratiate myself to people."

Playing someone so different to herself wasn't the only great thing about the film, which is set in modern-day Brooklyn and follows the story of Lilian, a young woman who is placed into the care of family friend Julia after a break-up.

There was also the fact it was written and directed by Mortimer's best friend, Dolly Wells.

The pair have known each other since childhood. They also wrote and starred in Doll & Em, a Sky Atlantic comedy about two actors called - you guessed it - Doll and Em who are also best friends (it ran for two series from 2014).

Because of how close they are, the filming process for Good Posture - which was "really low-budget" and had a shooting period of just 10 to 12 days -felt "very free, very collaborative", says Mortimer.

"Dolly's so unauthoritative, but she had a really calm, quiet confidence that I didn't expect," she adds.

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"I mean, I didn't know what to expect, but then I suddenly saw her in this role and she was amazing.

"In the centre of all this chaos and confusion, she was just able to breathe and not panic - she is often panicking in real life and so am I.

"I think the atmosphere that Dolly created on this set was a very rare thing - and the best directors I have worked with have created that atmosphere - where you feel 'seen'.

"There's a sort of feeling, despite all of it, that there's all the time in the world to be you at that moment and they're with you and believe in you."

Both Lilian and Julia are fascinating characters. At the start of the feature they have a passive-aggressive relationship, amusingly portrayed through notes they write to each other.

After Lilian suddenly decides to make an admittedly unauthorised documentary about Julia to impress her former boyfriend and others, a rather surprising intergenerational friendship starts to develop.

Mortimer says there were elements of Julia that she could relate to, particularly the idea that both she and Lilian have always been defined by men.

"I think Dolly was making a really interesting point with that. You spend your life seeking the approval of men and then you suddenly realise that, actually, you could get a quite exciting and fulfilling relationship from being friends with another woman and that that might be more interesting," she adds.

"It doesn't have to be that you're resorting to women friends because you've been abandoned by a man."

You're choosing it, I suggest.

"Yeah, choosing it," she agrees. "I think our generation has definitely relied on the approval of men for our validation, both as kind of sexual beings but also in the workplace.

"You know, men have been the people giving the jobs and telling you 'you're good' as well as 'you're sexy and charming' or whatever.

"What Doll was playing with so well, with the young girl kind of trope, coming into the house, threatening to destabilise your marriage, I totally relate to that feeling as well.

"Like, 'Oh god, they're a threat. There's this beautiful young thing who's going to be more attractive than I am' or whatever.

"(It's) the sort of culture of pitting women against each other and us buying into it. It doesn't have to be like that."

Mother-of-two Mortimer lives in Brooklyn (Wells resides there too) with her husband, the American actor and producer Alessandro Nivola.

She misses the UK "all the time" but is also relieved she doesn't have to deal directly with Brexit.

"I can feel, like second-hand, the stress of what's going on. I feel like nobody has a clue what to do," she says.

Whatever the conversation topic, talking to Mortimer is easy. She comes across genuinely grounded and unreserved.

It's endearing hearing her discuss her love for Wells as she explains how working with your best friend takes the pressure off, particularly on something you create together, like Doll & Em.

"As long as we can get into bed at the end of the night and gossip about what happened and chat, it's okay," she says.

"Of course, you don't want to feel like a tool and do something that's not good.

"You're trying your best, but it ultimately doesn't matter. That's what it feels like."

Mortimer has had roles in a number of memorable movies since she started acting in the early Nineties, such as Match Point, Lovely & Amazing and, recently, Mary Poppins Returns.

She feels "much more hopeful" about the film industry at this point in her career.

On the topic of what still needs to change, the star refers to sexuality and women, noting that "if you look a certain way, you are attractive, and if you don't, you're not".

"That needs to change and I think it is changing gradually, but it's not changing as much as everything," she adds.

"I just feel like that... I think that's at the heart of real liberation for women. Because that's what it is for men - you don't have to look a certain way to be a sexy guy.

"Of course, there are stereotypes of male beauty too and that has its own problems, maybe increasingly so.

"As it changes for women the other way, there's more of stereotyping of male beauty.

"But I think that in film I want to see women that don't look a certain way being treated as sexy, vibrant, vital women. I think that that's going to feel so liberating."

Good Posture is in cinemas now

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