Samantha Morton has had an enviable career, with a broad range of projects (many of them excellent) under her belt. But as we know all too well, being a woman in the entertainment industry is never easy—in fact, it can be extremely difficult if you get stuck with the label of, well, difficult.
For Morton, the word was deployed against her when she was just a teenager playing a young sex trafficking victim on Band Of Gold. “I had a lot of very, very heavy sex scenes to do with older actors,” she tells Max Gao in her A.V. Club Random Roles interview. “Sometimes, they were supporting actors—as in extras—and I wasn’t protected. I was told I was difficult if I didn’t want to take my bra off; I was told that I was difficult if I was late to set. And I was sometimes late to set because I had my period and I was trying to hide the tampon string, so I was treated horrifically at that time by male directors, male producers, and it was awful.”
Morton says she “became very outspoken” from a young age, partially because she had “a very working-class background where I had to fight for myself.” Unfortunately, she gained “a reputation of being difficult” just for saying “no” to things: “I remember doing a movie for a director in Israel, and this director one day, with his big megaphone like a tennis umpire, in front of the whole crew, said, ‘Take off your bra. I want to see your nipples,’” she shared. “I was a bit older then, and I had a child at that point, and I just burst into tears. I said, ‘No. Don’t talk to me like that. That is not how you talk to me.’ And what do I get? ‘She’s difficult.’”
The young actor had to learn “how to articulate and be constructive in my asking for help, rather than being emotional in my response to the requirements that were asked of me as a child,” she explains. “It was really tough, and I learned how to protect myself and to protect other actors.”
For instance, “When I went to do Harlots years later, we had a lot of actresses having to do nudity. I was trying to protect them, even though now we have female directors, female producers. We still have male first ADs who were treating the actresses horrifically,” she reveals. “We’ve come so far, but the training for the crew members has to change. Anybody can [work in] costume, make-up, hair, camera, electrics. You work on a few film sets and then you get employed, but there’s not a code of conduct that we’re taught, even [for] me.”
Morton hopes that actors’ unions might instate just such a code of conduct built into contracts for everyone on set to “treat people with respect and dignity.” It’s especially important for young women coming up in the business, she says: “I think the term ‘actress’ often is associated with being a diva or being tricky rather than a co-worker and a worker that has rights. We should treat each other with respect and treat each other as we would like to be treated ourselves.”