The Version Interview... Ben Chaplin on BBC One's Apple Tree Yard
What could have brought Dr. Yvonne Carmichael, a law-abiding wife and mother, an eminent scientist, into a dock at the Old Bailey about to be exposed in a highly damaging and compromising lie?
Emily Watson (A Song for Jenny, The Theory of Everything) leads a stellar line up in BAFTA-winning Amanda Coe’s adaptation of Louise Doughty’s best-selling novel Apple Tree Yard for BBC One.
Produced by the award-winning Kudos, Apple Tree Yard is a provocative, audacious thriller that puts women’s lives at the heart of a gripping, insightful story about the values we live by and the choices that we make. A ‘what if’ situation that could happen to any one of us.
Dr. Yvonne Carmichael has a high flying career, a beautiful suburban home and the perfect family. Smart, successful and highly renowned within her field of genetics, Yvonne has a conventional and apparently contented life, married to husband Gary, complete with two grown up children.
After confidently presenting to a Commons Select Committee on her specialist subject, she is approached by a charismatic and mysterious stranger, who seems refreshingly interested in what she has to say – refreshingly interested in her. Suddenly, she finds herself alone and intimate with him in the deserted crypt beneath the House of Commons. It’s a completely out of character moment of madness. Despite Yvonne’s expectations that she will never see Mark Costley again, their encounter builds to a passionate and all-consuming affair.
However, despite Yvonne’s careful plans to keep her career and home life separate, fantasy and reality soon start to overlap; finally everything she values is put at risk when a life-changing act of violence ultimately leads to a Crown Court trial…
Joined by Ben Chaplin (Cinderella, Mad Dogs) and Mark Bonnar (Catastrophe, Line of Duty), the line-up also includes Adeel Akhtar (Capital, Murdered by My Father), Lydia Leonard (Life in Squares, River), Frances Tomelty (Unforgotten), Susan Lynch (Happy Valley) and Rhashan Stone (Strike Back).
Ben Chaplin tells us more...
How did you first become aware of Apple Tree Yard?
I first heard about Apple Tree Yard through Emily Watson. She called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing it. We worked together about 10 years ago and got on really well. I hadn’t heard of the book, so I read the script and thought it was a really riveting read - a real page-turner. I read the script a couple of times before reading the book – it’s best to get familiar with the screenplay as that’s what you’ve got to work with, otherwise you can find yourself confused.
The script is really gripping. It’s completely Yvonne’s story, told from her perspective. We discover events as she does, and I think we are as surprised as she is. It’s really cleverly structured as a piece of drama. It’s a psychological thriller, it’s a romance, and it’s a courtroom drama but dark and serious as well. It’s very female - you’ve got Emily Watson, Jess Hobbs, our director, two female writers - the novelist and screenwriter, which is good news.
It touches on gender and sexuality as well doesn’t it?
It does. When I first read it, I thought that it was brave of Emily to do it. It’s not easy for someone approaching 50 to have a story with a lot of sexual content. You could rest on your laurels and say “You know what, I’d rather not” but Emily doesn’t do that. As soon I knew it was Emily, I knew this would be interesting.
Costley’s character must be quite challenging as well?
That’s a bit of an understatement! In terms of Costley’s sympathetic nature, he’s the catalyst of the bad stuff that happens. But again I think that’s from Yvonne’s perspective. The tricky thing I have to wrestle with when playing him is to what extent am I a real person, as opposed to whatever Yvonne wants him to be; am I playing the real psychological truth of this man from his perspective or am I just playing what Yvonne sees? There is a little bit of both.
To some degree, he is a housewife’s guilty fantasy but I don’t, in any given moment, think he fully believes the reality that he is in without regard to what it means. He truly lives in the moment - sort of, you know, a malignant Buddhist.
There are some physical sex scenes. How is it dealing with sexuality as an actor?
The sex scenes are interesting. They are something everyone wants to ask about and for actors it’s just the oddest part of the job. I now understand one of the reasons Emily wanted me to do this was because we knew each other quite well. We were not good friends, but we’ve known each other a long time and got on very well when we worked together, so I understand she wanted an actor she felt comfortable with. We work in a similar way and the sex scenes are definitely helped by being specific - by talking about what it is you want to communicate and do. I know it’s a clichéd metaphor about sex scenes, but they really are like a dance.
What is working with Emily like?
Working with Emily has been a joy. What’s lovely is I get all my scenes with her so I got to work with her quite intensely. I always been a fan of hers, but just seeing it that close up – the gamut of what she can do - she really is one of the greats. The shooting days were long and hard and it was emotionally and physically tough on her, but she’s like a machine - so calm so consistent and just delivers. It’s very, very rare. She’s incredibly generous, thoughtful and hardworking and she doesn’t stop until she’s got it. When you are working with someone that good, it really makes what you do so easy.
Has it been a fun project generally?
We had a really nice crew, Jess (Hobbs) is a lovely positive director who has a lot of drive and the energy needed to get you through the hard days. She’s extremely positive and full of positive affirmation, so you never feel alone. It has been very useful to have a woman director, given that the whole story is from a woman’s perspective. It does deal with some sensitive issues and it’s been really good to have a woman who’s also the same age as Emily.
Do you have any favourite scenes?
I’ve really enjoyed shooting in central London, which you don’t do so often these days. I love shooting in real locations where you have real people in the background that don’t know you are shooting or are vaguely aware that something is going on. I like the chaos of that.