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Interview with Maxine Peake: Star of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

05/16/2010- by Natasia Langfelder

The film, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, is based on the diaries of Anne Lister. Miss Lister is known as Great Britain’s first “modern lesbian.” Lister kept a journal where she recorded the details of her life and most notably, all of her lesbian conquests. She seduced a number of ladies and eventually lived as a married couple with one of her lovers.

British actress Maxine Peake plays the title role in the film. Peake is an accomplished actress who has been acting since she was 13. She is best known for her television roles. She has appeared in numerous movies and spent a great deal of time on the stage. Peake generously took time out of her busy schedule to speak with about her role as Anne Lister.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister premiered at the London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and will next be shown at the Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival on May 30th, 2010.

Lezgetreal: What drew you to the role of Anne Lister, “the first modern lesbian”?

Maxine Peake: I hadn’t heard of Anne Lister before. I heard of the project from a friend of mine. She was a locations manager. She said “have you heard about this project about Anne Lister? She’s a traveler and a lesbian icon.” So I applied for the job. A month later, they called me and said, “if you’d like to do it we’d like you to do it.”
This is a drama about a strong female character. Also, most of the cast is female and that is getting rarer and rarer so that is part of what is exciting about it.

LGR: Anne Lister has premiered at the 2010 BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film festival, and the buzz from the lesbian community is that you were able to pull off a lesbian swagger, how did you get into character?

MP: Well, I read the diaries and spoke with an expert. She lives in Halifax on Anne Lister’s farm. I saw the documentary. Seeing where she [Anne Lister] lived and the moors of Halifax; [they] are so bleak she’s got to be very strong. She loves her surroundings and the countryside. She’s outdoorsy and athletic and passionate. I felt she spent a lot of time outside and knew them like the back of her hand they can be a bleak and desolate place. That [the swagger] came from the earthiness of her. From a love of nature. Oh and the costume and boots helped!

LGR: You’ve said that you think former US president George Bush is a villain. Knowing that he is so opposed to gay rights, do you think that making this movie, which basically features a self proclaimed lesbian marriage, is also a political statement?

MP: Yeah, but you know, at the end of the day it’s a human story about a woman who is excited to be who she is. The way we are in this country now, I’m concerned about the conservatives. I think the L word did a good service just getting some visibility out there. Yeah, the more minority groups get visible, they can get more points across.

LGR: You’re best known as Veronica from Shameless and Twinkle from Dinnerladies, do you think taking a role like this will change your fans perception of you?

MP: Yes, I think so. The last thing I did for the BBC was a drama called Criminal Justice. I played a middle class timid, abused barristers wife; that was a shift. After playing a downtrodden character going back to playing someone who is strong; you hope that people will believe that you are that different character. [You hope that they] believe that I’m going on this journey.

LGR: There has been a lot of gossip about your weight, how has that affected you?
MP: I’m 35 now, I was 24 when I lost the weight. Eleven years later, people still say you’ve lost so much weight. I lost about 5 stone. I’m a healthy weight now, I exercise and I don’t particularly diet. It’s very dangerous obsession. Magazines talk about who is too think too fat, cellulite, fat arms, diets, it’s horrific. I wish we could get over this obsession with weight and looks.

LGR: Anne Lister is a lesbian icon in Britain…now you are playing her. Lesbian fans are the most loyal fan base you can have, are you ready to become a gay icon?

MP: She was such a huge figure there was a lot of pressure! I didn’t want to let people down. This film is for the LGBT community primary because there isn’t a lot of stuff that’s directed towards that community. She’s an inspirational figure. They [lesbians] know so much about her, I just thought, will I live up to their expectations? She lived such an extraordinary life. And the movie is just really an impression of one part of it.
A lesbian following is a good following! I hope the lesbian community will watch it and won’t be disappointed. I know that some might be upset that a straight person was playing this part, but I want to catch the imagination and really make a great film. Again, I just really don’t want to let anyone down.

LGR: You’ve done film acting, TV series and of course, performed on stage, which medium are you most comfortable working in?

MP: I think a lot of actors prefer the stage. I go through phases, at the moment I’m quite desperate to go on stage. It’s a luxury of having 4-6 weeks to rehearse a piece, getting to do it again and again. Filming, you only get a couple of takes. We filmed Ann Lister in 18 days. Sometimes, we didn’t get this or we didn’t capture that. In play you can miss something one night and say I can get it tomorrow night. I love the unpredictability of theater. But a good script is a good script no matter what the medium.

LGR: Jane English said that there was enough material to make another Anne Lister movie, would you be down for it?

MP: Definitely. If it was like a ten part series that would be great. There are up to 20 years encompassed in an hour in a half even though I don’t really age through it, but it goes from 20s to 40s. If Jane wanted to do more I would love to play her again. More of the business side of it because the film really focus on the romantic side of it and there is a lot more to Anne than that.

LGR: The film is next set to premier at the Toronto Film Festival, will you be attending?

MP: The Toronto film festival! I’m excited to go this is the first time I’m going to an international festival. I’m also going to San Francisco and LA. I’m really excited. I have some girlfriends in Toronto hopefully I can get to see them and their husbands. I’m excited to see what kind of a place Toronto is, how metropolitan and such.

LGR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Maxine! It was a pleasure and have a great time in Toronto!
MP: Thank you and take care.
For more information on The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister and the Toronto LGBT Film & Video Festival, click here

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