Hayley Squires on Adult Material: 'It was quite a ride'
I, Daniel Blake star Hayley Squires chats to Culture Whisper about her latest role in Adult Material, where she plays a 30-something porn star who's also mother to three children
Jolene believes she’s happy in her work: rising from her working-class roots, she has a decent house and can afford her kids’ public school fees. But when she realises that she could be working with, or near, the familiar American porn actor Tom Pain (Julian Ovenden), some buried trauma comes to the surface.
Squires’ breakthrough role was in the Cannes-winning Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, for which she was Bafta-nominated. She’s since appeared in well-rated TV (The Miniaturist, Collateral) and indie movie intrigues (In Fabric, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead). But Adult Material could prove an important step for her; its lewd but important subject matter will catch everyone’s attention. Jolene Dollar will offend, liberate and entertain.
Culture Whisper spoke to Squires about the role, her methods of research, and laughs on set with Rupert Everett.
Photo: Channel 4
Adult Material plunges into the explicit and often uncomfortable world of the British porn industry. Were you hesitant when reading the script or did you jump at the opportunity?
'I don’t think I was hesitant. I love Lucy’s scripts, they were one of the most exciting things I’ve read in a very long time. Lucy also sent through a very detailed document to do with her research because she’d been working on the show for a long time. I sort of knew the writing was so good that it would be difficult to say that I didn’t wanna go in for it. When I got offered the part, I was buzzin’ about it. It’s the sort of dream role, the journey that [Jolene Dollar] goes on.'
And what was your own research process like?
'I watched as many documentaries as I could find. Surprisingly, there aren’t actually that many [about porn]. I read a few books, biographies of people who used to work in the porn industry. We also worked with [porn actor] Rebecca More, who was our advisor on the show, who’s worked in the adult industry for a long time. She was able to give us quite a good insight.'
Was Rebecca on set with you?
'She’s actually an extra, she got a little cameo in one of the episodes. Rebecca was [on set] with a few of the other women that she works with. She was really encouraging. She’s a really sweet and intelligent woman.'
When you went on the journey of this series, did you have any preconceptions about the porn industry? Did they change during the production?
'The biggest discovery for me was actually about the corporate side of porn, and the multi-million dollar industry that it is. And the food chain, in terms of power – going from performers to director, producer, and then right the way up to these faceless corporations that own a huge amount of the internet.'
Photo: Channel 4
Your character, Jolene Dollar, is fascinating to watch. She ranges from being incredibly likeable to completely flying off the handle, and it’s often hard to pin her down. Was that a difficult headspace to climb into?
'I couldn’t approach [the role] with a point of view of, "Are people gonna like her?" because the choices she makes are so complex. It kinda comes down to the differences in everybody’s moral code. That’s what makes, I think, Lucy’s writing so fascinating. You can’t watch the show without thinking, "What would I do in that moment? What decision would I make? What road would I go down?"
'It was quite a ride playing her because she goes from this sort of extreme beginning, where everything seems very successful and she seems very much in control, and then quickly plummets into trauma. And living in a constant state of panic that she just refuses to give in to, and battles her way through. From that sense, it was quite difficult.'
There’s been a noticeable drive in television recently to tell stories of consent and sexual assault and rape specifically from the female perspective. Adult Material also examines those areas and Jolene is constantly confused about what the line is and refuses to be called a victim. Did you feel a certain responsibility in taking all that baggage on?
'Yeah, I think you always do when it comes to portraying things that women have experienced in real life: anything to do with consent or abuse or loss of power. There is a huge responsibility. Like you say, there’s been a massive rise in what we see on TV in terms of conversations about consent and women being protected in the workplace. I think what Lucy does so brilliantly is that she takes that conversation and goes to the most extreme place with it by placing that within the porn world.'
Photo: Channel 4
As is required nowadays, you had an intimacy co-ordinator on set. Have you worked with one before?
'I had never worked with an intimacy co-ordinator before. These are the most detailed or intimate sex scenes I’ve ever done on screen, and it was brilliant to have Yarit [Dor, intimacy co-ordinator] around. She does stunt work as well, and I liken it to working with a choreographer.
'Her presence in the rehearsals that we did with her before shooting, going into a room together and blocking out each moment, and how we were going to shoot them, and the placement of our bodies, even down to the placement of our hands or foot or leg… It allowed a real safety around it. It meant that when we got on set, we were able to just relax about it and concentrate on the content of the scene. It’s like a dance, in the same way that you have a stunt man for fights.'
You talked about safety. Was it also a nice realisation that the crew on Adult Material was mostly female?
'The team was led by females. So there was obviously Lucy, the writer and executive producer. Dawn directed it. We had Chloë Thomson shoot it. Our first assistant director was female, and quite a lot of the crew.
'But there were also a fair amount of men still on set and, I have to say, all of them were very respectful and very aware of what we were doing, and helped us create a safe space and a safe environment. I think it’s the best crew I’ve ever worked with, to be honest.'
I imagine there were many difficult scenes to film in this production. But what was your most enjoyable day on set?
'There were quite a few very funny moments. [Laughs.] I loved working with all of the cast. I think probably working with Rupert [Everett], there were a lot of very funny moments when we were sort of finding what it was. You do a take so many times and you can start to feel a bit stuck – he’s very good at loosening things up. He was only in for the first two weeks. He had to shoot and go on to a different project, and that was our very first two weeks of shooting. Watching him create and be free was really helpful for me for the rest of the process.'
Adult Material airs on Monday 5 October at 10pm on Channel 4