IMPORTANT: Silence has been golden for Tamara Lawrence who, she is paired with You threw Forever’s Letitia Wright inside The Silent Twins, won the joint lead performance trophy at the recent BIFA awards.
In the film directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, they portray inseparable twins, Jennifer and June Gibbons, born to Barbadian parents in 1963. They made an unusual pact at an early age to remain silent except to communicate with each other in an indecipherable language of their own making.
It’s different from the TV show Lawrence will star in next year, in which he plays an actor who has a lot to say. He is talking about the title role in Channel 4 and HBO’s six-part celebrity series Take Millie Blackcrime thriller set in Kingston, Jamaica and the UK, created by author Marlon James with his own script. A Brief History of Another Murder won him the 2015 Man Booker Prize.
“Storytelling is amazing,” Lawrence tells us Take Millie Black. He stars as a veteran (his voice) ex-Scotland Yard Detective who returns to Jamaica to work for the local police on a missing person case “that kind of takes us somewhere he didn’t expect to go, physically but also in who he is. It’s good”.
The Silent Twins it also takes us on an unexpected journey. “I have people saying to me, ‘Oh, yes, I knew this story but I didn’t know it.’ know this story. We have a different perspective that opposes their portrayal in the media which allows us to explore a little bit of home truth about the criminal justice system and empathize with people we once insulted and hated,” says Lawrance, who plays Jennifer.
“I think the hope was that the movie would be more interesting but include a lot of different genres,” says Lawrance, who explains that some of the scenes use fantastical images inspired by the dolls, paintings and prints created by the sisters.
The film focuses on the harsh price paid by the siblings for enveloping themselves in their impenetrable world. Health and education officials in rural Pembrokeshire in Wales, where they were brought up, could not understand the mental state that the Gibbins girls had locked themselves in. Lawrence says it’s a “sad fact” that they would have received better care if they came from a white, middle-class family.
They are caught in “medical apartheid”, he says, citing cases from peer-reviewed studies where Black children are “mature” and where young Black girls are seen as “too sexual or too angry.”
The twins started hanging out with other young people “to make them feel like they were part of society so they could join in and join in when they could”, says Lawrence, but when they turned 18 they were involved in petty crime and were given harsh sentences. They spent 11 years at the high-security Broadmoor hospital, where they were pumped full of illegal drugs. “They were the youngest people ever to go there at that time,” says Lawrence, his voice rising with anger.
He says that the parents of these girls thought that they were under the British Commonwealth government and that “England as a motherland and the Queen as the head of state” would protect their daughters.
The parents were suffering, he believes, from a kind of “inner white supremacy” in which they bowed to the knowledge of white members of their community, including the twin school.
He continues: “Obviously you’re in the middle of rural Wales, you’re the only Black family and you don’t want to cause trouble. It’s the kind of attitude that disrespects white supremacy that can affect some of the choices that have been made for girls. I think that in the end, their parents had good intentions and were doing the best they could with what they knew,” he explains.
Alongside co-star Wright, it is Lawrence who best conveys the depth of despair behind his character’s eyes. Maybe it’s because Jennifer seems to be the stronger of the two, and she’s more fall-proof.
The film’s hair and production teams created a strange, similar look for Lawrence and Wright. “We had a lot of tools around us that helped create shared identities,” he says. Research included a compelling non-fiction book The Silent Twins and marketing mental health reporter Marjorie Wallace and Silent Twin – Without My Shadow produced by Olivia Lichtenstein in 1994 for a BBC investigation Inside Story documentary strand.
“We had an amazing language coach who worked on extracting the accents from the BBC documentary and created a database of different lines and cadences so that we could have our own expressions. And we also had an amazing movement coach who also worked with the little twins in the film, showing us their movements and creating synchronization to have this kind of shared body and shared language ,” Lawrence recalls on a Zoom call.
“We had to create a sense of unity by moving slowly or using what June and Jennifer called ‘eye language’, looking and looking at each other to make sure we were doing the same thing at the same time.”
The power of art also played its part. Costume designers Cobbie Yates and Katarzyna Lewinska found connections in London, and other sources through 42, the UK management and production company that set up the film and had it produced by Poland’s Madants. Those and other connections enabled Yates to find custom-made twins.
“The language of the piece allowed us to be together… and helped us create a twin where there was none because we are two different people with different personalities,” he laughs. “But I think a film gives you creative license, and eventually you buy into it and suspend disbelief, even if Letitia and I wouldn’t pass as twins off the street.”
Focus Features has acquired the film’s distribution in the US, with Universal Pictures releasing it this month in the UK
Lawrence is in form playing the twins. She was a fan of Viola six years ago in director Simon Godwin’s acclaimed 2017 National Theater production of Shakespeare’s. Twelfth night. Daniel Ezra (All of America) played Sebastian, his older brother. Available on National Theater Live.
Lawrance studied at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and since graduating has regularly returned to the stage. However, he has appeared in several TV dramas including Undercover, No Crime, The Longest Song Little Demo, Invasion and movies Kindred and Boxing Day.
Take Millie Back took him to Kingston, Jamaica. It was the hometown of Lawrence whose parents are from the island. He had not visited since childhood. He took it there from early May to mid-September, although he calls it “the hardest job I’ve ever done” it was also “an amazing experience.”
He explains: “I was able to meet this place that I loved so much in my head and I always wanted to go. And I wanted to understand a little about myself – and where I came from. I enjoyed Jamaica and the people and learned a lot…it deepens my desire to connect more with my ancestors. “
He adds that the show is full of “new people and new energy and I think it shows Jamaica in a way that has never been seen on international television”.
Lawrence describes Millie Black as “a fierce, brave person. I would say he is traumatized in a way that he is someone who needs therapy or something like a place where he can process some of his experiences”.
Sometimes, he says, Millie can cause contractual damage “and do more damage than she thinks” because “she has a lot of flaws, and she can be self-centered sometimes, but in the end I think she is driven by justice and the desire to love. fix things.”
He chooses his words carefully trying not to say too much about the show that will not appear on our screens until later in 2023. Channel 4 and HBO have not announced the dates.
Lawrence likes that Millie Black is “awesome, a true leader, and can do it” but wishes she had asked for help more than she did.
He hopes that “people on this show will understand that Millie is a person who is used to doing things on her own because of her upbringing, she taught herself not to ask for help … but that’s what she wants and what she wants. Like, she needs community, support, and love, like we all do. And I hope that, again, there’s character in there, especially where black women are discriminated against…
Lawrence says he has a lot of sympathy for Millie “but I don’t agree with everything she does.” I understand where he is coming from and I know that he is living with his pain and that he just needs time to recover but he has not been given a place to recover because he needs to be strong for the rest of his life”.
Take Millie Back sent by Caroline Hollick, head of drama at Channel 4, and Francesca Orsi, senior vice president of motion pictures and HBO programming. The series is produced by Motive Pictures.
The cast includes Joe Dempsey (Game of Thrones), Gershwyn Eustache Jnr (A Spy Among Friends, Andor), Nestor Aaron Abhisera ( Road Trip: Beer Pong), and newcomer Chyna McQueen. Lawrence calls them a “great” ensemble.
He praises Marlon James for the “incisiveness of his dialogue, the intelligence, the complexity of the character” and for writing the screenplay that turned out to be “flowers that bloom”.
In the tale of two different careers, one thing is certain: Lawrence’s screen career is growing.