Written by Alice Lowe

Arts

“A baby felt like being out of control”

Ruth is pregnant. Ruth is livid. Ruth is a murderer. A-star writer and director Alice Lowe tells us why her own pregnancy led to Ruth, a woman out for Prevenge.

Alice as Ruth in Prevenge. Photos: Showtimes Platform/Powster Ltd.

I’ve made a film about a pregnant woman who kills people.

A fundamental Christian website has denounced it as an ‘abomination’ (they haven’t seen it; it’s GREAT. They need to weave more nuance into their reviews). Because presumably, to fundamentalist Christians, pregnant women are fonts of purity, so filled with the miracle of creation that they shit butterflies, and not hard poos as foretold by babycentre.co.uk.

The short gestation period (haha) of my film, born of necessity because of my real-life pregnancy, meant little time for research. I’d been offered no-strings private funding for a low-budget feature. I was a frustrated director, really wanting to make my debut. And here I was, six months into a baby debut instead.

Bugger. You wait ages for a bus, and suddenly a pregnancy and a film come along at once… So I thought I’d use what was happening to me and put it into the film.

As an actress I thought maybe my career was over. Warned that pregnancy is the chrysalis that turns a butterfly into a crusty old hag, makes producers assume you are ‘busy’, or at least too unattractive/fat/old to play anything other than ‘mothers’, who by the way are 1) Self-sacrificial. 2) Weeping. 3) Wearing mum jeans and putting a scoop of washing powder into a machine – OK, that’s only in adverts.

They have no known qualities other than this. And presumably before becoming mothers, were totally blank. Tabula rasa. So it felt like sacrificing a lot. Not only your career, figure, but ALSO your personality. Which apparently gets surgically whisked away and put in the bin along with the placenta.

“Ruth is merciless. Hell-bent. It just seemed to be the only way to go, this woman who rips through the pregnancy stereotype with a knife.”

I was worried about ‘time off’, words that put a shudder in the spine of freelancers. I feared being penniless, and as an immature perennial ‘Petra Pan’ like most comedians, also feared responsibility. I had no idea of motherhood, no sense that it would come ‘naturally’ to me.

All I knew was work, freedom, the necessity to self-motivate in order to take control of my own destiny. And a baby felt like being out of control. Something that is probably even more common as, with older mothers, babies are these days late guests to an already swinging party.

“We’d better do something,” I said to my boyfriend, signing us up to NCT classes. “We need to learn some stuff about babies; I know fuck all.” But by joining groups such as pre-natal yoga, I felt like I’d gone back to school. I realised that by being a freelancer and an ‘artist’ of some description, I’d unwittingly opted out of most of society’s organisations: no office, no boss, few rules other than the taxman’s.

And suddenly I realised I was going to hang out with a bunch of people for whom our biological situation was the only unifying thread. They all were ‘normal’ apparently, reminding me once again of the cruel truth that I’m an incontrovertible weirdo.

But all this ‘normalcy’, this standard, one-size-fits-all, ‘there’s-a-leaflet-for-that’, ‘see-you-in-the-playground’ conformity felt weird. And people talked weird. And it felt like becoming a different person. A Stepford Wife? Or a woman that talks with an upward inflection? With a gentle lisp? Like the woman on my pregnancy hypnosis DVD? No anger, recriminations, not a raised voice, unnervingly calm. Lobotomised. Pastel.

Ruth in skull makeup
Was I the only person who felt like this? Or could it be that there’s stuff that goes unspoken? Behaviours and emotions that we’re not permitted to explore. Because it doesn’t get shown on TV and film? And we don’t think about it. And it’s dangerous. And frightening. So we bury them deep, swallow, and do the breathing exercise…

I created a character for my film. Ruth. A pregnant woman who takes revenge. She’s angry, pissed off. She doesn’t care about the future. She’s merciless. Hell-bent. It just seemed to be the only way to go, this woman who rips through the pregnancy stereotype with a knife. Fury. A woman who refuses to stay inside her box.

There’s a scene where she literally burns her disguise, that of the ‘floral-dressed mumsy mum in a cardigan’. And in a sense, that’s what I was doing as an actress.

As women we have to don so many costumes to signal to the world ‘what we are’ or ‘what we mean’. I wanted Ruth to have power, the power of transformation, the power of creation, the power of destruction.

Throughout the film she sheds her skin to reveal deeper and darker impulses. She goes beyond her biological impulses. But yet, those biological impulses are what makes a woman an explorer, taking a journey into the heart of our primal drives. Women have a direct link to creation. And yet on screen that’s shown in a pregnant woman as weak, or amusing, or grumpy or baby-brained. Not the existential crisis as it is and should be.

Alice on set
So I made this film. And felt a lightness and joy while doing it. I was in my element, on set, among friends and colleagues, doing what I do, being myself. And suddenly having a baby seemed fine. And then she came along, was born, and seemed… pretty OK with everything.

By making the film, I’d exorcised my fears. And none of the (possibly Christian fundamentalist) prophecies had come true. I had made a film, got work, kept visible, kept my humour, kept my sanity, kept my identity, all the while pregnant and then with a tiny baby. I was still me. The same person. Someone should really tell TV screenwriters.

Prevenge is previewing now and opens officially on 10 February. For more info and tickets, visit prevengemovie.com.

@alicelowe

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Written by Alice Lowe

Alice is an actor, writer and director, mainly in comedy. Co-writer and killer caravanner from Sightseers and key player in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.