By: Alex Moreland
“Mothering Sunday was an opportunity to flex a different muscle and explore a different part of my craft,” says Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, explaining what drew him to his latest film, a 1920s-set period romance co-starring Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor. “It requires a different sort of discipline or a different sensibility: I think lots of things are like muscles where if you don’t use them, you’ll lose them.”
“I think it’s interesting to see how far we’ve come from times, and also how far we haven’t come as well,” continues Dìrísù, talking about why he enjoys period drama. “Part of the magic of performance is being transported, and you get that a bit more viscerally when you’re doing a period drama than when you’re doing a modern-day piece.”
Key to this is Dìrísù’s interest in “the lived experience, and either documenting that or interrogating it.”
“A big one that I can’t escape is race, and race relations, racial politics. Donald [Dìrísù’s Mothering Sunday character], in the time 1920s-1940s, had a very specific experience and interrogating how he had to navigate that compared to how I navigate it today is creatively interesting.”
Mothering Sunday is set in March 1924 and charts maid Jane Fairchild (Young)’s secret relationship with Paul (O’Connor), while Dìrísù plays Donald, a man who plays a significant role in Jane’s later life.
The film was Dìrísù’s first post-pandemic role, coming at a point when the creative industries were still adjusting to COVID-19, and when he wasn’t sure if there would be any roles available.
“When the pandemic hit, I was very conscious that I may not work for the rest of the calendar year,” he remembers. “In late May/June time, some auditions started coming. Normally I would be in London and [audition] there.
“But because that wasn’t an option, I was [recording self-tapes] in my childhood bedroom, basically, with my sister. But it was a wonderful thing to do with her, it really brought us closer together. I think actually that would be one of my fondest memories of this job.”
“I was really concerned that we would get to the set and it would be a really sterile environment,” he continues. “But that wasn’t the case. I think it’s a testament to the UK film industry, the adaptability that we had to the global pandemic.
“There was an attitude [that] we want to get back to normal as fast as possible. We want to continue doing our jobs and telling these stories. I was worried that had been taken away from all of us for longer than it had been.”
It’s clear that Dìrísù enjoyed making Mothering Sunday, with the actor full of warm words for his collaborators on the film.
“We want to work with people who inspire us, we want to work on stories that we’re really excited to tell,” explains Dìrísù. “Working with Odessa [Young] was a dream – I think we support each other and push each other in equal measure.”
“It was very easy to do work that I’m proud of with her,” he continues. “I’m grateful to her for that and grateful to Eva [Husson, Mothering Sunday’s director] for putting us together.”