Tamara Lawrance: ‘My favourite ever event was at Brixton Studio’
Following her BIFA win last night, the British actor opens up about portraying Jennifer Gibbons in ‘The Silent Twins’ and adding executive producer to her CV
Monday 5 December 2022 By Olive Pometsey
‘You will never find joy if you want to be alive,’ whispers a voiceover, as identical twins glance shiftily at each other in silence. Just seconds before, they were full of life, giggling as they recorded a make-believe radio show in their bedroom. But when their mother knocks on the door and calls them for dinner, they quickly become mute; heads bowed, bodies frozen. The silence persists as they shuffle peas around their plates and even follows them to school the next day, where their bullies’ taunts are met with empty stares. ‘I move, you follow,’ murmurs their internal dialogue. ‘I follow, you move.’
Telling the story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, who made a pact to only communicate to each other during the 1960s, The Silent Twins is full of moments like this, exposing the inner lives of two of the UK’s most notorious criminals. But that description, that vicious word ‘notorious’, feels unfair. In reality, they were simply misunderstood.
‘I was somebody that was misinformed and suspected that these twins were criminals from what I’d seen of them in the news,’ says Tamara Lawrance, who plays Jennifer throughout her teens and adulthood in the film, twinning opposite Letitia Wright’s June. You can’t blame her. After a short crime spree in 1981, which landed the sisters in court for vandalism, petty theft and arson, the pair were admitted to high-security psychiatric facility Broadmoor Hospital in the UK, a sentence typically reserved for Britain’s most dangerous gangsters and murderers.
‘At a distance, I assumed they were serial killers and thought they’d done really something bad to end up in Broadmoor,’ continues Lawrance. ‘My eyes were completely opened [through working on the film]. Once I reckoned with the reality of the situation, I felt so much more sympathy for their situation.’
Having starred in the BBC’s adaptation of Andrea Levy’s neo-slave narrative The Long Song in 2018, Lawrance is no stranger to tackling knotty subjects on screen. But with The Silent Twins came a new challenge. ‘From the offset, I was invited to be involved in quite a collaborative way,’ she explains. ‘We worked through the script and made suggestions for amendments throughout lockdown and during shooting. Because the team was majority Polish, everyone understood that they didn’t have an affinity to the story in the way that we would, being British and Black women.’
In the end, Lawrance’s substantial behind-the-scenes contribution to the project landed her the title of executive producer. Zooming in from home, beating the chill with a fluffy hat and cosy fleece combo, a huge grin quickly lights up her face at the mention of this fresh CV juice. ‘It was definitely a new challenge, but something that I want to do more in the future,’ she says, still beaming. ‘I lucked out in being able to work with such [other] producers that have so much humanity.’
But luck only plays a small role in Lawrance’s journey to stardom. The rest of it is down to the actor’s raw talent and determination. Growing up in Wembley, when she arrived at secondary school aged 11 and realised drama lessons were only available to GCSE students, she pestered the drama teacher for months to start a club for younger students. ‘I was always really tenacious,’ she says. ‘Before I knew anything about the industry or agents or anything like that, it was just this very belligerent dream. I was like, “I want to do that. Why not?”’ Lawrance even cut out friends and family members who suggested her goal might be a tad unrealistic. ‘I wasn't one of those people who was like, “Maybe it’s not gonna work out” – the stakes were very high for me.’
To say it’s all paid off is an understatement. After graduating from RADA (alumni includes Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston), Lawrance bagged a role in a National Theatre production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2016, which was soon followed by critically-acclaimed stage roles in Twelfth Night and King Lear, along with a healthy smattering of TV and film gigs.
Next up, Lawrance journeys to her mother’s homeland, Jamaica, for Get Millie Black, a Channel 4 drama that sees her transform into a Scotland Yard detective who returns to Kingston to join the Jamaican Police Force. For Lawrance, filming on location felt like an identity-affirming homecoming, despite the fact that she hadn’t stepped on Caribbean soil since she was three years old. ‘Jamaica, for me, was just the four walls of my kitchen, my mum’s accent, the food and the DJs on the radio station that talk over every song,’ she says. ‘It was like this piecemeal of diasporic culture, essentially. To see it [in real life], I think it rooted so much of an understanding of myself and my family. It was so magical.’
Now back in London, Lawrance needs to find her kicks closer to home. But as a Soho House regular, that shouldn’t be too hard. ‘My favourite event ever [was] at Brixton Studio at the end of 2021. This Nigerian highlife brother duo called The Cavemen were performing and it was an amazing set-up, really warm and charming,’ she remembers. ‘That was an incredible night. Everyone in the room was a massive fan and I was with lots of good friends. I had the time of my life.’
We’ll see you on the dance floor at the next party, Tamara. Picantes at the ready.