The New Wellness

In Conversation With Lydia West

THE OUTNET’S Head of Content, Claudia Mahoney, caught up with actor and star of hits like Years & Years and It’s a Sin, Lydia West. In case you missed their live conversation about the impact of the show, how we can all #BeMoreJill and Lydia’s current fashion mission — we made sure to save some of the best bits…

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Lydia Loves…

“My sister and I are creating a capsule wardrobe at the moment. Which is basically just a wardrobe where you can pair everything, and it just works and it’s all timeless and you can keep these items year in year out.”

Blue cashmere sweater

Claudia: Well, look, I’m basically just going to be completely unprofessional and just tell you how much I love you for 30 minutes because I love Years & Years which I know you were exceptional in but It’s a Sin… honestly, it was such an important piece of television and it was profoundly affecting and sad and poignant and revealing. But it was also so much fun and so much joy. It’s having such a massive cultural moment, so how does it feel to be on the inside of all of that?

Lydia: It feels amazing, we all knew when we were creating the show, there was just so much love poured into it from everyone. From Russell to…

Claudia: Russell T. Davies’ writing is just…

Lydia: It’s just amazing. And this story in particular, they’re so personal to him, he lived through it and these are his friends and kind of based, loosely, on his life. So, it’s so personal to him and you could really feel that on set. The energy was just kind of… we all just loved each other so much and we got on so well and we knew we were creating something special. So, for everyone to be watching and just telling us how much it’s affecting them, it feels really, really special and I just feel so proud and grateful and honored to have been a part of telling this story.

Claudia: It completely shines out of the screen how much it meant to you all and I wanna tell you, you’re part of an elite group of actors that I’ve been lucky to speak to during these weekly chats from home that we’ve been doing since lockdown started: Daisy Edgar-Jones who we spoke to just after Normal People came out, Sarah Levy from Schitt’s Creek, and Golda Rosheuvel from Bridgerton. I would say those four shows in the last year have been, not just like a normal show, they’re all shows that have really transcended into popular culture and become part of people’s lives as well. Have you had a chance to let it sink in, what that means for you personally? Have you had a chance to, I don’t know, congratulate yourself in some way or feel really proud of yourself?

Lydia: I’m so proud of all of us. In our group chat, every week it’s been airing we’ve just been all very overwhelmed and very highly emotional, and we just can’t believe it. I can’t believe when you’re kind of comparing me to those amazing actors which I think are all beautiful, beautiful actors I just feel… thank you, I can’t, I don’t really know how to take that. But, we all have each other to kind of lean on and I’m so proud of all the boys and their work is just unbelievable and I still kind of… I watched episode 5 when it aired and I’m still just in awe of all of their performances, I just don’t understand how they achieved that. I’m just like ‘how did you do that?’

Claudia: Everyone was amazing, but can we just talk about Colin?

Lydia: Colin! We can, Callum.

Claudia: I’m a fellow Welshy, I grew up in Cardiff and so I feel extra proud of him. And the relationship with his mum, his mum! Honestly, I just cried ugly, ugly tears in that episode. How did you manage to keep it together and actually film those scenes?

Lydia: We all had our moments at various points in the show. Mine as definitely, which I’ve discussed quite a bit, the AIDS wards, especially Colin’s moments in the AIDS wards. They were so, so harrowing. And I think once you… you read it on the page when we’re at the read-throughs and you see it’s so sad and we’re all in floods of tears, but there’s something about when you’re there on the day and you see the wards. Seeing the way Callum was acting Colin so beautifully, I just had to take a moment.

Claudia: Speaking of really powerful performances, Keeley Hawes in that last scene at the beach… And I thought that she was brilliant in the previous episodes, but she just went into like a supersonic gear, didn’t she?

Lydia: Yeah, it was hard. That was week 3 of the shoot and I hadn’t actually met Keeley before because she wasn’t at the read-through, but I understood the weight of this scene. I didn’t want to kind of learn it too much or go in with any expectations, so I just arrived on the day and kind of listened to Keeley. It is so heart-breaking and to play with Keeley… she’s a magician. Anything that Keeley does is just amazing and it’s all in her face and in her eyes and in that scene, we just have an honest conversation, and this is a moment for Jill where she’s so strong and she’s so composed. She’s no longer this littler girl from episode 2 that confronts a doctor and is just dismissed. She knows exactly what she wants to say. You have this amazing confrontation, calm confrontation and Jill doesn’t faulter. His logical mother and his biological mother coming together and Valerie still feels that Jill owes her so much of Ritchie’s life, but Jill understands that she doesn’t. And, I remember reading in the stage direction, ‘Jill turns around, leaves, walks away, and she’ll never see Valerie Tozer or the Isle of Wight again. She won’t even come home for the funeral.’ And that is just so, so telling isn’t it? There’s no connection anymore to Valerie and the Isle of Wight and that family that caused this trauma to Ritchie, so Jill is now free from them. And, she loves Ritchie dearly and she’ll mourn Ritchie’s death and she’ll continue to sit with patients in memory of Ritchie and in memory of all the friends that died: of Gloria, of Colin, of the many, many friends that went throughout the years.

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Claudia: Jill is obviously like the beating heart of the show. She is the friend, the love, the nurturing, that accepting face, isn’t she? And I wanted to ask you about #BeMoreJill. And if you felt any like responsibility in your real life as it were, to be more Jill. Because I know that you’re obviously such an activist, you’re an ally, you are very vocal about using your platform for good, but do you ever think ‘oh, I can’t be like a nasty person now because everyone’s expecting me to be this person?’

Lydia: I haven’t actually thought that, but I was thinking about #BeMoreJill. At first, I was like ‘Jill is the ultimate ally, she’s the ultimate friend. She’s heroic, she’s kind of this unsung hero.’ I think the reason Jill connects with so many of us and Jill has connected with so many of us and we haven’t seen it on screen a lot is Jill is every single one of us. Jill is so human, and we can all connect to Jill. We are all Jill. We all care for our friends, we all care for our loved ones at times of trouble. I like to think, as humans we have that innate goodness to us that we can all slightly identify with Jill. And I think that’s why people are so fascinated by this character is because she’s in every one of us. So, we all have our Jills, we all have our Bills, and we are all Jills and Bills to people.

Claudia: And the other thing I wanted to ask you about, and it’s about shame I guess, and that’s such a big topic that’s explored throughout the series and your character sort of concludes that Ritchie almost dies from shame. Do you think that societally we’ve overcome that shame, or do you think we’ve still got mountains to climb over it?

Lydia: I think we’ve come a long way since the 1980s, but the battle isn’t yet over. I like to think It’s a Sin has done something good in helping people to have those conversations and get those dialogues going around issues involving homophobia, HIV and AIDS. But I think we still have issues towards homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, racism — there’s always a battle, but we’re stepping in the direction. And my generation and below I feel like are very in-tune with the world and what we need to do and what you need to give and how to kind of conduct your own lives. I think it’s definitely opened up some conversations regarding shame and I just like to hope that now people can have these conversations. Testing of HIV has gone up, HIV is no longer a killer, you can live a very happy, healthy, long life with HIV, and you shouldn’t be stigmatized because of your status. So, I think the fact that It’s a Sin has raised those conversations is definitely a huge step forward towards battling that argument of shame.

Claudia: So, it’s International Women’s Day soon, do you have like an international woman idol of your own that you want to celebrate?

Lydia: So many. Viola Davis is always just a big one for me. I love her, I love her work, everything that she does, she’s just a massive powerhouse and she’s done so much. Yeah, I’d say Viola.

Claudia: I mean that is a strong call, she is incredible.

Lydia: Yeah, or FKA Twigs, I’m loving everything that she’s done recently, coming out and really, really helping force that dialogue that needs to happen regarding domestic violence. A really brave, brave woman.

Claudia: Yeah, she is so great, I agree. So, we haven’t really even touched upon clothes yet and that’s really bad of me given THE OUTNET… I wanna say nice outfit, by the way.

Lydia: Thank you! Iris & Ink!

Claudia: Our in-house brand, you wear it so well.

Lydia: Thank you!

Claudia: So, are clothes important to you? Do you care about what you wear? Do you have an emotional attachment to certain pieces in your wardrobe? Are you a big shopper or are you a bit more, you know, save up and splurge on special things?

Lydia: I’m not a big shopper I do like to… my sister and I are creating a capsule wardrobe at the moment. Which is basically just a wardrobe where you can pair everything, and it just works and it’s all timeless and you can keep these items year in year out. So, yeah, I think the way I dress is very expressive to who I am, I love just comfort, I love a good suit, I really like tailoring and just sort of the modern woman. I often wear trainers, a suit, a jumpsuit, leggings with a massive knit… 

Claudia: So, I wanted to end on a positive note, and think about what have you learnt about yourself in this last year that you want to take forward with you into the next year where hopefully, around June the 21st, that we’re going to be out of this?

Lydia: I think I’ve learnt the art of patience and slowing down. I think when we go back to normal, I’ll still try and continue to just to take a step back and take some time for myself and not necessarily working or socializing, just kind of in your own space, in your own headspace, doing what you love — be that running or walking or reading a book. Just taking that leisure time for yourself and for your mental health. We live in such a fast-paced world that we we’re just inclined to keep going and not stop and take time to nurture ourselves. So when I have a hectic day or a hectic schedule or a hectic mind I just know how to reset and pause for a bit.

Claudia: Thank you for giving us your time today and thank you for wearing Iris & Ink so beautifully. 

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