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Denise Gough: Emily Watson brought the best out of me – Secrets from the set of Too Close
Denise Gough delivers a terrifying, dazzling performance in ITV’s dark psychological drama Too Close – but she says that her co-star Emily Watson helped bring out the best of her.
Denise Gough is not a household name in the world of television – but with a stellar career in theatre already and a blistering performance in Too Close coming to ITV very soon, more high-profile roles in film and TV will certainly come her way.
The two-time Olivier Award winner plays Connie Mortensen, a mother who claims she cannot remember the details of a heinous crime and who is kept in a secure psychiatric hospital as she awaits a possible trial.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr Emma Robertson (Emily Watson) is assigned Connie’s case and must unpick her story to discover what happened – but, in turn, Emma’s own secrets start to unravel in their conversations.
Denise and Emily spoke to BT.com about making the drama.
‘They break each other down’
The show begins with the horrifying event that has resulted in Connie’s captivity, but it becomes clear that she has a story to tell and is not necessarily the ‘mummy monster’ that she has been labelled in the press.
“It’s far more interesting to work on and to watch. For me, if I think of myself as a goodie or a baddie, that’s oversimplifying everything,” says Gough.
“What was most interesting to me about the script was I didn’t quite know - certainly until I’d read it to the end - I didn’t know what her full story was. It’s my job to have compassion for whoever I’m playing. I don’t necessarily have to like them… but I certainly don’t operate from whether I’m good or bad.”
Watson said she loved working on the premise that both characters are broken.
“I loved it. The fact that Emma’s a psychiatrist and when she first encounters her as a patient Connie's incredibly antagonistic and actually quite scary. And you think that is where you’re going to be. The lines blur, and the breakdown of the patient’s memory, the mind, is reflected in her own journey. They kind of break each other down which is interesting.”
Both characters have their secrets
As Emma tries to get the truth out of Connie, it seems that the psychiatrist has her own trauma to deal with.
“In another life, these women would be friends,” says Watson.
“They have a similar sensibility, they have a similar way of looking at the world… and Connie senses straight away that Emma has a secret. In the same way that Emma is trying to open Connie up, Connie is digging away at Emma.
“I’m doing it officially - I’m being paid to do it by the hospital, by the Crown Prosecution Service - but she is just seeing me as a human being.”
Gough loves the way that both characters unravel throughout the three intense episodes.
“It’s like treats, isn’t it? You don’t want to give everything away all at once,” she muses.
“What I love about this is you’re given these treats through each episode, so that by the end it’s really, really satisfying.”
Long interview scenes were ‘a great dance’
Many of the scenes in Too Close take place at the hospital, with the two characters playing off each other – and both actors found the experience exhilarating.
Gough said: “It’s also a real type of exhale, those kind of scenes are when I can go ‘Ah, OK great - now here we are doing this work’, because I come from that. All of my work is theatre mostly, so I’m only getting used to doing lots of other stuff like stunts and compartmentalising everything.
“When I get to sit opposite a brilliant playmate it’s like ‘Ah great, OK!’. It’s so enjoyable to me… I really feel like it’s when I get to breathe and do the work and because Sue [Tully, the director] just lets you at it, she’s not a fiddler. Sometimes you get people who want to fiddle. But she let us run and that was just a joy.”
And Gough was full of praise for Watson for how she got the best out of her.
“It’s not an ass-kissy thing to say, it’s just simply true – the better the actor opposite you the better you are. It’s like a great, great dance.”
Watson agreed: “To me, this is the absolute bread and butter of what acting is. It’s taking a character’s layers and unpicking them and unpeeling them and to me those long interview scenes are joy. I love doing those kind of things, because it’s all down to you, it’s all on your face, it’s all in your expression.
“It was a fantastic workout for both of us, [it was like] we were down the gym and we were sweating. It was really fun.”
Denise couldn’t wear a Covid mask
Too Close was filmed in autumn 2020 with strict Covid restrictions – but Denise Gough revealed she was unable to wear a mask because of the amount of make-up she had to wear.
“Never ever do a job where the stage directions say your character has alopecia and scars all over them - because it was a three-and-a-half to four-hour make-up call every morning,” she reveals.
“When I had a lot of the make-up on, I couldn’t put a mask over… everybody around the core cast looked after the core cast by staying socially distant. As actors, some of us get to kind of cheat a little bit. I don’t have to wear my mask all the time because I have make-up that you can ruin. You rely on everybody else to look after you which is amazing.”
However Gough revealed she came down with the virus later in the year, and still isn’t 100%.
“I got it straight afterwards! I was sick all over Christmas and New Year. It was horrendous.
“I got like a month of sickness. I have a bit of long Covid with a bit of fatigue, aches and some pains. It’s not been very nice. But if either me or Emily had got sick, that’d be the end of Too Close.”
Too Close begins at 9pm on Monday, April 12, airing on three consecutive evenings.