The Way Forward: Tuppence Middleton on Painting During Lockdown and Her Plans to Write and Direct

The British actress, who’s currently starring in Fisherman’s Friends, on her quarantine experience and creative focus for the future.

This is such a strange moment in time, with so many ups and downs. I feel like I was prepared for the practicalities of lockdown, because I live by myself (with cats!) and I really enjoy my own company and solitude. Initially, I didn’t miss social contact so much, but obviously by the end I did – everyone starts to go a little crazy without any connection to other people.

As an actor, I constantly have periods of time – sometimes months on end – when I’m waiting for work, where I’m at the mercy of the industry, in a sense. So lockdown almost felt like an extended guilt-free period of resting, except with the horrific backdrop of a global pandemic. From a mental health point of view, I coped OK, but I missed having a creative outlet, and I felt completely helpless knowing that the pandemic was going on and I was powerless to do anything to positively impact the situation except stay inside and stay safe.

In the U.K., we’re just starting to ease lockdown here, so I’m cautiously dipping my toe in the water as things return to normal. I’ve been meeting friends outside, but I’m still avoiding public transport. Pubs and restaurants are open now, but although the death count has gone down, the virus is definitely very much still out there. Even before lockdown, I was quite a germophobe – I have suffered with OCD for a long time – so I definitely I worry about getting ill. I read once that people who suffer with OCD and anxiety are often very good in crises, because it’s essentially what they’ve prepared for their entire lives. They’re constantly worrying about worst case scenarios or getting a disease, and when a crisis actually happens, they feel very prepared and are weirdly calm. I relate a lot to that at the moment.


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The man from my nightmare (he has knives on his face)

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The only thing that saved me from going slightly mad during lockdown was finding different ways to have a creative outlet. I read a lot, watched films as much as I could, and I also started painting and writing again, both of which really helped me cope, day to day. I hadn’t painted since I was at drama school, 10 or 12 years ago, but it felt like it was the right time to explore painting again, so I started making self-portraits. It was a nice way to document lockdown; it helped me make sense of it. I’ve always written, whether that’s journaling or writing stories or screenplays, but just for myself. I’ve never been gutsy enough to show anyone, but I’m definitely interested writing and directing in the future. During the lockdown, when I was unable to work in my usual way, I start asking myself, what do I want from my career and what do I want for my future? Do I always want to be at the mercy of someone else telling me whether or not they have a job for me? Or do I want to be in a position where I can create my own work?

Film was always my first love; that’s what I always wanted to do when I was younger, and I also loved the idea of being behind the camera. As a woman in the industry, I don’t have that innate sense of confidence, as it seems like you have to prove yourself many more times as a woman before you are given a chance to produce or to direct your own projects. Women have to take much smaller steps. I’m starting to write short films that I want to direct, to prove to myself that this is something that I can do, but also because I would ultimately love to write and direct features.

In terms of the near future, I’m not sure what the future looks like for the film and TV industry. It is so hard to know how things will go. The pandemic is really going to change the way people work, as so many people’s jobs rely on being close to another person on set. Theatres are really suffering here, too, because they can’t reopen in a way that’s safe. It’s very frustrating when I can go and sit in a pub and have a pint with someone two meters away, but we can’t start filming. I don’t think things will be back up and running as before until there are very clear guidelines, and that might take a while.

Tuppence Middleton is an English actress who currently stars as Alwyn in the inspiring real-life drama Fisherman’s Friends, opposite Daniel Mays, James Purefoy and David Hayman, which is now available on demand. She is well-known for her performances in such TV series as War and Peace, Dickensian, The Lady Vanishes and the Wachowskis’ Netflix show Sense8, and her film work includes roles in the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, Danny Boyle’s Trance, and The Imitation Game and The Current War, both opposite Benedict Cumberbatch. Her upcoming projects include Shadowplay, the new thriller from The Bridge creator Måns Mårlind, and Mank, starring Gary Oldman and directed by David Fincher, about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. (Photo by Rob Harper.)