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Actors and TV Presenters Maggie and Marie Cornwell are both fourteen and in Year 10 at school. Their most recent acting roles are Anna and Bella in the short film, ‘Court Number 5,’ by their award-winning film director-father, Mickey Cornwell. Our interview takes place over zoom with a Christmas tree in the background that has a gigantic pile of presents underneath. The girls are in high spirits because they’ve just been to a West Ham vs. Tottenham match that West Ham won; Mickey Cornwell’s position as Vice President of West Ham Women’s Football Club is a cherished part of the family and a principal theme in his work as a writer and director. It was even how his first short film ‘Pretty Little Bubbles’ came about, as you’ll find out in this interview with the three Cornwells.
Hi Marie and Maggie, what are you studying at school?
Marie: I took Drama, Music, Film Studies and History.
Maggie: I took the same but instead of Drama, I do Art.
Have either of you had any formal acting training outside school?
Marie: We go to Pauline Quirke Academy. We’ve been there for six years, and we’ve just started out at Italia Conti Associates.
Do you have any other siblings?
Marie: Yeah loads. There’s seven of us. I’m the second to youngest.
How do you two get on in real life?
Maggie: We’re actually really close.
How similar are you guys to Anna and Bella?
Maggie: I would say in some points I’m similar to Anna, but not really.
Marie: Yeah, with Bella, I’m quite the opposite actually, because she keeps to herself, and I love talking about myself!
Were the characters based on you?
Maggie: I don’t think so.
When did you first become interested in acting?
Maggie: About six years ago is when we started PQA (Pauline Quirke Academy).
Mickey: The first time they became interested in acting was when they came downstairs one day when they were about four or five years old, and they said we wanna do a show!
So, you started doing things in the kitchen at home for your parents?
Maggie: Yeah, we used to make up dances. I used to go gymnastics, so I was always doing that.
I don’t know if you can answer this well because he’s right behind you, but what’s it like working with your Dad and having him as your boss?
Maggie: It’s not that bad. There were a lot of sausage rolls on set and if we wanted more food, we could just ask, so it was pretty good actually!
Marie: They were so good!
How many days filming did you guys do?
Do you guys know where the script idea came from?
It was during lockdown, and we were on a walk and our dad came up with it. That’s the story.
Were you guys involved in the making of the storyline?
Maggie: We changed some of our own lines, but every actor does that a bit.
How did you manage to play these characters so well with it being such a delicate topic? Do you have friends or anything that had been through that?
Marie: Yes, and you see a lot of it on TV anyway, so you kind of get different sources and a lot of other people’s point of views on how to play that character.
Do you get nervous at all?
Maggie: I used to get very nervous. When you first get into the environment you feel comfortable, so there was no need to be nervous because everyone’s doing the same thing.
What it was like working with Jaime and Mark?
Marie: There were hilarious!
Maggie: They were lovely!
Marie: The whole cast were great to be around. It was a lot of fun.
Hi Mickey, can you expand on how the idea come about?
Mickey: We were playing with a few ideas for what film I wanted to do as my next film, and anything drama-wise the twins are going to be involved. The whole reason I’m doing this is for their careers – I’ve got a career anyway, so it’s always been more for them. Where I’d won awards in Italy for ‘Pretty Little Bubbles’, I think I wanted to involve the Italian side of things because I know they loved it over there. It was a shame that with ‘Court Number Five’ there were five Italian Festivals that I couldn’t attend because of Covid-19. With ‘Pretty Little Bubbles’ I was over there and enjoying it.
Which festivals have you been to?
Mickey: I’ve been abroad loads – I’ve been to Italy twice. My first film ‘Pretty Little Bubbles’, won about 35 awards worldwide and that was the first thing I’d ever done in film. The crew I used were wedding videographers. Now I’ve been to film school and learnt the trade, I see the mistake that they made. I can’t believe how well it did considering how it was made! But I cast it well and Lee Wakefield, a friend of mine, was really good in it.
What was the casting process like for ‘Court Number 5’?
Mickey: Jaime (Winstone) is a big West Ham fan and we’d done a documentary for the BBC called ‘Britain’s Youngest Football Boss’, that she narrated. Her Dad, Ray, is a big West Ham fan so he’s always at the stadium. Then Mac Bannerman is another friend – in London we all know each other and if I don’t know them, I’ll know someone who does! When I wrote the script, I actually wrote it for Marc Bannerman and had him in mind from the beginning. But for however long I’ve known him, I didn’t know he’s not Italian – he’s actually of Irish descent! He’s got nothing to do with Italy at all – so all those years playing an Italian on EastEnders – he isn’t even Italian – can’t speak a word of it!
I’d known Munir, who played the lawyer, since I was 15 – he went to school with one of my uncles. Louisa Johnson’s dad is in it – he’s the disgruntled guy in the court room. Natalie, the lady who plays the court usher, is one of the girls’ drama coaches – she’s a freelance drama instructor and she’s really good. She’s been in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and her husband’s also a big-time actor, he’s in the crowd. They’re all industry people. I’m a new director in this game, so you’ve got to use people who are known throughout; you’ve got to use industry people. I’ve just finished a true-crime documentary, and all my crew are industry people. My editor works for ‘Panorama’, he’s done tonnes and tonnes of documentaries – I think he’s got 80 credits to his name.
How about Sophia Leonie (social worker)?
Mickey: The only person I cast off mandy.com is Sophia. Samira from ‘Love Island’ was cast to play the social worker, but I had a message from Samira’s agent at 9 o’clock one morning (so it’s obviously in the top of the list of her things to do) saying Samira can’t do the shoot now – she’s working on something else, but what happened was … I had Jaime down to play the Mum, but I didn’t hear from her for a couple of weeks, so I thought she didn’t want it. I then cast Katie Jarvis from EastEnders… A couple of weeks passed, and then my mate messaged me at one o’clock in the morning saying, have you seen the news? The ‘Daily Mail’ had this whole story about Katie Jarvis being arrested for being drunk and racially abusive, and her kids with her at the time. It was the worst story that could ever happen, right? I had my head in my hands thinking, what do I do?
So, you had to let her down?
Mickey: Yes, not even gently, you can’t be acting like that… The twins are mixed heritage – their Mum is mixed race. I’m half Scottish! Anyway, I phoned Jaime back and said this is what’s happened, please can you come on board. She said she wanted to do it from the start. Luckily, she wasn’t booked for anything else and she was well happy to do it!
In the future are you more interested in television or film?
Mickey: I’m building a big production company. I’m going to go across the board really. The twins want do theatre as well, so I might chuck my hat in the ring to do theatre production. With the true crime documentary, because I’m from East London, it’s the people I know, so it’s an easy job.
Is the premise quite top secret, or can you give any hints at what it’s going to involve?
Mickey: I can’t go into it too much at the moment, but Marcel, who did the soundtrack for ‘Court Number 5’ has scored my true crime documentary as well. He was a finalist on Love Island, and he was in the rap group called ‘Blazin’ Squad’. He’s one of my best friends from since we were young.
How did you get into film?
Mickey: Mum and Dad were both stage actors, so I grew up backstage and I hated it! Then once the girls got interested in it, when they went going to Pauline Quirke’s, I started getting a bit of a buzz for it. I was going to do an advert for West Ham, which the twins could be in and get a credit. I started writing the advert, but the ending really hit me in the stomach when I wrote it. I thought, this could be a lot bigger than what I intended it to be. And it was, it really blew up.
When we were filming, I knew the guys were making mistakes, but I couldn’t back myself up by saying, “listen, you’re doing that wrong, can we do it like this?”, because I hadn’t done the film school thing. That’s what was holding me back – I think ‘Pretty Little Bubbles’ could have been even bigger than it actually was. It’s a shame that the twins have grown up now because I could’ve done a remake! The script was so strong.
From there I took myself to Central Film School on Brick Lane and did a six-month intensive course – basically two years in six months – ‘Court Number 5’ was the final piece. I wrote the script for that and thought, you know what, this is good, so I got better actors and a better crew involved. As for the editor, the way I got him, I said look Andy, as soon as I’ve finished shooting this, I’m straight on the road doing this true crime documentary. That was a bit more up his street. I told him it’s going to be a series, and these are the actors I’ve got, but you’ve got to do this short film first, and we got him! He’s a big fish! He literally knows everyone in the industry. Having him has opened up so many other doors.
The biggest thing in the industry is it comes down to who you know, you’ve just got to network and make contacts. But what I’ve found is that everyone wants to help each other.
‘COURT NUMBER 5’ screens at Whirled Cinema on Saturday 6th November, 4.30 – 7.30 pm