We catch up with The Durrells star, Keeley Hawes, to find out what it’s like filming in Corfu, and working with dozens of animals on set…
The Story of The Durrells
Based on Gerald Durrell’s classic memoir, My Family and Other Animals, The Durrells’ combination of a brilliant cast, sparkling script (thanks to Men Behaving Badly’s Simon Nye) and a backdrop of sun-drenched scenery is exactly what you want from Sunday night TV this winter.
The series follows the fortunes of the eccentric Durrell family’s four years spent in Corfu in the 1930s. Louisa, widowed and short of money, moves her children – Larry (Lawrence), Leslie, Margo and budding animal-lover Gerry (Gerald) – from Bournemouth to Corfu.
The pioneering mother – Keeley Hawes, 41, plays the family’s mother, Louisa. Keeley, married to actor Matthew Macfadyen and mother of three, chats about the second season of The Durrells as well as real life.
I think a big part of the appeal of the programme is the urge to ‘Do a Durrell’, running away to a different life abroad where your children can be free-range.
Louisa is quite amazing when you remember she was a single mother in the 1930s with very little money who took her family across the world, as it was then.To do that on a whim is either mad or makes her the most imaginative woman you could ever meet. She was doing it to create a better life for her children.
There’s a wonderful quote from Larry in real life who said, “The best thing about our mother is that she allowed us to just be.” Which is really telling. To have two amazing talents in one family [Gerald, who was an acclaimed naturalist as well as a writer, and Lawrence, who became a bestselling novelist] must partly be down to the mother.
I’m a big fan of My Family and Other Animals; the book changed my life. When I was little, I didn’t travel much. I grew up in London, and my dad was a taxi driver. We lived in a small flat – there were six of us and lots of pets: a poodle, a cat, a tortoise. This book took me away.
The Durrells cast clicked instantly. When we’re filming, we don’t spend a day apart. I’ve worked on other series where you might not get on so well, and that’s fine, but this is different.
We eat and socialise together. We have a Durrell WhatsApp group to stay in touch when we’re not filming. I think you can see that warmth when you watch the programme.
The three eldest Durrell ‘children’ are in their twenties and Milo, who plays Gerry, is 14, but I do look out for them – I suppose that’s inevitable because I’m a mother myself. And they’re very generous and loving with me, and let me in on their secrets. You have to have that shorthand when you’re playing a mother.
We have emotional scenes that are heartbreaking but are then cut with something that’s really funny. And that’s life – [the writer] Simon is so clever. He has four children of his own.
My family came over while we were filming in Corfu, and they got on very well with The Durrells cast. My kids think they’re the coolest people ever.
Our quota of animals has doubled at least in the second series. Because we’re working with so many, it can smell really bad! One of the episodes is set entirely during a rainstorm. Gerry thinks the animals look depressed and brings them inside, so we shot the episode in London with loads of animals.
On one day we were outnumbered with eight animals and six actors in one room! That was very funny. We had two pelicans, a donkey, a chicken on my lap, a rabbit, a goat, a tortoise… They were just everywhere. I don’t like filming with the pelicans, though. They’re big with massive wings and I find them unnerving.
When we’re filming in London, we’re always freezing but swatting away imaginary flies. The make-up artists dab on Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream to give us a Greek glow and use Evian spray before takes to make it look like we’re perspiring.
In real life, I’m nothing like Louisa. I’m very can-do so I don’t relate to the way she relies on others. I feel very independent – but I have people who back me up.
Matthew and I have a very fair relationship – we both work and both do our share of parenting.
We have a dog, Nanna, and we’re getting the children some fish. It’s good for them to look after an animal. We’ve had pets before, and when one of them dies, one of the children will say, “I’m so sorry about your bunny rabbit, Mommy.” They’re not my rabbits! They’re not going to be my fish.
The series starts this Sunday, 11 June, at 8pm on BBC First, DStv channel 119.