Rarely has the word ‘bull-shit’ tripped off a tongue so beautifully as it does when it issues forth from the mouth of Romola Garai. The first syllable explodes on her lips, the second ends in a contemptuously clipped T. Perhaps this is because she has practised it so frequently, mostly to express her dismay at what she calls ‘the unbelievably sexist film industry’ in which she has worked for the past 15 years.
‘I’m a ticking grenade of gender anger,’ she laughs, as she navigates her way through a chain of feminist discourses from the misogyny of certain male directors to the politics of vaginal waxing, all punctuated with a smattering of judiciously timed profanities to lighten the mood. She is aware of how all of this sounds.
If Garai is an F-bomb, she is one wrapped in delicate tissue paper. At 33, in a 1950s-style dress, with sandy hair and eyes the colour of a wet English sky, her looks still retain a childlike wholesomeness. She is the kind of rural beauty one expects to see cycling through country lanes — true to form she has biked to the Fulham café where we meet. It is this aura, along with her well-calibrated turns as headstrong women with a cause, that have seen her cast, for the most part, in British period drama: wartime films Atonement and Glorious 39, and BBC productions Emma and The Hour.
But to dismiss Garai as a fey English rose, as some have to their cost, would be a grave error of judgement. She is not backward in coming forward when being patronised, on or off set. ‘I felt throughout my twenties that if I were a 40-year-old or a man, people wouldn’t mind so much when I didn’t agree with them. But because I was a 27-year-old girl, everyone was like, “Why is the puppet girl mouthing off? Why is she so angry?” The film industry fosters a lot of bullies and macho behaviour, and when those guys meet a woman who thinks of herself utterly as an equal, they can smell it. Some directors are just f***ing threatened by you from the moment they walk on set… I’ve had experiences with some men professionally when I can just sense their cocks crawl up inside their bodies.’ Garai has a wonderful way with words.
It is no surprise then that, as a self-confessed ‘bra-burning feminist’, Garai fought for a role in the upcoming film Suffragette, the story of the Victorian women’s movement brought to the screen by a raft of upper-echelon British female talent, including writer Abi Morgan and director Sarah Gavron, with Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst. Garai plays a Suffragette who’s the wife of an MP. ‘I really f***ing wanted to do this film,’ she says through gritted teeth. ‘I remember when my agent first told me, “There’s this film they’re making about the Suffragettes,” I almost bit through the glass of wine in my hand.’
She is an avid supporter of the formerly jailed Russian activists, Pussy Riot. She campaigned on their behalf in the UK: ‘I celebrate the “F*** you” behind Pussy Riot’s eyes,’ she wrote in The Guardian in 2013. She is, indeed, capable of a little genital anarchy of her own. In The Village Bike at the Royal Court in 2011, Garai played a sexually frustrated pregnant woman who masturbates on stage: ‘Obviously women masturbate all the time. It’s important that women like Caitlin Moran are talking about it, saying, “Yeah, I whacked off this morning and I don’t f***ing care if you like it or not.” ’ As a presenter at the 2013 BAFTA Television Awards, in the category of best male performance in a comedy programme, Garai announced on stage: ‘After the recent birth of my child, I had the misfortune of having 23 stitches in my vagina. So I didn’t think I’d be laughing at anything for a long time. But tonight’s nominations have proved me wrong.’ (The award went to Steve Coogan.)13.08.2015