EastEnders star Lucy Benjamin praises "very topical" new movie Look to the Light

lucy benjamin, look to the light
EastEnders star praises "very topical" new movieAim Publicity

Lucy Benjamin had a brief spell back on Albert Square last July as Lisa Fowler dealt with some Keanu drama, and no sooner had she left EastEnders was she back on set filming a new movie.

Look to the Light – out now on digital platforms in the UK – sees Benjamin play the mother of a wannabe influencer (Charlie Goddard) whose life is turned upside-down when he's chosen to take part in a popular reality TV show.

"I'd just finished EastEnders, and then I more or less went straight into filming Look to the Light. It was quick. We had two weeks to get it all into the can. But anyone who's worked on a soap – it's a kind of good training ground for that," she tells Digital Spy.

"We had a brilliant time. It was a great script and I was really pleased to be involved. I think it's a relevant film and it's very topical. Christopher Manoe, who wrote it and directed it, is somebody I worked with about 15 years ago, so he asked me to get involved again on this project."

To mark Look to the Light's UK release, Digital Spy sat down with Lucy Benjamin to talk about the movie's themes, how it compared to filming EastEnders and what she hopes viewers get from it.

What was your first reaction when you read the script? What did you appreciate most about it?

I appreciated the honesty in the writing. I thought it was well-written. Often, you can get scripts with a good plot, but are not so well-written. So that's the first thing I look at as an actor – how well the dialogue is written. It just sprung off the page to me.

I was literally flicking through the pages, wanting to get to the end, to see what I felt about it as a piece. I thought it told a brilliant story.

I liked the ending equally – how ambiguous it was at the end, and for you to make your own mind up which I thought was clever.

lucy benjamin, look to the light
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What did you make of the ending when you first read it because it is, as you say, quite open-ended?

I changed my mind from when I read it to when I watched it, but I think that's great. Upon first seeing it, you can have one opinion, and then you watch it again, and it changes. If you watch things more than once, you pick up different things, and see different aspects to a film.

The first time I saw it – once it was all edited – at the first screening, I really took away from it, the TV storyline, and the social media aspect, and the mental health side of him as a kid, and the decisions he'd made.

But then the second time I watched it, it impacted me about the family being dysfunctional, and actually the part that they played in all of it – not just him going down that route, but how important the family unit was, and actually how let down he'd been feeling by his mum and his dad.

What do you think viewers are going to get from it when they watch it?

I think it depends on what you've experienced as a human being in your own life, and your demographic. I can't wait for my girls, who are 13 and 17, to see it because they definitely will be interested in the whole social media side of things – the affirmation and validation, and needing those likes, and the profile you raise.

That will really hit home to them, I think, and I want them to see how it can be a slippery slope, wanting that social media affirmation. Whereas I can't wait for my mum to see it, and to see it as a parent, what her opinion of it is. I think it's got something in it for everyone, to be honest.

lucy benjamin, look to the light
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It definitely touches on the power of social media culture and mental health struggles in young adults. Do you think these are important topics to tackle in the current climate?

I think anything that's a troublesome issue is important to put out there in the open, and to have a conversation about. None of us have got a rule book or have the answers, but as long as we're talking about things, things can progress.

We can all have different opinions, but conversations have to be had. There's no shying away from it. Social media is here to stay.

I feel out of my depth with it. I'm relying on my kids to kind of make me savvy with it. It terrifies me. But just because I'm scared of it, it doesn't mean it's got to go away. I've got to embrace it – and have ownership over it, almost.

At my age, I'd rather close the door, and go, "I don't like that. So go away. I'm not doing it." But it's a fact of life now, I think. It's here to stay.

It's a whole new world.

A whole new world! I rely on my kids, they know it more than I know it. But the only thing I can do is sabotage it by making them not be on the screen so much, or look at the world as we drive past something or are on a train or on the bus. You know, let's see what's happening, as opposed to looking down. So I try to limit the amount.

But it's a different way of communicating among their peers now. It's a method of communication. "Hello" is a Snapchat, or it's whatever it is. It's not a conversation.

lucy benjamin

How would you describe your character, Elaine, in the film?

Listen, she's not particularly likeable. She's a bit of a tyrant, she's a pushy mother. She's the sort of woman that wants everyone to think her life is fabulous and roses. She wears her wealth. She wears this newfound wealth and, all the while, is scrabbling underneath.

She has all of the best intentions. She wants her sons – or her son, I would say, the other son she's kind of left behind – but the first-born, she wants the world to see how beautiful he is, and how fabulous he is. She would do anything at any cost, I feel, but she thinks that's her doing good. It comes from a good place in her soul.

She wants to live vicariously through her child. I think ultimately, there's the danger because it's one thing to say to your child, "OK, give that a go", but I almost feel like she wants to be famous alongside him. She wants the glory, and therein lies the danger.

So what you need behind you is somebody going, "OK, are you going to give that a go? This might go horribly wrong." You need to have a truthful conversation about it, as opposed to dressing it up as something else.

I think as a family, they're dysfunctional. They don't have those conversations that we're talking about. As uncomfortable as they may be at times, and people might not want to hear what's being said, but they don't have those conversations. They just go, "Everything's going to be alright. As long as we look good, and we've got the clobber, and our house looks nice from the outside, we're going to be fine."

It's the hiding, that's the kind of family they are. And she's happy to live like that, I think, until it all comes crashing down. And then, as a mother's instinct, she knows that it's all the shit hitting the fan, basically.

But I do have hope for her as a human. Towards the end of the film, when she is confronted with the tragedy side of things, I do feel like she's side-swiped by what's happened, and she finds her humanity again. I really believe there's a sense of redemption towards the end of the film for her.

lucy benjamin, mark morgahan, look to the light
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The movie took two weeks to film, so how did it differ doing this as opposed to being on a soap like EastEnders?

The speed of it is the same, but you're concentrating on just the one story, as such. It's pretty similar in the lack of rehearsal time that you get. You might get more discussion about things, if you're struggling with an issue or a character trait or something.

But on EastEnders, you've got to let it go. You've got to trust your editors and story editors and producers. And that's the thing: with a film, you know the whole story arc. You know the beginning, middle and the end. On a soap, you know your bit there and then. You might be given something to play, but you don't know where that's heading.

But they know. The producers know, the story editors know, the script writers know, but you don't know as an actor. So you have to trust in the production team on a soap. It's more of a collaboration on a film. We've got the script. We know what the story arc is. You film it out of sequence, which is sometimes difficult, but you've got the whole picture in front of you to see.

That's what makes soaps even more difficult and remarkable that it ends up looking like it does, and it churns out such brilliant stuff. Because often you're in the dark about where it is that your character is going and that's tricky as an actor.

Look to the Light is out now on digital platforms in the UK and will be screening at Chiswick Cinema from June 14.

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