Daisy Haggard is no stranger to playing characters who flit between extreme emotional states; but Boat Story sees her at her best: a typically law-abiding, dedicated mother who plunges herself into a world of cocaine thievery.
It’s no coincidence, the role of Janet was written specifically for Haggard. Having previously collaborated with Haggard on Back To Life, screenwriters and producers Harry and Jack Williams know that exhibiting a variety of emotions is where she likes to be.
“They kind of thought ‘we'll give Daisy what she's comfortable doing’, which quite often is going - [Haggard contorts her face to show a range of emotions]."
"Oddly, I feel safe in that kind of space," she explains. "I think it'd be much harder for me if I was to play a scientist and had to deliver clean, clear scientific information for 10 minutes. I think I would fall to absolute pieces with no emotion.”
Back to Life saw her as Miri, a woman recently released from jail trying to re-enter the 21st century and the seaside town she grew up in; Uncle saw her as an addict in recovery looking after, and hiding her past from, her son. It’s no surprise that when choosing projects, Haggard tends to go for something “human.”
“I like vulnerability. I enjoy sadness, and I enjoy comedy. I’m drawn to it.”
Her latest offering, Boat Story, has a clear-cut crime thriller storyline: two people meet on a beach and find a literal boatload of cocaine, decide to sell it, and end up trying to evade its (terrifying) original owner. But it is Janet’s domestic dramas that are more complex. She has recently been forced to cut contact with her ex’s son, Alan (Oliver Sheridan), a boy she sees as akin to her own. The sale money for a cocaine cargo could give them a way forward – and Janet will take a handful of life-threatening scenarios for a chance at a fresh start as mother and son.
Although going from adrenaline-fuelled scenes (being threatened at gunpoint) to softer, affectionate moments (reassuring her son) appears to be in Haggard's nature, Janet posed one extra challenge: a Yorkshire accent. As soon as Haggard took on the role in August 2022, she booked herself for as many sessions as possible with dialect coach Natalie Grady, before beginning filming three months later. “Sometimes production companies don’t budget for them, and it’s kind of insulting to think you could get away with doing a generic Northern accent.” Although the Yorkshire town ‘Applebury’ is fictional, Haggard has an authentic accent that could have her mistaken by any true Yorkshireman. Even after the project started filming, the work wasn’t done – Grady watched over the tape with Haggard, and together they dubbed the ‘sounds’ that weren’t quite right.
“I take [accents] really seriously, in the sense that I want to feel like it's not an accent," she says. "I'm not wearing an accent. I'm just kind of speaking normally.”
One accent Haggard allowed herself to take less seriously was a Russian one, first employed for comedy, when having forbidden meetings with her stepson, and second for protection in the face of a Yorkshire gang. “I figured that she’s not actually Russian, it’s a voice that she does… I had a Russian grandfather, so I brought out my impression of him I used to do growing up!”
Boat Story was the first time Haggard had worked away from London whilst raising two young kids. When asked about how being a mother influenced her portrayal of Janet – a woman driven to dangerous lengths in order to have her son back – she said, “I think that it made it clear to me why she would make such a crazy decision. Also, you have more fear for what she's done because she's got so much to lose. The idea that Alan would ever be in danger because of what she's done is so nightmarish.”
She continued: “I can cry a lot easier since I had children, because you've got this part of you that's existing out in the world that you love more than anything. Just anything to do with loving your kids is quite easy. I just tap in, it's like a big punch in the heart.”
For two young children, watching their mother steal an abundance of cocaine and evade a brutal ringleader who has a penchant for torture, would probably pack a punch in their hearts. Luckily, it was a goal of Haggard’s to “do something they can watch – with less swearing.” This would end up being the cartoon adaption of Luke Pearson’s graphic novel series, Hilda.
Hilda is aimed at children but beloved by all ages, described by Haggard as “a feminist adventure”. It centres around an 11-year-old girl forced to move away from her house in the forest and into the big city of “Trolberg”. Haggard voices Hilda’s mum, who fears she has spent too much time with her assortment of folklore-inspired friends and pushes her to make human ones. Despite this, Hilda finds herself repeatedly drawn to characters such as Alfur (an elf), the Lindworm (a dragon suffering from social anxiety) and Tontu (one of the Nisse; furry creatures that occupy “nowhere space”).
The processes of preparing for acting roles and voice acting roles are worlds apart. For Hilda, Haggard isn’t always with her cartoon daughter, played by Bella Ramsey (The Last of Us), in the recording booth - “You get given [the scripts] quite late on, you read them through, go into a room, and you can do multiple takes.”
When asked about the next series, she said she hasn’t watched it yet, getting to share her first watch with her children. “I watch it in a similar way to you. I’ll kind of know the story, but I watch it and go, ‘Oh! I was being chased by a giant troll... that’s when I was doing all those noises'.”
"It's exciting and slightly irreverent and pushes boundaries in a way that is just completely unexpected. It's just beautiful and brilliant. I'm very proud of it.”
This wasn’t Haggard’s first foray into voice acting. A credit that often comes up through a quick Google search is her crucial role in Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic… as the lift. “It’s my test! Because when I was in America often people would be like [LA accent], ‘Oh my god, I loved you in Harry Potter’. And that was how I would know they didn’t know who on Earth I was.”
Although her lines stuck to the likes of “fifth floor, Department of Mysteries”, Haggard still receives pictures of lifts to sign. “I don't think I've ever sent one back though… I'm an awful person,” she jokes.
Fans of Haggard’s co-written tragicomedy Back to Life will be glad to know she is writing both a drama series, once again in collaboration with Two Brothers, and a film by herself. Like a lot of us, she is struggling not to procrastinate. She describes her writing process as “three months of trying not to do too much online shopping.”
She also often finds herself having to make the choice between writing and acting. “People say ‘you could write in your spare time’ but I’m like ‘what are you talking about?’ I’ve got to learn my lines, I’ve got two children, three dogs. I’m making Bolognese and picking up dog poos.” After today’s interview, she reckons she will have two hours to get some writing done before school pickup.
There’s not much she can share about either project at this stage. However, there’s one thing Haggard can disclose: “for my next show, I probably won’t do by the sea.”
Boat Story is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
To hear more from Daisy Haggard and her Boat Story co-stars Joanna Scanlan (No Offence) and Tchéky Karyo (Baptiste) and writers Harry and Jack Williams, watch our online panel below.