I Am Ruth is a feature-length instalment of the BAFTA-nominated and female-led drama anthology series I Am, created by BAFTA winning filmmaker Dominic Savage. This two- hour special is produced by Emmy-winning Me+You Productions in association with PGA award winning Juggle Productions (Executive Producers of Mare of Easttown).
The fictional storyline for I Am Ruth was developed and co-authored by Dominic Savage and Kate Winslet, who together have conceived a story for our times about the endemic mental health crisis affecting young people.
The film offers an honest and authentic portrayal of a mother and daughter’s increasingly strained relationship. Winslet stars as Ruth, a loving and concerned mother who witnesses her teenage daughter Freya (Mia Threapleton) retreating into herself as she becomes more and more consumed by the pressures of social media.
What is I Am Ruth about? Can you tell us about your character, Ruth?
Ruth is a mother living in a sweet suburban sort of middle-class house with a very ordinary life, that she just ticks along and things are kind of fine. She has two children, Billy and Freya. Billy has gone away to university.
What we really wanted to do with this was to set this story in a world that often isn’t necessarily known in television narratives for underlining some of the issues that we wanted to underline. Our story focuses on the crumbling relationship between Ruth and her daughter Freya, who is 17 and who has been retreating further and further into herself. She is not communicating with her mother, not even functioning in a very basic way in daily life, in a way that is familiar to Ruth. Her child is changing by the day before her eyes and she can’t reach her, and she feels very out of touch, and she can see that her daughter is suffering and is very lost.
Ruth’s instinct as a mother is to try and help her and to stop whatever is going on and she can sense that there is some deceit and lying happening. What is actually going on at the heart of our story is that her daughter has formed a really destructive addiction to social media and Ruth kind of knows it. Ruth stops it by intervening, by getting into her phone, and by pointing out to her that this is what is harming her. And through that process there is a healing that hopefully starts to begin for this mother and child, particularly for this child. Everyone knows that social media, whilst it can be a positive thing for some, for other teenagers it can completely consume their worlds and not necessarily in positive ways. We just wanted to tell a story that was honest and highlighted those issues that are so extraordinarily prevalent at the moment, and alarmingly so.
This is a story by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Dominic Savage (creator and director) and Kate Winslet – you’ve co-authored this story with Dominic. What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
I want audiences to take away from this a sense of empathy for their own situations. That’s what we’ve wanted to do, to shine a light on something that is endemic amongst teenagers at the moment. Almost every parent of teenagers that I speak to say “oh gosh, these phones, and the social media, how do you stop them doing it?”. Parents are absolutely at a loss as to know how to control, help, create boundaries around it – do they have it, do they not have it, how do you stop it? People just don’t know what to do. And so I think telling a story that covers all of these things, and some of it is very very tough, hopefully gives people an opportunity to put their hand up and say “that’s us, that’s me, that’s happening to me and actually if that’s extreme then so is our situation, any maybe we need to try and not be afraid to fix it”. That is what I hope they take away.
Can you tell us about the process of working with Dominic and how his style differs from other projects? For example, you created this story with him.
In our early conversations, Dominic wanted to know things that had either happened in my life or things that I had hoped to highlight in a creative capacity but had never had the opportunity to necessarily do so. Likewise, he was interested to know whether there was a particular type of role that I had always wanted to play. Through a sort of amalgamation of all of those conversations, we came up with a story that was based on some shared ideas and also concerns that we both have as parents around addictions that can be formed to social media – and that was really how it began.
Dominic always goes for authenticity and realism and hyperrealism but this is a fictional piece of storytelling?
This is a fictional piece, absolutely. It is a completely invented story based on things that we have read in the news, based on experiences that we have heard about with other people. But as a mother and a daughter, there is a foundation and level of love and understanding that obviously Mia and I share, in abundance luckily. That has been enormously helpful to us because it has kept us grounded.
What is it like working with Dominic? What is he like as a person?
He’s this sort of wonderful combination of being slightly eccentric and poetic and really empathetic and being this kind of impish child at the same time. It’s a kind of a gorgeous combination because you always feel that you’ve got your fun mate right there beside you but also this authority figure who will also say “no I’m not sure about that, try this instead” or “that was good, let’s remember that and we can use some of that further down the line”. You want to know that you’ve got that, like a great wingman, that’s Dominic.
So there is no dialogue in the script and you improvise around the story and you’ve never done that before, so what actually happens in a scene?
The way that it works with Dominic is you arrive on set and you’ll talk through the planned scenes that you’re going to shoot that day. What I learned very quickly is that actually I’d turn up on set and he’d say “so I don’t think it should really be like that, I think based on what we did yesterday I’ve got a different idea and I want to just try this instead, what do you think?”. And every time I said “great yeah, that sounds great”. I inherently knew I would trust him and so I have felt in very safe hands to be able to just follow his instincts. He also wanted to know what my instincts have been along the way too. I have been very grateful for that because this is the story about a woman who is dealing with the trials and tribulations that her teenage daughter is going through, and the consequent effect that that has on her as a mother and their relationship, which is breaking down quite rapidly. When you can use your creativity to hopefully touch upon something that many people are dealing with but don’t have the answers to, I think can sometimes be quite comforting for other people. I think it can make them feel hopefully a little bit heard and certainly understood.
Freya is played by Mia who is your real daughter. Have you worked with Mia before?
I haven’t worked with Mia before and she became an actress in 2018. She has been chipping away and working steadily which has been amazing for her. When Dominic and I started to creep towards this mother daughter story, I didn’t think about Mia playing Freya at all initially. I think because I wasn’t sort of pushing for that or trying to manipulate that in any way, when Dominic said to me “well who should play Freya?” I suddenly went, oh my gosh well Mia could definitely do it but you’d have to meet with her and you’d have to talk with her and see if you feel she could.
We went through those steps and he felt very confident that she did have the maturity to be able to handle some of the really difficult themes. From that moment on, Mia and I did this really weird thing of trying not to talk to each other about it too much. I think we didn’t want to over plan things and also she is very different to me as a person, and she is very different to me as an actress. Her process is really different. There are some things that are quite similar and there are still things that I am trying to pass along that I think could be useful over the years, just technical basics. But she said “don’t tell me anything, I don’t want to hear”. She got to a point where she was like “no it’s okay, I’ve got it, I’m going to figure it out.”
Were there any moments working alongside Mia where you forgot you were acting?
Everything was very blurry in terms of what was real and what wasn’t, and whether we were acting or whether we weren’t. We are playing characters, these people aren’t us and this isn’t our story. But for sure, one can’t help but draw on personal experience here and there, whether that’s your own stuff or something you’ve gone through with a friend or a family member. It was really staggering actually how alarmingly free Mia and I were able to be, which I hadn’t imagined. My instinct to take care of her had to go away because I knew I had to let her be exposed and hurting and struggling, and that was quite difficult.
I Am Ruth starring Kate Winslet and Mia Threapleton airs Thursday 8 December 2022 at 9pm on Channel 4.