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LSFF 2017: Girlhood. Q&A with Louise Salter, lead actress of Butterfly

Wednesday 18 January 2017, by Anne-Sophie Marie

Part of LSFF’s ’Girlhood’ series, which had a screening on Sunday 8th January at the Hackney Picturehouse, Butterfly follows a young swimmer’s struggle with epilepsy, her entourage, and her passion.

I had the chance to chat online with actress Louise Salter (who plays Jane) before the screening, so here’s our Q&A below.

Tell us a little bit about Jane. What was it about her that you connected most?

Jane is an introverted yet ambitious 16-year-old who decides to not let epilepsy get in the way of her dreams of becoming a competitive swimmer. She suffers from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy which is a condition often provoked by stress, alcohol and tiredness, amongst other factors, which are all well known factors in most teenager’s lives, including Jane’s. After having a long period with no problems, her epilepsy strikes back and puts her life in danger. With her dad’s overprotectiveness, societal pressures and worrying health condition she begins to feel even more trapped within her cage. Spreading her wings, against her dad’s wishes, took a lot of courage and strength of character and I really felt the struggle she faced to not allow her condition to define her fate.
I think I connected most to Jane’s relentless drive. Just as I feel strongly about my desire to play interesting characters, I completely understood that her motivation was inextinguishable - despite the odds appearing stacked against her. In life, I guess there will always be the illusion of something trying to hold you back from doing what you want to be doing, whether that’s a person or a thing, it just takes the realisation that we have the power and limitless potential to do whatever we want to do. When something as burdening as epilepsy threatens your freedom and future, Jane’s determination and strength of character taught me that nothing can hold you back.

How was your working relationship with Rupert Proctor, your onscreen father? You have a great connection; how did you build this?

Rupert and I hadn’t actually worked together, or even met, before the first day of filming Butterfly. The thing with Rupert is he is an extremely warm and open actor, so we immediately formed a trusting relationship that helped establish Jane and her dad’s connection. However, for me especially, it was an advantage that we were still sort of strangers as we didn’t have long to get to know one another – this helped to create a distance between the characters, which was required for their scenes. So Rupert projected the warmth and support that Jane’s dad would channel but the characters’ emotional detachment was aided by the fact that we didn’t really know each other that well!

How much did you know about epilepsy before Butterfly? What was your process with it?

I think it’s best to say that playing a character with epilepsy taught me a lot about the truth of the condition. I was very aware from the start that epilepsy is underrepresented in film and so it was always paramount for me to be completely truthful, by learning about the ins and outs of Jane’s condition. I embraced the pressure on my shoulders to present the truth about epilepsy and hopefully that’s reflected in my portrayal of Jane’s character.

Once I was publicly confirmed for the role of Jane, you would not believe how many people, who have in some way been affected by epilepsy, reached out to me. One particular man who suffered from epilepsy himself was critical to my research. He really went into depths about how epilepsy affected him and I even had the opportunity of hearing his mother’s perspective on how his condition makes her feel. I based Jane’s experiences of epilepsy on his experiences, that way I knew I was never far from the truth. I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to play a role in an area which seems to be inexplicably unexplored.

And Swimming: I saw you had a swimming instructor for the film. Were you already a good swimmer though?  

I was a reasonably strong swimmer, thanks to my dad who’d relentlessly teach me when I was younger, but I wouldn’t have said that my Butterfly stroke was up to Jane’s standard. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and I did succeed in strengthening my Butterfly stroke thanks to two intensive months of coaching with my trainer Chris Doyle. Training every single day, just like Jane would, was a great form of character development for me. It was also important for me to develop similar muscles to Jane, so that my body represented that of a swimmer, and allowed me to physically transform into her character.

How did you come to join the creative team and how was working with the writer/director? How did your experience working on Butterfly change you? (if at all)

Funny story, really. I was scrolling down my Facebook one afternoon when I saw that a mutual friend had liked Karl Poyzer’s (Director of Photography for Butterfly) shared post of Butterfly’s crowdfunding page. His like alone brought the film to my feed and the poster instantly attracted my attention. I saw they were raising funds to shoot the film, so I emailed the director, out of impulse just in case they hadn’t cast for the film yet, and it turned out they hadn’t. So I recorded a self tape, which led to an audition with Alex Withers and I landed the role!

Through my experience with Butterfly, I was awakened to seeing film as a powerful tool of change; which could mean inspiring a shift in consciousness or providing a voice to the otherwise unheard. It wasn’t until the film had its trailer released online, that I realised just how important films are for creating platforms of unification. One response we had on our Facebook page was "thank you for making this film. My son is an athlete who suffers from epilepsy. Your trailer alone moved me to tears. The lack of awareness makes Epilepsy quite a lonely journey. I hope this film will go the distance in promoting awareness and brings a sense of community to those afflicted”. This comment from someone who had connected to us via Butterfly’s Facebook page, was enough to reassure me that we were achieving what we had set out to do – create and be part of a film which creates unity within communities and inspires an open discussion about the struggles and reality of a topic that potentially otherwise would not have been thought about.

I think you’re also a producer (?) We see more and more filmmakers with two specialities and more. In terms of filmmaking, how do you envision your career and yourself? (actor-producer, storyteller, actor above all else, something new...)

It’s not unheard of that creative individuals become a hybrid of the roles, I think sometimes it’s a means to an end. In my case it was an opportunity to utilise the resources I had gathered over the years to share a thought-provoking story, push my acting career forward and a chance to meet and work with new, interesting people. I created a film called How to be Human with an amazing team of individuals in order to facilitate a role in a film that I wanted to play. How to be Human (directed by Bruno Centofanti) is a short drama that reverses the refugee crisis to put people into the shoes of a refugee. I did produce this film but it was more because to facilitate stepping into another interesting role. Myself and co-producer Jeffrey Michaels were very fortunate to be working with experienced filmmakers who took a risk and trusted in us to this film. The film features BAFTA winner Sophie Kennedy Clark (Philomena) and Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle, and is set to be released this year.

If I can continue to play influential roles in powerful, mind-opening and boundary-pushing projects, I will have lived a very fulfilling career!

What’s next for you?

2017 already seems to be proving itself to be a busy year, which I’m of course thrilled about. I’ll be featuring on another panel at the BFI, alongside a selection of the How to be Human team, to discuss the film and our experience thus far with it. April is when How to be Human is set to premiere at the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival and then we’ll see where the film takes us after that. I’m also delighted to have my next feature film role confirmed, which should hopefully be shooting this summer. Fingers crossed this year continues to be as busy (the good kind of busy) as it began!

Any message or comments?

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