Kerrie gets back in mill of things for return of tv drama

BAFTA-nominated for her role in The Mill, Kerrie Hayes is proving an exciting young talent.

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Kerrie Hayes
Kerrie Hayes

Today we catch up with the Liverpool actress on the set of Series Two

EARLIER this year Kerrie Hayes was Bafta-nominated for her role as feisty mill worker Esther Price in the period drama The Mill, against Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Maxine Peake.

To say the Liverpool-born actress was shocked is an understatement.

"I thought it was going to be like: 'Who's this girl? She's just turned up to make up the numbers'," says Hayes with a big, loud cackle.

She might have lost out to Colman in the lead actress category, but "it was nice to dress up and go out", says the 27-year-old.

We're on the set of series two of The Mill (four years have passed since the end of the first series and it's now 1838) and once again, it's being filmed at Quarry Bank Mill, in Cheshire, the very location that inspired writer John Fay to pen the gritty drama.

Now a National Trust property, it's a tranquil setting and "there's nothing modern in sight, so it's really useful to get you into the period", says Hayes, whose dirty smock is a far cry from her red carpet look.

"These are better than my own clothes. There's nothing holding me in or tight. It's nice and cosy," says Hayes readjusting the tartan blanket draped over shoulders.

Her red hair, peaking out beneath a white cap, has finally grown back after it was shaved off for a scene in series one, in which Esther was punished for disobedience.

"I was offered other methods but there didn't seem any point really. I just thought I might as well get on with it," says the actress. "I say that now. While I was very excited and pumped up to do it, at the wrap party, when I had my own clothes on and some make-up, I was just left with this head!"

There's no room for vanity on this set though, not when the only make-up to speak of "is extra eye bags", says Hayes. "I just want you to know they're not mine."

Having walked in Esther's shoes, a woman who did actually live and work at the mill, Hayes believes it was "a lot simpler back then".

"You just got up, did your stuff, went home, the end. There were no computers, no messing around. You only wore one outfit, so you weren't bothered about clothes. In some ways, it was quite nice." She pauses. "Obviously, sanitation and the fact we were all miserable wasn't great..."

The new series begins when Esther is 21 and having come to the end of her apprenticeship, she's moved into her own place in the nearby village.

"She finally has her own money, so she's got more independence," notes Hayes. "She's allowed to shop around for a boyfriend and get on with life, but that also comes with its own struggles, because she now has to start fending for herself, and doesn't have the mill to rely on as heavily."

Aside from exploring her character further, another plus point for Hayes is that she no longer has to eat what she describes as "that horrible porridge slop" literally doled into the hands of the actors playing the young mill workers. "After the fourth take, you're getting old porridge back in your hands. There have been times when I've gone to eat it and there's been a hair in it or something, but you've gone too far and then it's in [the mouth]."

While the first series saw Esther take a stand against the appalling work conditions, the second series focuses on the lives of the mill workers between 1838 and 1842.

The effects of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 (which made a distinction between 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor) were starting to take hold and desperate economic migrants from the south of England began to arrive at the mill in search of work.

A natural rebel with a revolutionary streak, Esther's never far from the action, not least when riots kick-off.

"Oh yeah, she's right at the front going for it, of course!" laughs Hayes. "There's this one scene where everyone's doing a bit of looting. We were just given free reign and I think I stayed there the longest. I was in the prime of my life and really enjoyed it, because you get to do things you wouldn't normally get away with."

Hayes admires the fact Esther stands up to people: "I'd never be able to get up and say half the things that she does without expecting some severe consequences, but she doesn't care."

And as to whether she thinks herself as confident, she jokes: "Only if I've had a couple of drinks!"

Brought up in Anfield, Liverpool with her four siblings, Hayes made her TV debut in Lilies, followed by guest appearances in Holby City and Doctors, and then in 2009, she was cast as the lead in the film Kicks. That same year she also starred in Sam Taylor Wood's John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. "I was only in it fleetingly, but she was so lovely to work with," says Hayes of the artist-turned-director who's helming the big-screen adaptation of Fifty Shades Of Grey.

"She's very calm and incredibly artistic. She'll make every effort to make it unique and put her stamp on it, for sure," she adds.

Following Nowhere Boy, Hayes starred in the movie Brighton Rock and episodes of Black Mirror and Good Cop, before landing The Mill. There's already talk of a third series...

"Yeah, I think we could squeeze another one out," she jokes.

Beyond that, the drama might continue, but the actress is aware her time will probably be up: "If John keeps jumping four or five years, I'll be too young, so I'd probably lose my job!"

l The Mill (Series Two) Channel 4, Sunday

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