"I wanted to play Sophie from the first reading of the script as I felt that I knew her, I’ve met her before, and that I knew her struggle" – Arlene McKenna
The next problem with writing couples is that there usually tends to be two of them. Creating a convincing couple was a new challenge for me; I was determined to make them distinctive as individuals with their own needs, different personalities and flaws but they also had to naturally fit together within this relationship. And if James was the cool, logical “head” of the couple then I knew Sophie had to be the beating heart.
Now you might think that, thanks to shared anatomy, writing a female character is the dream for all female writers – but that’s not necessary true. Just as males and functioning relationships can be a mystery to me, women are no exception. Desperate to avoid the token “female character”, I knew that I had to take extra care while developing Sophie to ensure that she felt as real as any other human. It was by delving deep into this girl’s desires, fears and motivations that I really began to grasp where her true frustrations lie.
Once I understood Sophie’s character, casting the role became more interesting because I knew that finding an actress equally capable of portraying this complex mix of emotions would be a real challenge. We auditioned several brilliant actresses but when I met Arlene there was just some irresistibly authentic and heartfelt about her performance; almost a palpable heaviness to her as though those creeping doubts and insecurities were really weighing her down. It was just fantastic watching Arlene completely connect with all the character’s struggles with her failures, disappointment, longing and love simmering beneath the surface – just waiting to implode.
When I asked Arlene, what compelled her to audition for the role, she told me: "I loved the character of Sophie because she is so relatable – women have either been her or known her. The struggle for her to be understood coupled with the uncertainty of the outcome made me love her more. She finally lets herself be vulnerable and I admire that courage."
Courageous, now that was an interesting interpretation because underneath all that frustration and anger, Sophie is afraid. When the cracks begin to show, she is starts questioning not only their future together but also herself. But worst, she doesn’t even feel like she can tell James; afraid that admitting it out loud would suddenly make it all real and she’d have to face the truth. So, when all her anxiety, denial and longings are suddenly brought out into the open, her vulnerability feels extra potent because her struggle, and her relief afterwards, is practically tangible on screen. I wanted to capture all that complexity and conflict within her while Arlene breathed life into the character.
But most of all, Sophie is a fighter: constantly fighting against the current while trying keep them from drifting apart. But the pull of long distance can be relentless and she’s getting tired of treading water, barely keeping her head above water. She’s beginning to realise that maybe she can’t keep fighting the current forever. There is definitely an underlying courage within Sophie – even if she doesn’t know it.