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Olivia Williams: Train journeys, ghost stories and grizzly TV
By Olivia Williams
12:15PM GMT 04 Feb 2014


In her weekly column, Olivia Williams ruminates upon ghosts from the past and a terrifying vision of the future



I am in the unfamiliar position of writing on a train. I have never had a commuting habit, so these last three weeks filming in Yorkshire have brought a new rhythm to my life: the Sunday evening queasiness as you tear yourself away from family, the Friday night decompression as you head home from work. I have really enjoyed the train journeys – reading, dribbling and now writing.

Filming is going well: it’s a ghost story so it helps that we are based in a house that is haunted. Everyone asserts this with a cheerful authority that I find puzzling, as I have never had any kind of ghostly experience at all and think it is, with respect, b------. Either everyone in Yorkshire is having a laugh at the expense of the gullible southerners, or the entire community happily rubs alongside the undead. Maybe they are all trained by the North Yorkshire tourist office to adopt a wide-eyed stare and tell visitors about the woman in white who hangs around Newby Hall. I hope my spirit lives on here as the crazy actress who haunts the bar of the Crown Inn wailing, “Who ate the last packet of porky scratchings?” Of course, this is the moment in our movie where, at the edge of my peripheral vision, a door handle twists inexplicably and a sudden draught catches the curtains… for I play the doubting Londoner who scoffs once too often.

I have had the honour of being asked to be in an American television series, and, believe me, every job offer is an honour. The series has a brilliant writer and director, but I am given the script of only the first two of a possible 91 episodes to decide whether or not I want the job. The director suggested that episodic television is now following the principles of Darwinism, and that my character, who barely appears in the first two episodes, would evolve according to the creative environment of the show. While this sounded like an exciting way to work for about 30 seconds, the gory reality of “survival of the fittest” when applied to American television soon revealed itself in my imagination… highly trained crowd-pleasers armed with comedy, tragedy and sex mercilessly hunting down the overweight and slightly ageing actors who spend too much time in the on-set refreshment area. Slow to adapt and unable to please, my character (let’s call her Dodo) would be minced meat before the first commercial break.

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