We'll Take Manhattan - Karen Gillen and Aneurin Barnard
Jean Shrimpton (Karen Gillen) and David Bailey (Aneurin Barnard) © 2011 BBC

Ovation, a cable network that celebrates all forms of artistic expression, will premiere its first original movie, We’ll Take Manhattan, on March 3, 2012. In the UK it first aired in January 2012 but can be seen tonight, February 12, on BBC 4 and again on BBC HD on Wednesday February 15, 2012.

Set in the ’60s, the film explores the relationship between Cockney upstart photographer David Bailey and his model and muse Jean Shrimpton, during their legendary New York photo shoot which changed the world of fashion photography forever.

Karen Gillen (Doctor Who) portrays Jean  Shrimpton, and Aneurin Barnard (Olivier Award winner for Spring Awakening) plays David Bailey. They both spoke with us about the project at the TV Critics tour.

Did you know anything about Jean Shrimpton before this project came up?

We'll Take Manhattan - Karen Gillan and Aneurin Barnard
Actors Karen Gillan and Aneurin Barnard attend Ovation's presentation at the Television Critics Association Winter Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 14, 2012 in Pasadena, California © 2011 BBC

Karen: I was aware of Jean Shrimpton before, because I was interested in photography, and I knew about David Bailey. I remember my boyfriend at the time showed me this picture.

He was like, ‘This is the most beautiful woman that existed.’ [I thought], ‘Lovely. That’s great.’ And then this came along, so I was like, ‘Yes!’ So funny.

What’s really nice is it’s such a contrast to the character that I play in Doctor Who, Amy Pond. It’s completely different. This is a coming-of-age story, it’s about a girl figuring out life and then something completely extraordinary happens to her. She’s just so different, which is what I want. I want variety.

This is another kind of time travel, playing a real person from the ’60s. How much research did you do into the actual Jean Shrimpton?

Karen: I actually knew this was going to be happening for quite some time, so I had quite a lot of time to research. Footage of her is very rare. I managed to find a couple of clips of her talking and I had to make up the rest in terms of what she sounded and acted like.

But she wrote a guide to modeling right at the height of her modeling fame. So that was really helpful. I read that.

In her later life, she wrote an autobiography, and she’s really honest in it because she’s a bit older and doesn’t care so much about offending people. That was really helpful in terms of her relationships and her relationship with David Bailey.

How much research were you able to do on David Bailey?

Aneurin: I found out a lot. I got to speak to him. A lot of stories are untold, very private stuff.

For me, it was really important to look at his early life, before he became David Bailey, how he grew up, where he came from, his background, because in this story you don’t really go into when he became the famous photographer.

You get into how he became the famous photographer. He’s 74 now and still shooting pictures.

I spent a lot of time with photographers; learning how to use the cameras professionally. I spent a lot of time changing my accent because I am Welsh, which is a small country in the UK, in case you didn’t know! So I had to become the East End London lad, because David Bailey is a completely different kind of character.

I had to completely change. And a lot of it was just finding out what the young guy was like in the ’60s. The rock and roll, sleeping endlessly with several models, cheating, drinking, drug taking. (he pauses) I didn’t get into all of that! (he laughs)

Were there a lot of interviews with David Bailey available?

We'll Take Manhattan - Aneurin Barnard and Karen Gillen
David Bailey (Aneurin Barnard) and Jean Shrimpton (Karen Gillen) © 2011 BBC

Aneurin: There was one video and two pictures of him from this period and the rest was archive stuff. There wasn’t much because the period that we were looking at was before he was famous, before the interviews, before the pictures. So a lot of it came from Bailey himself, through e mail to me.

Were you able to speak with Jean Shrimpton?

Karen: She doesn’t really like the fame aspect of what she did. So she gave her approval to have the film made, and then she didn’t want anything more to do with it. So I didn’t get to meet her, which was a little disappointing, but I respected that.

But then she was sent a copy of the film, and she left a voicemail just asking how we got it so accurate, which was so nice and relieving, because there’s always that added pressure of the person who is still alive that you’re portraying.

What was David’s reaction to the film?

Aneurin: That was my scariest moment, because it’s his life. He watched the film and was very nice, and he said he was very happy with it.

In terms of the photo shoots themselves, how much of those interactions were scripted and how much was improvised?

Aneurin: There was quite a lot, actually. The director was very open for us to just go for it. I was using the original cameras from back then, and I had film in them. I was actually taking shots.

So we got as close as we possibly could to actually doing the shoot. And at the end of it, we turned out with some nice pictures, which we have. [We did] anything to get as close to the truth as possible.

Karen: There’s a scene in the film that’s completely improvised.

Aneurin: Yeah, when I was in London, by Tower Bridge. I got up on the fence, and I was standing on the edge of the bridge. All of a sudden, the first assistant director and producers are screaming, ‘Get down,’ because I was about to fall off into the Thames River.

But it made the movie, and it’s a nice moment. I think you’ve got to take these risks sometimes.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.