'Dreams of a Life': The ghost of Christmas not so long past

 

While many actors relish playing real-life characters, the challenge facing Zawe Ashton in the acclaimed new docudrama Dreams of a Life was very different from portraying, say, Maggie Thatcher or Marilyn Monroe. Ashton plays Joyce Vincent, the woman who died mysteriously in her North London bedsit in 2003 and whose body, surrounded by unopened Christmas presents and with her TV still on, was only found three years later.

"Roles like this don't come along often," says the 27-year-old half-British, half-Ugandan actress . "It just brought every single challenge into play that I could ever imagine. That's what interests me when I approach any role – who do you really know?"

Personally affected by Vincent's tragic end ("I emailed my agent when I got the script and said, 'this is me'"), Ashton immersed herself in a wealth of accrued data, pictures and music, discovering a deeper connection than she had ever envisaged.

I had these huge, blown-up photographs [of Vincent] with me all the time and I took one of Joyce and Kyle, the young boy who used to brush her hair, round to show my mum," relates Ashton, "and she said, 'oh yes, you and your brother'. I was like, 'whoa, no mum...' Then she looked closely and was taken aback by the similarity."

Ashton's mother wasn't alone; Vincent's friends approached the actress after the first screening, marvelling that, "that was our Joyce", onscreen. "Seeing these people I'd been living with in my head was really bizarre," remembers Ashton, almost like I knew them. I felt very protective of them."

Ashton's star continues to rise as both actress, in the Channel 4 student comedy Fresh Meat and the BBC crime thriller Case Histories, and writer (she's writer in residence for women's rehabilitation theatre company Clean Break and is developing a script with the actor Idris Elba). On Christmas Eve she will appear in the 90-minute comedy Lapland opposite Sue Johnston and Stephen Graham.

In the meantime, Dreams of a Life is "a game changer", she says, but one that clearly dovetails with her own artistic ambitions. "Something in me just has to give a voice to the underdog or the voiceless," she says. "Dreams of a Life is actually a celebration of Joyce's life. We wanted to give her her voice and life back again."

'Dreams of a Life' opens in cinemas on 16 December; 'Lapland' airs on Christmas Eve at 10pm on BBC1

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living