Samantha Morton with University of Nottingham Registrar Paul Greatrix
Interviewing someone as successful and high profile as Samantha Morton inevitably means a great deal of information already exists online, but one fact seemingly absent from internet biographies turned out to be the most significant as she received an honorary degree from the University in December.
“The thing that is different (about receiving an honorary degree) from the University of Nottingham is that my grandma was a dinner lady here for over 40 years! Born and bred in Clifton, I always aspired one day to get a University degree and I think if you do grow up with an adverse background it wasn't always an option.
“It was like my mum when I was little, her first job was as a dinner lady at the campus too. I know if they were alive today they would be incredibly proud that here I am getting a degree.”
Morton, who learned her craft at the renowned Central Television Workshop in Nottingham, was made a Doctor of Letters in front of hundreds of students graduating from the university’s Faculties of Art and Social Sciences, during the ceremony last month.
The 'luxury' of university education
A passionate advocate for social equality, Morton’s own childhood in and out of the care system has fostered strong views on the need for better educational care and provision.
“Not everybody has the luxury of getting into debt to then obtain a career. It's complex. I have family in Scotland and their kids don't have to pay for University education and I find that absolutely incredible. It should be a right and not a privilege.
“My own opportunities were complex because of being in care and the fact that the Nottinghamshire social services and County Council at that time were allowing so many young people to fall through the cracks and not be consistent in their mental health support or education. If a child is tired or emotionally not in the right head space how are they going to learn? If you show that aptitude, are willing to learn and have a hunger for knowledge it should be supported.”
After spending three years learning her trade at the Television Workshop, Morton’s career in acting then took off in earnest as she left for London at the age of 16. Her early TV roles included the likes of Cracker and Band of Gold, before Hollywood beckoned with Oscar-nominated roles in Sweet and Lowdown and In America.
Returning to the small screen - and to home
Her recent roles have seen a return to the small screen, with her current turn in The Walking Dead reviving the long-running zombie franchise. As with many actors it has led to a rather nomadic life but her home in the Midlands is still one which centres her.
“I left Nottingham at 16, moved to London to do some theatre there, then I moved to New York and was on and off there and in LA for a good few years before coming back. I just float around with my suitcases.
“It's good to have my base here and it feels really important - no-one gives a monkeys where I live, who you are, what you do, they treat you very normally. There's not paparazzi at your door photographing your children going to nursery. You can lead as much of a normal life as one can, being in the public eye.”
As well as sharing words of inspiration to students graduating with her on the day, a piece of advice relating to her most recent career choice also seems particularly apt for anyone facing a tricky decision.
“The role in The Walking Dead is of a very iconic female leader. And it felt like a really extraordinary challenge to think if I could I pull this off. There's a level of fear in that. I think anything that makes you slightly afraid - 'can I do that or not?' you rise to the challenge.”
“The roles that I get offered sometimes don't inspire me very much and I need to be brave and willing to say no. Which I do. And then I scared that I'm not going to work again!”
Posted on Thursday 30th January 2020