I write this whilst in Andalucia. I have come to bring my daughter back home. She has been staying with my mother and step-father during the last 2 weeks of filming. Also I needed some time to rest and recover from playing ‘Magda’ in “The Power”.

I remember the first piece of advice Paul gave me was to pace myself, not to underestimate the ardours of being in 99% of every frame shot. How all-encompassing it would be. Not only four and a half weeks shooting away from home, but living in a cell just 7 by 4 by 7 on a mattress with no sheets, a pillow with no cover, a blanket and a bucket. Nothing else.

We had a code word in case I needed to ‘escape’ for a bit.  Paul spoke the word often.  Just knowing he was being so protective made me stronger and I never needed it.  I only had one difficult morning and then he sat with me on the other side of the bars until I was back in reality. Otherwise, I really wanted to stay with Magda during each moment, each part of her journey.

The journey began with her book launch party (and a pair of great shoes that gave me three blisters and saw me hobbling between takes and then the abduction in the car park in London by a group of terrifyingly garbed men and one mesmerising woman. By 7am when I left set I had an intense pain down my neck shoulder and right side of my back. I got home in time to say goodbye to Yoram and hello to his mother who was there to take care of Shani for the first 2 weeks of filming. I slept for 2 hours and then went to the physio to be told I had dislocated my shoulder blade. It was strapped to my body and I was told to rest! I then struggled with my suitcase to Liverpool Street station where Chiara (Paul’s assistant) and I travelled up to Norwich together. 

We were taken to Epic studios. Steve Di Marco (Associate Producer) gave me a courtesy tour of the art department, production, green room, dressing rooms and the studio floor which was surrounded by black curtain so I couldn’t see anything. I knew that it would be the last time I saw those rooms for …

Thursday morning Chiara woke me with tea and toast – I didn’t know that would be the last cup of tea I would have for 2 weeks! We walked to Epic – it took us 35 minutes instead of the predicted 8 as we got lost. Once there, I got back into the same dress and knickers from the last 3 nights. My hair hadn’t been washed since Wednesday last week when Mailis (Hair and Makeup Designer) coloured it. I hadn’t really realised that the shower I had the night before, would be the last one I’d have till Saturday night.

Paul led me to the cell.  I had my eyes closed and my headphones on. Yoram had recorded 100 songs for me to use – classical, rock, upbeat, slow, European, Latin, cheesy, moving. I couldn’t hear or see anything but I felt people watching, trying to work quietly.  We walked for a while and then took a series of turns and then I was laid on a mattress on the ground.  I heard the cell door clang shut and the key turning, locking me in. I was hyperventilating, my heart was racing.  What would I see? What cast and crew would I be working with? I had only met Roger and Jess. What if I froze? What if Paul said action and nothing happened?

I recalled saying to Paul beforehand “I trust you, I will give you everything during the next 4 weeks.  I will look at you, listen to you. I will do whatever I feel, whatever I think, throw myself in wherever, however and then trust that you will guide me.”  Paul replied “when you are in a desperate situation, nothing is wrong or right, it is just whatever it is, you follow your instincts, you react, respond.”  I took a deep breath, gave Paul my headphones and then waited to connect to his ‘action’ – that would be my signpost, my diving board, my first intake of breath would be to those words. Magda ended up calling him her GA, her guardian angel.

The rest of that day is a blur to me. Paul said that one shot was 8 minutes long. It felt like 3 minutes, it felt like 2 days. I broke one of the copper bars, I fainted, I popped my shoulder blade back into place, I hit my nose, it was bleeding and I didn’t realise until we had finished. I also didn’t realise that I had bruised my arms so badly that the veins popped up and had a series of knots in them.  Something that Steve Lofthouse ‘The Magician’ (Location Manager) explained Thai boxers get when they have been hit in the same place again and again.  There is a word for it, you have to ask him. He was my saviour time and time again.  His knowledge, his potions, his healing hands, all soothed my body and my mind. 

That evening Paul had arranged for me to meet Polly the psychologist.  She was friendly, understanding, insightful, helpful. We agreed to meet a week later.  In those two sessions we mostly explored my sense of self.  As Magda, she became dependent upon Jess and later Del.  She needed to them to believe her, to be pleased with her.  Likewise, I found that Grace really wanted to please Paul – that his moods affected me.  If he came on set distracted or upset, I noticed that I began to immediately think it was something to do with me.  Had I done something wrong, was I screwing up the scene?  Polly showed me that working in such an intense, enclosed environment can colour your own instincts, can affect your confidence, your individuality.  You are so dependent upon someone else and your world has become so small that everything is magnified.  I had read up on the Stockholm Syndrome and now understood that a little more viscerally. I learnt to ask questions before assuming and not be so self-doubting.  It was a shocking how quickly we can be affected when our independence, our choices or freedom are taken away and dictated by others.  Not that Paul was doing that I hasten to add!  But the effect on Magda was being internalised in me.  Polly helped me to work with it and use it to help me in the scenes, and therefore by being aware of that process, not let it destabilise me, Grace. Gosh, I hope that makes sense!  Anyway, after the meeting, I was led back, eyes closed into the cell. Chiara brought me some dinner and a glass of water.  Not food I had chosen, not food I could have seconds of, no desert, no tea or coffee.

Paul came in about 10.30 to make sure I was prepared for the first night alone in the cell. I was given a walkie talkie so I could call the security guard in an emergency. I realised that I didn’t actually know the way out – I didn’t know what was behind or around my cell. He spoke the code word but I just smiled.  I was relieved that day 1 was finished. I was tired, I was looking forward to tomorrow. I was feeling brave and was ready to lie on my mattress and get some sleep. Once he left, I had a chance to actually look at my cell.  I hadn’t really looked at it all day as I had spent the last 10 hours trying to get out of it!

There was another cell next to mine, the door was locked and there was even a long corridor in front of me, but that was in darkness. My mattress fitted in my cell with one foot to spare longways and sideways. When I stood up, I couldn’t extend my arms straight above me. The ground was hard under the mattress and was uncomfortable to lie on. The cell was dusty and slightly gravelly. There were no sheets or pillows, strange markings on the wall, a bible and a bucket. A bucket oh no!  I forgot that if I had to go to the toilet during the night, I had to go in the bucket. I didn’t go to the toilet in the night.  I kept waking up every couple of hours, just for 5 minutes and then falling back to sleep until about 4ish when I woke up shivering.  I curled into the foetus position and pulled the one thin, rough blanket I had been given and fell back asleep until 6.30am. This happened every single night for the next 11 nights.

Just before 7am I heard footsteps and Paul came in to check on me. He did this every morning, before his day began.  I recognised his footsteps by the end of day 2 and then I began to recognise people walking around me; Molly’s (Script Supervisor) fast, tiny steps, Chiara’s heels, Amos’ (Key grip) squeaky sneakers…

Day 2 began with whatever I was given to eat for breakfast and a glass of water at 7.30am.  I still hadn’t gone to the toilet, brushed my teeth, washed my face. Magda didn’t get fed or watered or went to the toilet until the last few scenes of the shoot day.  Just before Jess was due to give her a drink of water, Steph, “Peebs” (Standby Art director) moved it away whilst she did something to the cell floor so it wouldn’t get knocked over.  I snapped at her “Where are you going?  What are you doing?  I get a drink next, don’t take it away, I get a drink next.”  She put it back and looked at me nervously.  I apologised later – I was so thirsty, I couldn’t bear to see the jug moved away from me.  By 8pm I too had finally got fed, watered and been to the toilet in a bucket.  I know it wasn’t necessary but I wanted to be part of her day as much as possible.  I was well aware that for many, there is no ‘cut’, this is their life, locked away, malnourished, forgotten. 

The bucket scenario was very weird!  I have never used a bucket before.  It is hard enough going on the side of a motorway with cars whizzing past. Let alone in front of the crew, and let alone live on Baphomet TV!  The first time Magda was meant to use the bucket, I couldn’t.  I really needed to go but my muscles wouldn’t relax.  The bucket was so uncomfortable – there were metal bits sticking up where the handle connected and it dug into the inside of my thighs.  So I couldn’t so she couldn’t.  Paul quietly said action and I sat there.  I felt awkward, embarrassed. Magda felt humiliated. That is what her captors intended – to spend her days and nights next to her toilet.  To pass it out to Jess to be changed – nothing was private. Magda shouted down the corridor. “I can’t pee in a bucket.”  Paul called “cut” – that was the scene. Panda (1st AD) called the day. 

The next day I was able to go to the toilet but not until 6pm!  By then, need overtook pride. I used the bucket during that night and the following night. I kept my back to Baphomet TV.  I wasn’t given toilet paper so I had to use the pages from the only book I was given in the cell, a Bible. As a spiritual woman I thought I would have a problem with that, as a lover of books I thought I would also have a problem with that – do not tear pages. Words are written on your heart though and it is what you do with them that counts, and anyway, again, needs took precedence over ideals.

At the end of that very long day, everyone went home and I stayed in my cell and lay down, feeling the hardness again under the mattress and the dust and dirt that was gathering. I began to itch around my neck, arms and back. I got a rash that constantly aggravated me. This continued every night for the next 10 nights in the cell. 

I had 2 upsetting experiences. One night, I woke up as usual and looked at my watch – it said 10 – my watch was still ‘inside world’ time, Magda time. I had no idea what time it was in the outside world. Was it 2am or was it 6.30 and Paul was about to arrive?  Had I only been asleep perhaps for 40 minutes and I still had the whole night to go?  I couldn’t tell. That panicked me. I sat up and looked around my tiny cell. I tried to hear something, anything that might indicate the time.  I got up and started pacing back and forth, I began counting the bars; 15 where the cell doors were, 14 in front of me. I counted them again then tried do some stretching exercises. I sat down on the edge of the mattress and felt alone. Nothing to read, nothing to write, nothing to watch, no-one to talk to, nothing to do – how do people survive solitary?  I’m only doing an experiment and I’m struggling!  This is ridiculous, I’m ok. I’m so conditioned to DO, I don’t know how to be still. I started crying. I hate not knowing what the time is. Without knowing the time, I can’t plan anything – how long till next meal, how long till crew turn up, how long till I can imagine the sun rising….  just then, I hear Paul’s footsteps, thank goodness.  We talk for about 20 minutes and agree to remember to set my watch each night.

The other disturbing moment was when during night 7, one of the light foils at the end of corridor (this light was left on so that people watching Baphoment TV could see me during the night) fell off and onto the floor.  A light foil is as light as a couple of feathers. As the studio was completely quiet, the silence I was surrounded with in the cell was complete.  No traffic, no radiator clunks, no drafts, no mice in walls etc – just total silence.  The foil sounded like metal or rock on a marble floor – heavy, clanging and resounding.  I was shocked into a sitting position. I held my breath as my breathing sounded so loud I couldn’t hear what might follow next.  Had a studio door been broken down?  Had someone fallen through the trapdoor?  Was something shocking and terrifying about to happen?  I couldn’t actually see clearly all the way to the end of the corridor so I didn’t know what it was.  All I knew was that I couldn’t hear anything else. No footsteps, no-one else breathing, absolutely nothing. I knew I was alone. I couldn’t explain what I had heard. There is no wind there, nothing could have been blown down, I just knew that whatever it was, it was over and I would have to resign myself to simply not knowing.  I wished I could have locked myself in the cell – at least then no-one could get in. I lay back down on my scratchy mattress. Hopefully Paul could explain it in the morning.  Of course he did.  Everything got bigger as my world got smaller.

I privately agree with myself to really embrace the time in the cell, the time with myself.  I began to talk less, listen more, sit or lie still on my mattress between takes.  I decided not to get involved in anything other than what Magda might do at that moment. Everything then began to merge.  People only spoke to me if it was to do with the scene.  Sometimes the camera crew would talk about their nights out or girls around me.  They seemed to forget that I was there.  When they celebrated the 100th and 200th slates, I stayed in the cell.

I only washed on Saturday nights at the end of filming. The water ran dark brown, my finger nails were so dirty that scrubbing in the shower wasn’t enough. The insides of my ears and nose were grubby, my scalp was embedded with granules of dirt.  I would smell my body odour for the first 3 days and then my body would self wash.  I woke up day four and realised that I just simply didn’t smell bad.  My skin on my face even seemed to stay looking healthy.  I have never worked before with not only not a scrap of make-up on my face, but dirt, dust, dried blood, dark circles under my eyes from waking up each night, being uncomfortable, cold. 

Except at nights for safety, both cell doors would always be locked and either Paul or Peebs would have the key.  For the first 3 or 4 days this would make me anxious and I’d get tears in my eyes, and feel quite trapped.  Soon after, I became rather fond of my cell – I felt rather safe there. Magda had a few possessions when she was taken – a bangle, earrings and a watch.  She was given a candle, matches (and a toothbrush by day 5, hurray, I could now brush my teeth!).  There was already a bible in the cell, she ‘found’ a nail and feather.  I begin to arrange everything in specific places.  Obviously it was props, Peebs job to manage the continuity of these items but I knew exactly where they were meant to be each time. I became slightly obsessive with them and whenever a crew member knocked them over or moved them, I was quick to put them back. I always ate my food by the grill, usually on my haunches. My backache disappeared and the mattress became fairly comfortable. I began to love the silence in the cell once everyone had gone home. I fell asleep so easily and I dreamed so vividly!  One night I dreamed as if I was Magda – it seemed so very real.  I still itched, I still woke up cold.  But I felt calm, alert.  My awful habit of picking the skin on my thumb or my lips when I got nervous had stopped. 

I began to think more frequently of people who had either been kidnapped or imprisoned.  How they coped, what they thought about, how they felt, what strength they found from where…. does terror dissipate, does yearning and missing someone fade away?  Do you become accepting? Enjoying? Is it wrong to make the most of the situation?  The only people who really talked to me other than GA were Jess and Del.  I looked forward to them coming down to the cell.  It was a break, a change. Once, Jess brought me some cake – I realised that I hadn’t had anything sweet for 10 days.

On my 9th night, I woke up just past 4am. I could hear my heart beating in my ear drums. It felt like my heart was hovering just above my chest and the noise it made was all around me. I felt incredibly peaceful. I closed and opened my eyes several times in case I was dreaming. I lay very still. After several minutes I thought I heard the security move his chair and walk around. Then I heard the traffic from a nearby motorway.  It was quite a wonderful, deeply unusual and spiritual experience. Later I thought about the book “The Bridge Across Forever” by Richard Bach and wondered if I might have an out of body experience the next night. I didn’t and so far I haven’t had anything like it again.

It did however, uniquely prepare me for the unwritten scene that Paul had included and was to be first thing that morning.  Only 3 other people knew about the scene before I started.  Paul my husband comes to me in a dream. I hadn’t seen Jonnie since our one day rehearsal. GA said we would simply being doing a scene of me waking up in a meditative state; since Grace had woken up that way, so now would Magda. He told me that I was to keep my eyes closed, try to fall back asleep and that when the camera was ready, he would talk me through waking up. 

About 20 minutes later, with no warning, no action, I heard “Good Morning Darling.”  I knew it was Jonnie, but it couldn’t be, he wasn’t scheduled to come to set for another week and a half, he was working on another job. Maybe it was a recording! Magda knew it was husband Paul – it couldn’t be, she was hidden away in a cell somewhere, but he was there. It was the most spiritual scene I’ve ever done.

At one point in the shooting Magda escaped and was then recaptured and placed back in the cell, her hands in chains attached to the wall, with only a blanket. No mattress, no pillow. What I had before was luxury!  Although I didn’t sleep in the cell overnight, I still spent my days chained to the wall. I even ate my food like that.

Once Magda had escaped the first time though, we decided that I could also leave the cell. Oh my gosh, it was wonderful to lie in a bed, no dirt around me, clean sheets, no itching.  I felt rather conscious of the noises I could hear around me when I went to sleep. Music from next door, Roger and Paul talking downstairs, traffic nearby, light coming through my curtains, it took some time to get to sleep.

Staying in the cell was such an amazing experience.  I know some people have to live against their will in confined spaces for real – I felt almost disrespectful for trying something that I had a way out of each and every day.  But still I did it and it wasn’t easy and it had a profound impact on me. 

After 4 years, I got to work closely with Paul whom I madly admire and I got to bring this amazing woman to life. My life has been enriched by playing Magda

Grace Vallorani


September 2011

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