"Dagenham" star Sally Hawkins shies from spotlight

Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:51pm EST
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By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - What happens when an average, working-class woman inadvertently finds herself becoming the voice for a large group of protesters?

For Rita O'Grady, the main character in "Made In Dagenham," which debuts in U.S. movie theaters on Friday, and the British actress Sally Hawkins who portrays her, the answer is much the same. When the spotlight comes on, they would rather duck.

Hawkins, shy and private, would prefer immersing herself in a film or stage role, but after her widely-praised portrayal of a perpetually upbeat teacher in 2008's "Happy-Go-Lucky," she can no longer hide from the Hollywood media.

O'Grady, working in sweatshop conditions at a Ford Motor Co. plant outside London during the 1960s, would prefer to keep her head down, rather than stand-up for workers' rights. But she becomes a reluctant leader in reforming working conditions and is thrust in front of trade unionists, government officials and members of the press.

"Rita and I both have to be vocal in situations that are not particularly natural for us," Hawkins, 34, told Reuters, about the role. "We both hope our points come across eloquently and that we make sense."

Based on a true story, "Dagenham" eventually sees the women strike and the factory shut down, much to the disdain of the local community. The women make headlines across the country drawing both supporters and detractors.

In real-life, the end result was the introduction of an Equal Pay Act, which became British law in 1970.

Hawkins never heard of the story prior to signing on to play O'Grady. Still, she said she is proud to "represent these real women that took part in this seminal point in history."   Continued...