For British actor Hayley Squires starring in Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake has been quite an experience. The actor is revelling in rave reviews for her breakout role in the film at Cannes, where she has been swept into a whirlwind of camera flashes, designer dresses and celebrity hobnobbing. But the glamour is a far cry from her life growing up in social housing in south London, and both she and her mum Teresa Faulks -- who she brought along for the ride of her life -- are overcome with emotion at their unlikely journey to the world’s top film festival.
“I met Juliette Binoche last night and I was so uncool,” said Squires, 28, whose performance as a single mother fighting poverty in Loach’s tearjerker has been regarded as one of the best of the festival so far.
She is one of many young, unknown actors making waves at the festival who have been thrust into a relentless spotlight far removed from their ordinary upbringing.
The film follows carpenter Daniel Blake and Squires’ character Katie as they suffer repeated humiliation at the hands of Britain’s welfare system, hard hit by austerity.
Producer Rebecca Hall said the filmmakers had deliberately cast people who, “if their lives took a different turn” could have ended up in the same boat.
Squires said that she at one point managed to move into private rental accommodation but a “change in family circumstances” pushed them back into the system where they were only able to score housing through “a sheer stroke of luck” because they had someone to write them a reference.
“My mum would always make sure that regardless how shitty the area that we were living in, the inside was warm and safe and a proper home,” said a teary Squires.
“I couldn’t bring anyone else (to Cannes). She is the one person I need to pay back.”
Squires said she was surrounded by single mothers all her life, and didn’t need to look far for inspiration for her performance.
In one of the most striking scenes in the film, her character Katie is visiting a food bank with her children, after losing her benefits for being late to the welfare centre.
Katie, weakened by hunger, cannot stop herself from ripping open a tin of baked beans and scooping it into her mouth by hand.
The Guardian’s critic Peter Bradshaw said the scene was unforgettable. “The expression on her face, the sheer horror, the gut-wrenching realisation that it has come to this, that she has fallen this far. Really impressed by her,” he said.
On the night after the movie premiered, Hayley and her mum woke up early to walk down Cannes’ famous beach strip La Croisette and hunt down magazines carrying pictures and stories about the event.
For Teresa, who started working aged 14, the Cannes experience has been “mind-blowing”.
Watch the trailer of I, Daniel Blake here:
“I am obviously very proud,” she said, also tearing up. “You have this perception of the whole film industry. That perception for me has changed. The people are just so kind, they have treated me like royalty.”
She said French actor Binoche had stood with them for a long time and “squeezed my hand as she walked away”.
“Somebody like that would never have a conversation with me, but she did.”
“I am only disappointed I didn’t get to meet George! (Clooney)”
Squires, also a scriptwriter, had her start on the stage, and played a small role in an episode of the British series Call the Midwife.
She said while the world the movie portrays is a far cry from the glamour-drenched French Riviera, “isn’t it fantastic that we can put this film on the biggest platform in the world (where) wealthy people can see it?”
She said she had enjoyed the lifestyle in Cannes.
“It’s crazy. I’ll be honest it is nice. It is nice to come in the sunshine and stay in a lovely hotel and wear lovely clothes. But we are still going home to our housing association house.”