WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — At the mention of the word “Chicago,” Sally Hawkins smiled broadly and expressed a deep affection for the city — despite having been away from town for more than two decades. “I loved Chicago,” said “The Shape of Water” star, while doing interviews for her latest new film, “Paddington 2” (opening Friday).
“I did an exchange program [while she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London] and quickly learned it truly is a windy city! … Chicago is such a visual city. I took lots of pictures everywhere I went. My camera was constantly clicking.”
A lot of her love is reserved for Navy Pier. “I have great memories of that pier and especially the little [Chicago] Shakespeare Theatre located there,” said the actress, happy to learn Chicago Shakes’ great success has led to a major expansion of its compound in recent years.
“I know Chicago’s theater reputation has even grown more since I was there, but I do remember seeing some excellent performances at the Goodman and Steppenwolf theaters while we were there.”
•In both “Paddington 2” and her acclaimed turn in “The Shape of Water,” now in theaters, Hawkins ends up submerged in water in a major way. The new film finds her Mrs. Brown character plunged into a deep lake, attempting to rescue Paddington Bear, trapped in a derailed railroad car underwater.
“Yes, it’s in my contract now,” joked the actress. “Imagine this: I went from a night film shoot for ‘The Shape of Water’ — a scene in a relatively small tank of water — to shooting that ‘Paddington 2’ scene in an enormous, Olympic-sized tank. It didn’t help that I was a bit jetlagged to boot. However, it probably was best to get all that submersion stuff over with in a fairly short period of time.
“We do what we have to do for our craft. Whatever it tanks!” she quipped with a hearty laugh.
While Hawkins didn’t own a stuffed Paddington as a child, “a friend of mine did have one — a very large one. It was almost the size of me when I was about 5 years of age, complete with the Wellington boots and all. I desperately wanted one. I was quite jealous of that.”
• As for the enduring popularity of the Paddington Bear franchise — first in author Michael Bond’s books, and now on the screen — Hawkins’ co-star Hugh Grant said the answer is simple. “I think it has something to do with being a fish out of water. … It’s always been easy for many people to identify with being the stranger in town. It’s also a classic storytelling approach. It’s in Charles Dickens’ books. It’s also in ‘Don Quixote.’
“It’s also a great litmus test of how the key figure — in this case Paddington — is treated by others. Are they going to be nice and welcoming and friendly? Or are they out for themselves? You could also give a contemporary twist and say this is needed now more than ever. … Are we welcoming to strangers or foreigners? How accepting are we of immigrants from vastly different cultures?”
As Grant tells it, “Paddington 2” director Paul King had sent a letter offering him the role of Phoenix Buchanan, writing, “We’ve created a character who is vain, self-absorbed and whose career is washed up. Oh, by the way, we think you’d be perfect for the part!”
Grant noted, “The awful truth is, it’s not the first time it’s happened to me. Woody Allen wrote me a fax many years ago saying, ‘We’ve created this man who seems to be very charming and likable on the outside, but in fact, he’s a vain monster on the inside — and we thought of you!’
“This seems to be a pattern in my career,” Grant added with a wry smile.
Playing Buchanan just earned him nominations for a BAFTA (a British Oscar), and he admitted enjoying poking fun at his profession. “The cliché is true. Actors are almost bottomless reservoirs of narcissism and self-love and selfishness, really. It was fun to wade in that reservoir in this film.”