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The complex relationship between Hollywood megastar Cary Grant and his wife Dyan Cannon in the sixties is rich fodder for BritBox’s four-part biopic Archie. Jason Isaacs plays Grant, born Archie Leach, and Grant’s real-life daughter with Cannon, Jennifer Grant, produced the series. Laura Aikman plays her mother Dyan. See? What She Said’ Anne Brodie spoke with Aikman about this singular series, and getting to be Dyan, from London.

You’re English? I could have sworn you were American, I know your father was English. Your accent was flawless.The first time I spoke to Dyan on the phone she thought I was American too so I thought briefly I was going to get fired!

It’s phenomenal how much you look like Dyan Cannon. I guess that was part of the hiring consideration, but how was the connection made?When the script came in and saw they were casting Cary Grant and I thought well I’m not going to get that. And then I started thinking, hang on, so I started looking at pictures of Dyan and listening to her and watching her constantly and thinking I’m going to make it impossible for them to say no to me. By the time we went to set I’d done everything. I started studying her and I read the book and became the biggest Dyan nerd. To the point where they said, “All right, calm down, it’s not an impression! Relax” I was determined to get the part, I fell in love with her. And when I was cast we became great friends, we spoke on the phone a lot, we emailed, and she was so generous to answer all my questions so it blended into this beautiful character.

Having studied her so deeply, did the acting go seamlessly?I had a good lead-up and spent so much time doing that that she became second nature to me and I could focus on the scenes. She would answer any questions I had, what music she listened to, and what perfume she wore as well. These little things help. Sometimes I would wear her perfume and listen to her music. It got to the point that when we started filming, Dyan said to me “Laura, this is yours now, I trust you”. She is the kindest, sweetest, most wonderful woman. I don’t know if I had someone playing me if I could be so chill.

You say a character becomes second nature. How does that happen and how long does that take?I had three months lead time. I do a lot of accent work anyway, by ear, so if I spend enough time listening to someone I get their voice in my head. When it gets to the point where I think I can say anything in their voice, then I know it’s in me.

The marriage wasn’t going to work, it seemed. Dyan Cannon was a liberated woman from a new era and Cary Grant hung on to the old ways. That caused problems but they loved each other, right?I have to believe they were head and heels over each other. He fell in love with this wild, spontaneous woman and then couldn’t actually cope with the reality of her in his house.

I asked Dyan if she brought any artifacts from the time, clothes, jewelry, etc and she said no, she did not, just memories.It was also her decision not to come to the set. I’m not sure it would have been fair to either of us for Dyan to be seen there. She said, “If I had seen you do something I feel is wrong it would irritate me, and if you saw me watching you, it would irritate you”. So she stayed away. But she was always available by phone but no I didn’t get any trinkets!

Was it awkward at all with Jennifer Grant?No, she was so lovely. She actually came to the set the day they day I did a scene with Harriet Walter (as Grant’s mother) so we have me dressed as her mum, Harriet dressed as her grandmother and we have the baby, and that’s her, it was a bit weird, so kind. We went to dinner and she was very complimentary. It must be really difficult to look at a side of your parents’ relationship that most people never have, those private details, so it must have been very strange for her.Archie, a four-part series is on BritBox now



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