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Hawkins happy to put light on women’s rights

'Dagenham' delivers facts on Ford strike in entertaining way

Sally Hawkins manages a nifty, subtle trick in “Made in Dagenham.”

Portraying seamstress Rita O’Grady, who led a real-life protest in late-’60s England for equal pay for women against the automaker Ford (and, ultimately, for women throughout the country), the actress displays a uniquely timid resolve — a clear understanding that her cause is just, offset by doubt that she’s the right woman to be fomenting social change.

With wit and pathos, Hawkins deftly balances these conflicting emotions as well as those toward her community and husband, who frequently find her mission inconvenient.

Speaking backstage from New York’s Roundabout Theatre just before taking the stage in a Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Hawkins recalls her grandmother worked as a seamstress in a factory.

“For ‘Dagenham,’ I learned that skill that I wanted to do for long time, because of how much I admired my grandmother,” she says. If she garners Oscar buzz, she adds, so much the better, “because that gets the film out to more people and lets them know about women that to this point haven’t been honored.”

Hawkins’ first foray into awards hoopla came with Mike Leigh’s 2008 film “Happy-Go-Lucky,” where she played an unfathomably cheerful schoolteacher. She ran the table in terms of picking up acting prizes from American critics groups and even won a Golden Globe, but wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

“I got so many incredible awards, more than I genuinely need,” she says. “That people were outraged on my behalf was mind-blowing.”

“Happy-Go-Lucky” led to her working with Woody Allen in “Cassandra’s Dream.” Otherwise, Hawkins is not striving to go Hollywood, though she’s certainly not averse to working here, either.

“I like things that keep challenging you and keep you on your toes,” she says. “I’m not driven by anything else. I love all genres of film, but character is what I’m drawn to.

“I’ll go anywhere in the world where there’s good stuff happening,” she continues. “In Hollywood, you have so many incredibly creative people in such a comparatively small area who are making phenomenal films. But I also love European films, and I was in New Zealand recently. If I get the chance to do something good in America, that would be great.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: The Actress:
Young actresses not looking for celeb status
LEAD ACTRESSES
Annette Bening | Sally Hawkins | Nicole Kidman | Jennifer Lawrence | Natalie Portman | Tilda Swinton
Lead actresses in the mix
SUPPORTING ACTRESSES
Amy Adams | Helena Bonham Carter | Melissa Leo | Miranda Richardson | Jacki Weaver | Dianne Wiest
Supporting actresses in the mix

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