Actress always answers phone when director Mike Leigh calls

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Lesley Manville poses for a photo as she promotes her new film Another Year at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto Tuesday.

Toronto—As an acclaimed British actress, Lesley Manville is never short of employment options. But when director Mike Leigh calls, she doesn’t need to hear the details before she clears her calendar.

“He just says, ’Do you want to come and do my film?’ And the only indication you have of how involved you’ll be is how long you get booked for,” Manville says.

Leigh, at the Toronto International Film Festival with his newest project, “Another Year,” is known for working with the same group of top-notch actors again and again.

And while Hollywood financiers would likely be appalled by the director’s methods — he usually begins without a script — Manville, like fellow Leigh regulars Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton, doesn’t need to be convinced. The actress boasts seven films with Leigh, whose previous credits include “Happy Go-Lucky,” “Vera Drake” and “Secrets and Lies.”

“Mike has notions and ideas and themes that he might want to deal with, and he has to cast it, so he might be thinking about (actors he wants),” says Manville, 54.

“But what the characters are going to be, and what the film is going to be about, and how it’s going to begin and have a middle and what ending it’s going to have, is completely unknown.”

While Leigh examined the lives of London singletons in 2008’s “Happy Go-Lucky,” “Another Year” has him reflecting on the vagaries of aging.

The film chronicles four seasons in the life of contented London professionals Tom and Gerri (Broadbent and Ruth Sheen). The year brings a birth, a funeral and new love, along with ever-present drama involving Manville’s Mary — Gerri’s alcoholic and terminally lonely co-worker.

The performance is a striking one; the audience alternately feels sympathy and revulsion for Mary, who seems utterly incapable of pulling her life together.

“We create the character from Day 1 of their life,” Manville says of Leigh’s way of working. “Nobody works in this kind of totally pure way, which does demand a huge amount of creativity from everybody.”

“Another Year” received raves at Cannes earlier this year and the Oscar buzz is building for Manville’s performance.

“(Awards chatter) is not really on my radar and never has been. But for it suddenly to be talked about, obviously, it’s very nice,” she says. “I know that we’ve made a good film and I know I’ve created a good character.”

Leigh’s group of regulars have clearly developed an easy rapport over the years. Manville says it helps that there’s no drama off camera.

“Everybody’s nice. I mean, Mike doesn’t work with difficult people — what’s the point? Egos and all of that stuff. He just works with nice, good-humoured people who just want to do the work well.”

Still, as comfortable as she is in the familiar surroundings of a Leigh film, Manville allows that she wouldn’t be averse to expanding the horizons of her career beyond the shores of her homeland.

“If this film allows me some new career in some sort of way, that would be good. I have such a great career in England .... I could go and work in America or Canada, I could go work with interesting American directors, which would be great,” she says. “I feel like I could have another adventure if this film allows me those opportunities.”

But will she always answer the phone when Leigh calls? “Always.”

“Another Year” is set to open in limited release at the end of December. The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sunday.

Geographic location: Toronto, London, Hollywood Cannes England America Canada

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