This website does readability filtering of other pages. All styles, scripts, forms and ads are stripped. If you want your website excluded or have other feedback, use this form.

Hayley Squires: Ken Loach's new muse and red carpet revolutionary | London Evening Standard

Hayley Squires: Ken Loach's new muse and red carpet revolutionary

Within a year she’s gone from out-of-work actress to starring in one of autumn’s hottest releases. Jimi Famurewa talks to Hayley Squires about winning at Cannes, acting’s ‘poshocracy’ and being spotted by Ken Loach

Click to follow
ES Magazine Roksanda dress, £795, Stephanie Sian-Smith

ES Lifestyle Newsletter

Hayley Squires may only be a pocket-sized 5ft 2in but, as she approaches the glass door of our designated meeting point in Shoreditch’s M Hotel, her walk — the harried stomp of the unmistakably pissed-off — means I spot her instantly. ‘Oh my God, I just had the worst taxi driver ever,’ she announces in her old-fashioned south London accent. ‘He turned up late and made me walk from up the road, so I just called him a wanker.’ She claps a hand over her mouth, seemingly confusing me with an easily offended local vicar. ‘Sorry,’ she says, smiling. ‘I hate being late. I should have just got the Tube.’

Pretty soon, more people than that unfortunate cabbie will be forcefully acquainted with just what makes this 28-year-old actor and playwright such a formidable proposition. Next month, after four years building a well-regarded but threadbare screen CV, Squires arrives in a big way as the star of Ken Loach’s fearsome new film, I, Daniel Blake.

Set in Newcastle, the movie is the Palme d’Or-winning tale of a 59-year-old joiner (played by Geordie comic Dave Johns) who — hobbled by a recent heart attack and threatened with the loss of his incapacity payments — strikes up a tender friendship with a recently rehoused Londoner and single mum-of-two called Katie (Squires). Intimate, blackly funny and unforgiving when it comes to the bureaucratic cruelty of the modern benefits system, it’s a film with the power to take your breath away: a furious, vital message delivered at low volume.

And Squires — all haunted eyes, shaking hands and slow-crumbling bolshy exterior — is a revelation as a woman trammelled by her circumstances. It’s unquestionably a career-making role. So it’s a surprise to learn that she didn’t even think she was going to get it.

Hayley Squires: in pictures

Hayley Squires: in pictures


A scene from I, Daniel Blake. Right,


Acting alongside Joe Dempsie in Channel 4’s Southcliffe (2013)



Victoria Beckham skirt, £1,150 and top, £550, Hair and make-up: Justine Jenkins using Inika cosmetics and Moroccanoil.


Roksanda dress, £795,

‘I got a call from the lady who was looking after me to say that Ken Loach was casting,’ says Squires, now installed in a window seat and cradling a cup of mint tea. ‘Then after an initial meeting with Ken, I got asked to come up to Newcastle, because I was down to the final four. When I came out of the audition, I got to the station and I remember I rang my friend and said: “I don’t think I gave it enough welly.” Basically, because the audition process had gone on for over a month, I’d said to all my mates: “If this doesn’t go my way, it’s going to feel like a shot to the heart.” I felt really invested.’

That’s no understatement. Before I even have to ask if her political fires were stoked by the experience, Squires is talking about the necessary social ‘shitstorm’ that she hopes the film will kick up, especially in the wake of the EU referendum decision. ‘When the Brexit vote came through, I remember watching it and feeling a level of political fear that I never had before,’ she says. ‘I felt sick with it. Then in the days and weeks afterwards you’re just going: “Is there anyone in charge? Where has everybody gone?” And then I was looking at the things people my age were putting on Facebook. I’d actually come off it but I went back on and wrote this rant saying: “Listen to me. Your kid’s education is going to suffer, you’re not going to be able to get a mortgage, the price of your petrol is going to skyrocket.” I hope the film resonates with working-class audiences and helps them understand that compassion and unity is needed. Without that, no kind of change can happen.’

Sweary, direct and hugely opinionated, Squires can be bracing company. Dressed down before today’s photoshoot in a grey hoodie, black jeans and trainers — with her thick brown hair framing big Pixar eyes — she isn’t afraid to rage about everything from Theresa May (‘I kind of feel like she’s invisible at the moment’) to the problem with non-West End theatre crowds (‘The majority of audiences will be actors, producers and directors there to critique rather than watch’).

‘Sorry,’ she laughs at one point. ‘I always feel like I’m chewing someone’s ear off in interviews.’ Whether or not that’s the case, her appetite for tackling issues head on clearly aided her portrayal of Katie. She fasted for four days to simulate her character’s cash-strapped hunger and threw herself into research. She spent time with women in homeless hostels and visited a food bank in Newcastle to prepare for a pivotal scene where, without wishing to give too much away, Katie’s desperation comes to a head in shocking fashion.

Victoria Beckham skirt, £1,150 and top, £550, (Stephanie Sian-Smith)

Born in Forest Hill (‘Before it got a coffee shop and became trendy,’ she notes drily), Squires is one of two siblings (she has an older brother called Sean). She’s the daughter of Theresa, a student support manager, and Frank, an ex-video shop manager and gangster movie connoisseur who she credits with fostering her love of film. At 14, her parents moved the family to Sittingbourne and it was here that Squires, weaned on age-inappropriate mob thrillers, first got a taste for performing. ‘I was quite shy at school until I got to about Year 11 and discovered my mouth,’ she notes. Her parents split when she was 16 but she eventually got into Sidcup’s Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance (alma mater of Gary Oldman and incubator for multiple EastEnders stars) and scored a one-off role in the very first episode of Call The Midwife.

A brief move to Streatham and gritty supporting work followed, but Squires is characteristically frank about the meagre crumbs that she feels are swept her way by casting agents. ‘Yes, it’s a cliché for me to sit here and say it but there aren’t enough parts for working-class women,’ she says. ‘And the ones that are out there, you’re either playing the girlfriend of a drug dealer, a heroin addict or a mother who can’t look after her kids.’

A scene from I, Daniel Blake 

Does she really not see any change filtering through acting’s famous ‘poshocracy’? ‘It is still a problem,’ she says. ‘But I get it.’ She also feels her physical proportions are a problem. ‘When they’ve got 20 English Roses that are 6ft tall and a size 6, why would they see me for it? I always know I’m not going to get a part when I walk into a room and they go: “OK, we’re just going to do a full body shot. How tall are you?” I’m 5ft 2in and a size 10 so you’re not going to put me in that Hollywood film, are you? It’s frustrating because I know I could do something different with those roles.’ She tells me about missing out on ‘a few big Star Wars-y type things’ and being pipped to a dream role on the London stage — that, incidentally, would have clashed with I, Daniel Blake — by an actress who went to RADA. ‘Of course she did,’ notes Squires, ruefully.

Admirably, rather than just gripe about her perceived status as an underdog, she added another weapon to her arsenal and started writing scripts after she graduated from Rose Bruford. ‘I wrote my first play after leaving drama school and thinking I was going to struggle [to get parts],’ she explains. In 2012, her first theatrical work — a fizzing, fierce, war-inspired drama called Vera Vera Vera — opened to warm reviews as part of The Royal Court’s Young Writers Festival. She has written more theatre since and is working on her first screenplay (‘The lead part is a woman of my age and I’d love to play it if it ever got made’) but laughingly describes her writing process as a ‘kick-bollock scramble’ where she hammers her laptop in a ‘panic and a fury’ four days before a deadline.

Away from film sets, she splits her time between her mum’s house in Sittingbourne and her boyfriend Kyle’s place nearby. Kyle, she sweetly explains, is a motorbike shop manager she has known since she was at school. ‘Me and him have been friends since we were 14, and there was always a bit of a thing, but we got together in February,’ she says. ‘It’s really lovely.’

Elsewhere, she’s fond of ‘dirty nights out in Soho’ with her friends and is hopeful for an on-pitch revolution at her beloved Chelsea. ‘It’s hard to watch Mourinho in a Man United suit, to be honest,’ she smiles. ‘It’s like seeing your ex on the arm of someone else while also being quite glad he’s not your boyfriend any more.’

Mostly though, she’s still on a high after I, Daniel Blake’s triumphant trip to Cannes. She wore Amanda Wakeley and YSL, took her mum along for the four-day whirlwind (‘Telling Juliette Binoche that we both loved her was our only uncool moment’) and, with competition veteran Ken Loach never far from her side, approached the glitz, pomp and frothing crowds with good humour. ‘You had to keep a sense of irony,’ she says. ‘In a way, it was ridiculous that I walked the red carpet wearing a nearly three-grand dress, given the film that it was. But, at the same time, how cool that we had that platform?’

So where was she when she found out they had won one of the most prestigious prizes in film? ‘I was at my boyfriend’s house, with an Indian takeaway, watching the live stream,’ she says, grinning. As is customary, only those being personally awarded — in this case Ken Loach and his production team — were invited back to Cannes. ‘When it was announced, I was there in my jumper and leggings screaming at [Kyle]. I just thought: “This is the most surreal moment ever.”

‘Whatever happens now, I got to do a film with Ken Loach that won the Palme d’Or.’ She’s not wrong. Although, this role feels like a starting point rather than a career epitaph. And it’s safe to say it makes up for missing out on that play. ‘Ha! Exactly,’ she laughs. ‘You can keep your RADA actress.’

I, Daniel Blake is released in cinemas on 21 October

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @EsMagOfficial

Reuse content


or to comment Hello {{nickname}} (Logout)

Please be respectful when making a comment and adhere to our

Community Guidelines.

Community Guidelines

  • You may not agree with our views, or other users’, but please respond to them respectfully
  • Swearing, personal abuse, racism, sexism, homophobia and other discriminatory or inciteful language is not acceptable
  • Do not impersonate other users or reveal private information about third parties
  • We reserve the right to delete inappropriate posts and ban offending users without notification

You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

{{#singleComment}}{{value}} Comment{{/singleComment}}{{^singleComment}}{{value}} Comments{{/singleComment}} {{}} {{dateTime}} {{{commentText}}} ReplyFlag {{#sender.isSelf}} • Delete {{/sender.isSelf}} {{TotalVotes}} likes {{#replies}}{{}} {{dateTime}} {{{commentText}}} ReplyFlag {{TotalVotes}} likes {{#replies}}{{}} {{dateTime}} {{{commentText}}} Flag {{TotalVotes}} likes {{/replies}} {{/replies}}



Report Comment

Delete Comment


We use cookies to enhance your visit to our site and to bring you advertisements that might interest you. Read our Privacy and Cookie Policies to find out more.