The movie is set in a London suburb Ford Motor plant in 1968, where the overworked and underpaid workers pick Rita [Hawkins], a working mother, to be the spokesperson in their battle for equal pay. What should have been a one-day walkout turns into a long-term national strike ultimately leading to the British Equal Pay Act of 1970.
"I'm ashamed to say I didn't really know about these women or what they did, but my mother did. I like to research my roles and I was actually able to have tea with three of the real women from Dagenham," Hawkins says. "What I loved about them is they weren't in the least impressed by our making the film. There's something wonderful about being able to speak your truth in a quiet voice. Rita never shouts."
While the film is set more than 50 years after Shaw's plays, Hawkins sees some similarities in the roles. "There's a kind of through line from Vivie to Rita -- speaking your truth," she says. "Rita has so much strength and like Vivie, she realizes who she is as a person."
Like many Brits who work here for the first time, Hawkins has discovered London audiences are reserved compared to audiences on this side of the Atlantic. "The New York audiences embraced our show and they're not afraid to show how much they liked it," she notes. "And it was such fun after the show to pick up those buckets and do our part for Broadway Cares and talk directly to audience members."
If several of her recent roles tapped into the "luck and pluck" part of her persona, she isn't about to be typecast. "I've just played the evil aunt in the new version of Jane Eyre," she notes. "But I do want to get back to the theater again, which I love. In fact, working on Mrs. Warren's Profession has awakened my interest in Shaw; I'd never done any except as scenes in Drama School, and now I think I'd really like to play his Joan of Arc and maybe even Major Barbara."