Poppy, a primary-school teacher in London, is someone who dares to hug life, in all its human forms, so close to her, she practically chokes it. Hawkins' own unconditional embrace of Poppy has connected with audiences and won her awards galore. She devised this canny optimist with director Mike Leigh (who makes his films in a months-long improv process with his actors) and plays it full-out. "You're trying not to edit yourself," she says. "It makes you self-conscious once you start third-eyeing yourself." That's how Hawkins, 32, who also shone in a 2007 TV version of Jane Austen's Persuasion, managed to create that rare movie character, a secular saint. "It's easy to wallow in the dark, to be cynical. It's a brave choice to be happy. It's taking a stand."
Reported by Rebecca Winters Keegan
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