'Archie's' Laura Aikman On Doing Justice to Dyan Cannon’s “Untameable” Spirit

Laura Aikman as Dyan Cannon, Cary Grant's third wife, in 'Archie'

Laura Aikman as Dyan Cannon in 'Archie'

Matt Squire/ITV Studios

BritBox’s four-part biographical drama Archie is, ostensibly, the story of Archibald Leach, the man generally known to the world as Cary Grant. But while the show touches on multiple periods of his life, from his childhood in poverty to his young adulthood on stage and his mid-life movie superstardom, it finds its most substantial focus when Grant’s fourth wife, Dyan Cannon, enters the picture. 

Thirty-three years his junior, the show portrays her as competent enough to know a romance with Grant is sure to be a mistake; she nevertheless finds herself drawn in by the relentless charm, self-deprecating humor, and good looks that made him a star in the first place. She’s wary when he insists he doesn’t want a family, even ends things with him at one point, but ends up marrying him, ignoring all the red flags of his controlling nature. The collapse of their brief union, though vaguely framed around Grant’s discovery that his mother Elsie (played by a prickly Harriet Walter) is still alive, is really about Cannon’s ultimate decision to save herself and the daughter they share from a relationship that’s crushing her spirit.

Laura Aikman, who plays Cannon, is a delight from her first moments onscreen, and her take on the actress is grounded in an effervescent charm and self-aware intelligence. We got to chat with the actress about working with Jason Isaacs, doing justice to Dyan Cannon’s story, and more. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)
Jason Isaacs and Laura Aikman in "Archie"

Jason Isaacs and Laura Aikman in "Archie"

(Photo: Matt Squire/TV Studios)

Telly Visions: I didn’t go into watching Archie thinking it would be a show with strong and interesting female characters. But I ended up loving Dyan and her journey. What did you find most compelling about playing her? What drew you to this part?

Laura Aikman: I started out watching her on Johnny Carson, and it’s my favorite thing to watch her on; she’s so quick, smart, funny, strong. I was mad about her from the first minute I started watching her. 

It’s the fact that he starts pursuing her, and then she makes him wait for ages. And then she’s like, but I’m not sure…I just found it all so charming. That, and the sadness of the fact that he falls in love with this woman because she’s sort of untameable and then does the very thing to ruin the part of her he fell in love with. He tries to tame this untameable woman and then doesn’t know what he loves about her anymore because she’s become something completely different. I think it’s all relatable to loads of people in loads of different time periods. It’s a doomed relationship, essentially.

TV: In this show, you’re playing a real person and not a fictional character, but your performance never feels like it gets into caricature or mimicry territory. How did you find your way into playing playing your version of Dyan?

LA: Initially, I was concentrating on the voice, the laugh, and the physicality. But Jeff [Pope], our writer, and Paul [Andrew Williams], our brilliant director, got me to go back for a second read — and I didn’t find out then, but I know now that no one else was going back. They told me in hindsight that they thought the impression was so good that they weren’t sure if I could act. They were like, ‘Oh, you’re just a really good mimic,’ and they made me do more scenes.  

Paul told me, “Okay, you’ve got her, now forget that. You know how to talk like her; you know how to do the laugh. Now, just be in the scenes.” He helped me with not obsessing over whether [I was] doing exactly what she’d been doing, so it was less of an impression and more my Dyan, and she was supportive of that. I feel like she wanted me to capture the heart of her and understand her and who she is. And as soon as she felt like I had done that, she was like, ‘off you go.’ 

TV: It has to be a little bit strange playing a person who’s involved with making the show you’re playing her in. 

LA: She could have been so controlling and persnickety about it, but she was amazing. So supportive. We spoke all the time. She texts me all the time. I mean, I’m obsessed

She just couldn’t have been more generous, and she even told me and Jason some things, as well, in private that weren’t meant to be shared, just [because it would] help us with our performances if we knew them, and it gave us things to talk about. She’s an absolute legend, and she’s a director herself; she knew how to talk to me, where to sort of let me go, and where to say that should be more specific. 

Laura Aikman in "Archie"

Laura in Aikman in "Archie"

(Photo: Matt Squire/ITV Studios)

TV: I touched on this a moment ago, but I think in a different sort of show — maybe the kind of show I wrongly assumed Archie would be — Dyan wouldn’t have been nearly as three-dimensional a character as we see here. How did you see the arc she goes on throughout the show? Because while the show’s called Archie, I feel Dyan’s story is just as important.

LA: [The show is based on] Dyan’s book, which is her life and Cary’s, but it’s also her life a bit before and after that. So, I had this incredible insight into all her feelings surrounding almost everything we see depicted in the show and how things changed for her afterward. I also had Dyan now, as a resource. 

For me, it was really important to pack that beginning bit with youth, energy, charisma, and vitality so that as that relationship goes on, you see those things disappear from her [personaity] and everything that she sacrifices to try and make this relationship work. You don’t get to see too much of the other side of it, but hopefully, you can see she’s got her steal back by the last time we see her, that she’s reclaimed herself. So I think there’s a really good journey for Dyan in there, even though she goes through so much pain. Hopefully, you’re left with the idea that this woman is going to go off and forge her own life without this man because they can’t figure out a way to be compatible together anymore.

TV: What do you think drew Dyan to Cary Grant so strongly in the first place? Initially, she seems very aware of his flaw, but she falls for him anyway. Is he just that hot?

LA: Well, that’s what she says! [laugh] According to her, he would walk into a room, and everyone just is like: gasp. He was gorgeous, yes, but he was also funny, playful, physical, and charismatic. And I wish we’d had a little bit more of that playful side [in the series] because that felt like what their life at home and the dating process was like for them. She did keep putting him off. She put him off more than we even see in the show, and he was relentless. I think she couldn’t resist. It’s Brad Pitt, basically. 

TV: Tell me about working with Jason Isaacs! The two of you seemed to have a powerful onscreen bond, which tells me you must have also had a great offscreen relationship as well. How did you figure out how you would work together and how you wanted to play this relationship?

LA: There’s such intimacy between them — and we had to get there pretty fast. We filmed a scene in a Chinese restaurant, which is right at the end of the show, post-breakup. And that was what we filmed on day one. So we went right into the deep end. Luckily, because Jason had those prosthetics, he was in the makeup chair for as long as I was every morning, so we had a good amount of bonding time every day. 

We also had this brilliant thing in common straight away, that we were just obsessed with these people. We wouldn’t always agree on certain things — and I’m lucky because I’d be like, well, I can ring Dyan — but we sort of just bonded over them. And he’s very sort of, in the moment, Jason, and he’ll change things and do different things, and it just really makes you focus. And I’m sure he made me better. I think he’s a brilliant actor, Jason. 

Jason Isaacs and Laura Aikman in "Archie"

Jason Isaacs and Laura Aikman in "Archie"

(Photo: Matt Squire/ITV Studios)

TV: One of the things that surprised me the most about this show was how it doesn’t pull any punches about the darker aspects of who Cary Grant was or how difficult his and Dyan’s marriage was at points. How did you want to approach playing that more difficult material? (I’m still not over the scene where he gets rid of her dog.)

LA: I couldn’t — I still can’t believe it. There was a scene afterward that got cut where I’m just bawling my eyes out in the bedroom, and Jeff, who I guess hadn’t been [on set] that day, sent me an email at one point when they were in the edit and was like, “Laura, do you have a dog?” Because I’m watching the scene, and you are distraught. I sent him a picture back of me and my dog. 

But, oh, god, some of the things he does — and he does them so quietly and confidently that it makes you wonder whether he’s even done anything — it’s not like he’s shouting or belittling her. It’s those frequent small acts of aggression and some shouting. I just wanted to keep Dyan as true to how I felt she acted as possible. I think she remains very composed for a lot of it. She’s very thoughtful and dignified in her responses to him, and she wanted to make it work and stay, and I think she would have stayed if she hadn’t got to the point where she was like, I don’t even think you love me anymore. And you can’t tell me that you love me. So what am I even doing? It’s a really sad, slow decline that we had to pack in, whereby, in the end, there’s just nothing left of her.

TV: I think the show, and our collective remembrance of Cary Grant because he talked about it a lot, illustrates how much finally becoming a father changes him. How do you think it changed Dyan or perhaps motivated her?

LA: I’m not sure if maybe it was one of the factors that led her to leave. She hasn’t said this, but something I thought a lot about was that she’s raising a girl. And she was a woman with this strong, vibrant personality, and it’s getting lesser and lesser [the longer she’s with Cary]. He’s telling her how to raise this baby, and he’s going away to work and somehow still controlling how she’s doing that. So I wonder if that’s how it changed Dyan, in that maybe it motivated her slightly more to go. But I do think — as much as I think motherhood probably did change her motivations, that for Dyan, aside from Jennifer, her main thing was finding herself again. 

Certainly fatherhood, for Cary, fatherhood was a massive game changer. I think Dyan’s heart was always open and that’s the difference. Cary’s heart is closed, and when Jennifer comes along, he manages to open up. But I think she was always much more open-hearted.

TV: What was the weirdest, best, or most interesting thing you learned about Dyan while playing her?

LA: She’s full of such good one-liners. She’ll tell you at length about how great of a lover Cary was. “What’s your favorite Cary Grant film?” was a question we often asked during press, and she would say, “The movies we made at home.” 

TV: What’s your favorite Cary Grant movie?

LAAn Affair to Remember

TV: I love that one! 

LA: Dyan says that reminded her a little bit of her and Cary. And I like to see him kind of playful. I think that has to do with — I was trying to focus on who he was when she fell in love with him, who she fell in love with. I think she fell in love with this very playful, charismatic, funny man. And I needed to remember that because that wasn’t what we were showing with Jason, so those kinds of things helped me hold on to that. 

Archie is now streaming on BritBox. 

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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