The Kindness, And Xanax, Of Strangers | With Lesley Manville

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Christopher Silas Neal for The New York Times
Christopher Silas Neal for The New York Times

Sometimes, we're lucky enough to stumble into fleeting friendships in unexpected places. And even though they aren't lasting, those temporary connections can pull us through.

Sally Hoskins writes about one of those moments in her essay "The Kindness, and Xanax, of Strangers." It's read by Lesley Manville. Lesley stars in the new movie "Ordinary Love."

Where Are They Now?

Sally Hoskins says that, with several breast cancer diagnoses, she has been in and out of a lot of hospital waiting rooms in her life. But this experience stood out to her.

"This was the first time that, once you put on the gown, you weren't sequestered in a little closet somewhere. You were sent back out with the families and the normal people, who were wearing street clothing," she says.

"You feel almost naked in this hideous plaid gown sitting among the regular people, and you even have an IV in your arm. It's like, 'Hello, I'm ill, I'm just going to sit here next to you and read a magazine.' It was a very strange feeling. You feel very exposed. And I think that was part of what set me off that day."

"I was really trying to not admit that I was in the same boat as everybody else, and trying to not join in and talk about what it was like to get diagnosed," she continues. "I was trying to keep my little separateness. But as it turned out, it's smarter to take your fellowship where you can get it, and in this case your Xanex as well."

Sally says that in her experience, people take two different approaches to sharing their cancer diagnoses.

"I think there are some people who really like telling everyone, blogging about it, and then there are others of us who want to get the treatment over with and move on and have it not be something we address every day," she says. "I think people need to do what works for them."

"For me, especially the second time around, I realized that I didn't have to tell as many people as I told the first time around," she adds. "And that worked much better for me. If you tell people, very well meaning people will come up and be like, 'How are you?'"

"It's very sweet and kind, but it's recasting you as a cancer patient. And we're many things besides that," she says.

Sally is 66 years old now, and has recently retired. She's working at being as healthy as she can. And she's happily single.

"I'm really enjoying retirement and my own personal projects, and I don't feel that romantic tug that I felt very heavily in my teens, twenties, thirties, and forties," she says. "There's something very nice about being a woman on her own in New York City without the need to work, who can do what you want, when you want, with whom you want."


"Not to knock Modern Love, but I think there's a lot of freedom for women who remain unpaired, so that's working for me right now."

Voices In This Episode

Lesley Manville is an award-winning stage and screen actress who most recently starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly acclaimed drama Phantom Thread. For her role as Cyril Woodcock, she received both BAFTA and Academy Award® nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Manville is set to star in Misbehaviour, based on the 1970 Miss World beauty competition and the group of women who hatch a plan to disrupt it. The cast includes Keira Knightley, Keeley Hawes and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

In spring 2019 Manville returned for the third and final season of the BAFTA Award-winning BBC comedy “Mum,” for which she received a BAFTA nomination for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme. She also appears in “Harlots,” which airs on Starzplay. Manville recently finished filming the BBC drama “World on Fire,” a World War II drama centered on the lives of ordinary people affected by the war.

Manville has worked on numerous films with director Mike Leigh, most notably Another Year. Her other films with Leigh include All or NothingMr. Turner, Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy, Secrets & Lies and High Hopes.

Manville’s other film credits include Maleficent, Hampstead, Rupture, Romeo & Juliet, Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism, A Five Star Life, Spike Island, Ashes, A Christmas Carol, Sparkle, Milk and High Season. Her extensive television credits include “River” (BAFTA Award nomination, Best Supporting Actress), “The Go-Between,” “Mayday,” “Cranford,” “North & South,” “The Cazalets,” “Other People’s Children,” “Real Women,” “Holding On,” “The Bite,” “Goggle Eyes,” “The Mushroom Picker,” “Top Girls,” “The Firm,” “Grown-Ups,” “The Queen,” “Fleming” and “Bodily Harm.”

In 2018 Manville returned to the stage for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” starring opposite Jeremy Irons in a highly acclaimed production that went on from Wyndham’s Theatre to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles. Reprising her role as the morphine-addicted matriarch of the Tyrone family, Manville went on to receive an Olivier Award nomination.

Sally G. Hoskins is a recently-retired biology professor, formerly at City College of the City University of New York, where she developed the CREATE science education project. CREATE aims to leverage professors’ deep understanding of research process and transform the teaching and learning of biology through close analysis of published research papers.

A lifelong musician, Hoskins founded and conducted SHE, a women’s vocal ensemble that performed in Manhattan throughout 1998-2005. Each free concert benefited a different NY-based charitable organization, through voluntary donations from audience members. Hoskins’s essays have appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, Read650 and Science magazine, as well as in scientific journals mainly read by fellow academics similarly obsessed with neuronal specificity and/or student learning measures.

Headshot of Caitlin O'Keefe

Caitlin O'Keefe Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Caitlin O'Keefe was a producer of podcasts and new programming at WBUR.



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