The Wick - Interview Actress, Filmmaker, Activist and Founder of The Happy Vagina, Mika Simmons The Wick - Interview Actress, Filmmaker, Activist and Founder of The Happy Vagina, Mika Simmons
Monday Muse

Interview Actress, Filmmaker, Activist and Founder of The Happy Vagina, Mika Simmons

Interview
Mika Simmons
Photography
Ruth Crafer
23 August 2021
Interview
Mika Simmons
Photography
Ruth Crafer
23 August 2021
The Foundation for Women’s Cancer understands the importance of bringing awareness to all gynaecological cancers and declared September as Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month in hope of reaching more people each year. This week’s Monday Muse, the award-winning filmmaker and actress Mika Simmons, shares this vision.

Having lost her mother to Stage 4 ovarian cancer aged just 54, Simmons teamed up with her friend, neighbour and research lead for the gynaecological unit at The Royal Marsden, Dr Susannah Banerjee, to support a research project into better treatment of these cancers. She also founded women’s health charity Lady Garden Foundation with a group of phenomenal women to continue to help raise awareness and funds (over £1 million so far) for cutting-edge studies and created her very own platform, The Happy Vagina podcast, now on its fourth season, to celebrate those pioneers and game changers who have made a difference in women’s health, equality and relationships. Previous guests have included presenter Laura Whitmore, FGM campaigner Hibo Wardere and poet Nikita Gill.

Simmons’s achievements are just as impressive when it comes to her film and TV credits too. Her directorial debut Rain Stops Play won the Silver Remi for Best Comedy at the Houston film festival. Whilst her second short film Breach, produced by Sally Wood and starring Joely Richardson, is currently doing the festival rounds to much acclaim. She has also worked on Unforgotten, the BAFTA award-winning Falling Apart and BFI London Film Festival nominee Dictynna Hood’s Us Among the Stones.

As someone astutely sensitive to the interplay between creative disciplines and the human journeys and narratives which make up our life, The Wick was pleased to be in conversation with the visionary Simmons to hear her Muse takes and her plans for the future.

THE WICK:   Who is your Monday Muse?

Mika Simmons:   It’s Saturday morning and I realise over a very strong coffee that I am struggling to answer this question. I momentarily consider whether I should make something up – something inspiring, funny or that I think might make me seem unique and intelligent. But no, I am a truth seeker and, the truth is, I have always found the concept of favourites insurmountable. And, when it comes to female muses, my list is extremely long and mercurial. Today, I am mostly inspired by women in the arts who have refused to be pigeonholed into one version of themselves, one lane in their career – women who write, produce, design and perform. Women who break the restrictive mould of the patriarchal gaze – from Mary Ann Evans (AKA George Eliot) to Nora Ephron to Jane Campion, Jane Fonda and Gwyneth Paltrow. My muses are anyone who is courageous enough to face their fears, follow their dreams and allow those dreams to change.

TW:   Which culturally curious spots do you draw your inspiration from?

MS:   I am deeply inspired by nature. I live in central London and feel an immediate surge in creativity when I find a moment to walk in one of our beautiful parks – I’m obsessed with the romance and the drama of The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park – or, even better, escape for the weekend to the beautiful British countryside and take a long walk through a forbidden field. Staying inside and in London town, my favourite spot is without question The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. It has remained my favourite place since I moved to London to go to drama school in 1997 – for its architecture, the programming and vibe. For me a cultural spot can’t just be beautiful – it has to have a tactile history. The Royal Court was one of the first to stage modern political dramas with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which challenged not only the artistic standard in theatre but also the social and political orthodoxy of the day, pushing back the boundaries of what was possible or acceptable. A little-known fact is that in 1968, the Court was fundamental in helping to abolish the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship powers. You will often find me downstairs in the cafe with my laptop, writing and dipping in and out of the plays in its bookshop.

TW:   What exciting creative projects are you working on in film and literature right now?

MS:   I’ve had an extremely busy year. Being child-free I have the privilege of throwing myself into work and I’m now yielding the fruits. I’ve just finished filming Showtrial for the BBC and World Productions, which will be out later this year. As an actor, I love working with female directors and I learnt a huge amount being on set with Zara Hayes. Then my second short film Breach, produced by Sally Wood and starring Joely Richardson, is currently heading into the festival circuit and being well received. And we are just moving into the fourth season of The Happy Vagina podcast, which is going to focus primarily on the orgasm gap.

TW:   What is your proudest achievement to date?

MS:   There are many achievements with work and some small accolades but honestly, the thing I am most proud of is I’ve helped a lot of young women. It is extremely satisfying to mentor, both to help the next generation be the greatest humans they can be – to put down the fears that hold them back from following their dreams – but also to hold doors open for them. If you’d asked me to choose a favourite quote, I would’ve been able to do that: “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game,” Toni Morrison. 

I believe helping others should be our primary purpose but it’s also a retaliation against the multiple women who have treated me with cruelty throughout my career. I am trying to right their wrong, by doing good – it would be a huge honour to leave behind a small legacy of personal change.

“I believe this is what all art is for – to enable us to understand our own feelings and, more importantly, offer identification, so that we can feel like we belong.”

TW:   The Happy Vagina podcast is focused on pioneers in the female space. How did this project come about? 

MS:   As I’ve talked about a lot in the press, I lost my mother to ovarian cancer. By pure synchronicity my next-door neighbour won the position of lead oncologist for gynaecological cancers at The Royal Marsden and, in 2013, I agreed to help her with some key research into these cancers – both by raising awareness and funding. I threw my heart and soul into it and created the charity Lady Garden Foundation. The Happy Vagina podcast and project grew out of this work. While my primary love will always be performing and making films, I was aware I now had a platform in the female space – and therefore a responsibility to use it – to help women reach a greater freedom and better health. We are just moving into season four of the podcast and have also started to collaborate and amplify small female art-ups – our imperfect perfect Goddess T-shirt, has just launched with Make Thread, and I am donating all profits to my charity.

TW:   What are your plans for September’s Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month?

MS:   Having donated over £1 million to The Royal Marsden and created a treatment, Olaparib, which is prolonging the lives of women with ovarian cancer, Lady Garden Foundation is now on a mission to raise a million more for women’s health. For Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, we have partnered with 50 brands and have a range of educational activities and fundraising initiatives planned. I am delighted to have designed a pendant with my friend Sabine Roemer – an image of Hygeia, the goddess of health, which is available from Atelier Romy with a donation to Lady Garden Foundation.

TW:   If you could own any artwork from any artist, what would it be?

MS:   Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, ‘La Toilette’, 1889. I bought a poster of this painting back from a school trip to Amsterdam for my mother, Rosemary. We had gone to see the Van Gogh and I found ‘La Toilette’ in the book store on the way out. I didn’t know it was a painting of a sex worker – I just saw myself in it. Looking away from the world, never feeling ‘part of’ and always misunderstood. I wanted to share that feeling with my mother. We had an in-depth conversation about its actual theme, then she framed it and hung it in her office until she passed away when I was 27. I now keep the poster in my home. I believe this is what all art is for – for beauty, yes – but also to enable us to understand our own feelings and, more importantly, offer identification, so that we can feel like we belong.

TW:   ou recently attended Van Gogh Live. What do you see the future of art, entertainment and technology as being?

MS:   I am a very sensual person and I have a short attention span, so I need art and theatre to be highly stimulating – consequently, I absolutely love anything immersive. It’s also in my bones – I was studying theatre at the University of Leeds just as mixed medium was being born, it was an incredibly exciting period culturally in the arts and theatre. Forced Entertainment and Complicité (back then Théâtre de Complicité) were leading the charge and I had the privilege of being taught by them. It needs to be properly integrated though… I have no patience if there isn’t a reason to be flipping from live performance to video, painting to moving figures. You can tell when it’s just been added on for affect.


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