He kisses her and she knows that it’s not him kissing her, not Joe, not the same guy who smiled sort of hesitantly at her on the first day and said “hi, wow, I’m Joe, I’ll be your Hotspur” without any bravado, no trying it on, and offered her his hand to shake as though he wasn’t sure if that was quite the form.
This isn’t how Joe Armstrong would kiss her - he’d kiss her like he was waiting for her to respond, not at all assured. This is something else. It’s a little hasty and under-practised, a little over eager, a little forceful but it isn’t too much, hand on her waist not in her hair, not pushing for anything, just showing everything. And she hadn’t thought how Kate Percy would kiss before - or, at least, she’d assumed all their kisses would be chaste and, no, maybe she hadn’t, that isn’t what the script seems to warrant but- well, - so she kisses back a little slow, a little hesitant, but builds the intensity until she matches him, fists her hand in the back of his jacket.
When they break away, they’re both breathless; and she says “you’re a very good actor,” almost laughing.
He says “kiss me, Kate, kiss me,” and she hits him on the arm with the hand that’s not clutching at her own t-shirt, willing herself to feel a little less breathless.
“That’s not your line,” she says, suddenly all herself again, completely Michelle and not at all Kate because that invocation of the text, the reminder of it, made her conscious all of a sudden of how he isn’t Hal, certainly, but how he isn’t Hotspur, either, not really, and certainly not when he says that.
“I know,” he says and he kisses her again before she’s even realised he’s still talking in the accent. It’s perfect now, she thinks, completely believable. She almost doesn’t notice it because it’s so right - part of the way he just becomes Hotspur. She kisses back because Kate would and because it’s comfortable and natural; and this kiss is shorter, shallower, like it’s just a quick way of proving the point.
He’s the one who pulls away this time, says “you are, too, you know,”
“Am what?” she asks.
“Good. A good actress. A very fine one. Believable.”
She gives him a light swat again.
“Every bit my dearest Kate.”
She probably should have seen this coming and she had, in a way, but she hadn’t expected it to be like this. She’d expected awkward flirting or an awkward lack of chemistry or just a whole lot of line reading. She’d thought, okay, yes, I’ll go to coffee with him after the table read, I should do that, it’ll help. She hadn’t thought we will stand in a near-empty department store and he will perform snippets of the popinjay speech and I will laugh and pull him close and say ‘oh my love’ in my best clipped heiress voice and he will keep exclaiming loudly all afternoon and I will reprimand him and then somewhere on the Victoria line he will wake someone’s baby and I will want to hate him a little but really just want to laugh some more because he’s become this person so completely, even if his accent slips in the middle of sentences and he breaks completely when he hears the baby crying and apologises so much that it makes everyone in the carriage feel sort of uncomfortable. But maybe no-one could have seen that coming.
This though, this she should have seen, should have started to suspect just then, that first day with the coffee (which turned out to be tea) and the loud, stupid demonstrativeness of it all and how much she enjoyed it - being with him, playing at being Kate and Harry.
She should have seen it coming when they started exchanging those eloquent looks they’d planned for the Caerphilly scene during downtime at rehearsals, should’ve seen it coming when they started laughing at everything as though it was all a joke that only they understood, and she wasn’t sure if they were still playing at being the Percys or not. And it isn’t quite like that first afternoon (free and easy and completely a joke) anymore but it isn’t any less fun for that.
She definitely, definitely should have seen it coming when they’d headed out for that second outing together on the last day of rehearsals in London.
They’d been meant to rehearse their first scene together, just like they’d been meant to on Wednesday that week, but Joe was constantly being pulled off to block scenes for the Shrewsbury shoot or do the court scenes which required the presence of other cast members and therefore took precedence. And so she’d spent the whole day waiting and not really don’t anything other than checking her phone and reading old newspapers in the greenroom. That was fine, really, waiting around is always part of the job, but, by the end of the day, she’d felt tired and frustrated and less prepared than ever to do the scene, knowing she’d be going on set now almost entirely unrehearsed.
Then Joe showed up at the end of the afternoon, all done with rehearsal and looking far more energetic than she felt, despite the hours and hours he’d undoubtedly spent yelling and sword-wielding. He’d said, “god, I’m really sorry, have you been here all day?” picking up his bag and coat from a chair in the corner and asking “do you want to go and get coffee or something? We could talk about the scene at least.” And, as if worried by the fact that her reply wasn’t instant, “I mean, you probably just want to go home but, if you wanted to-”
And she says “yes, yes. That’d be great,” smiling genuinely for the first time in hours, “really great.”
She should’ve seen it coming when they left together, the way she felt totally comfortable for the first time all day. She’s impressed, too; because, for all that she was the one sat thinking about it all day, everything Joe said about the scene rings so true to her, like he was the one who only has those two scenes to think about. He talked about the Percys and how they’d behave together, both in company and alone, the way they’re completely wrapped up in each other somehow. She hated herself for doing it but, in the midst of all this discussion of the Percys and how they orbit each other, she couldn’t help thinking about how, for this project at least, she has ended up completely wrapped up in Joe, waiting for him to come to her, the way Kate has to wait for Hotspur.
She should’ve seen it coming when, after all the serious actor talk in the café - hands cradling hot mugs, and eyes fixed on one another - he put his arm around her as they walked out and she shoved him away, suddenly, as if by instinct, and then they were bickering like the Percys all the way to the train station, laughing and shouting by turns, snatches of Shakespeare (come, come you paraquito) mixed in with things Shakespeare never wrote.
And he ran ahead of her a little down the last street before Ealing Broadway and she called out “what is it carries you away?”
And laughing, smiling, out-of-control, he said “Why, my train, my love, my train,” and stopped to let her catch up whilst she berated him about his horse.
On the train, in a completely empty carriage, they did the scene, the full scene, suddenly discovering that they both knew every line word perfect, and she begged him not to go, really feeling it but not knowing if she felt it because Kate would or whether her own feelings were bleeding through, after a long day all alone, and nothing worth going home to. And, then it happened, of course, and she should have expected it.
He kisses her, of course he does, and she should have seen it coming, even if he doesn’t do it quite the way the script suggests (she’s supposed to be the one grabbing onto him, for one thing). And, really, maybe this shouldn’t be the way it happens but it’s how it happens. But she doesn’t go home with him, for all that she wants to, for all that she probably could.
And she thinks she’ll use the unexpected desolated feeling that fills the empty space in her chest all of a sudden when he gets off at Tottenham Court Road and she stays, left as though she were nothing and he had other things to do. It’s a feeling which is almost all Kate, because she does have other things to do, has dress fittings and table reads for Downton which she’ll be straight into filming after she’s done in Wales. She’s even got a few songs she’s working on, when she finds the time.
When she thinks about those things, all the things she has to do, she doesn’t feel bereft or lost or desperate or angry at Joe for leaving but, thinking of him walking away, she can pull that feeling up all the same.
Wales is fantastic, as it turns out, and they exchange far too many secret looks and laugh together like children with a private joke. And she feels like she’s constantly jabbing and plucking at him, the same way he’s always finding ways to press a hand to her back or shoulder, leaning in closer than he should.
It seems like they’re perpetually quoting lines at each other, being Harry and Kate instead of Joe and Michelle, and that’s nice, it’s fun, even if it feels a little heady, a little unprofessional and she blushes when other people notice, all these people who probably know better. Unlike Joe, she’s done Shakespeare before, even done the Henriad before, but she still feels a little foolish and embarrassed sometimes, like this was the first job she’s ever had.
No-one catches them kissing, at least, which she’s grateful for. It might easily have happened because the kissing’s become part of it now, the sort of desperate, teasing, half-angry, half-affectionate thing they do, when they’re more than half the Percys and less than half themselves.
They don’t get much beyond kissing though and that surprises her - because the thing about the Percys is that they’re passionate and impulsive and unstoppable. Somehow they always stop though, about at the moment where hands slip under clothes. Even that one time, in the lift at the hotel, like an utter cliché. Somehow, back at the door to her room, she’s completely herself when she smiles and says “goodnight” and isn’t even sad about it, just happy, unexpectedly content.
All of their kisses are at least halfway in character and, when the camera’s rolling, she lets Kate Percy consume her whole, looks at Joe like he’s her Harry, her world. She clings to him like he’s everything, rolls her eyes at him like she knows what it’s like to live with him, lets all the feelings froth up out of her: messy and complicated and uncomfortable.
It’s hard doing it over and over, lying on the floor with him and swatting him away, or heading out of shot with him, towards the cameras, like she doesn’t mind who notices or who knows because all that matters is them, is Kate and Harry, really.
It’s hard to maintain the intensity and the passion and all of it. Joe makes it easier though, can tell when she needs to break character after a take, needs to joke, and when she needs him to be Hotspur, push her into character by being unbearable and loud and obnoxious and still everything Kate Percy would ever want.
The first kiss is the last one that they shoot and that helps, helps the scene anyway. Because this is Kate Percy begging her husband not to leave, desperate and driven wild by a single fear: the fear that he might not come back.
She tells herself with every take that this, this kiss, this one, might be the last one. And it doesn’t matter how she feels about Joe, whether or not she really wants him beyond his being her Hotspur, her Harry, because there is a fierce, deep Kate Percy part of her that doesn’t want this to be the last kiss, dreads it more than anything, is afraid and trembling and so desperate to keep him there, her Harry, not to let him leave.
When Richard Eyre calls that it’s a wrap, that they’re done, she’s left sat on that damn bed, feeling like she might be about to cry - but then Joe’s making small talk all of a suddent. He asks about whether or not she’s done yet because he’s already dead but he’s got to go to Gloucester to shoot with his dad and Jeremy Irons, and is she shooting Downton right away? And it helps, pulling back from being Kate all of a sudden, having to be herself again.
It’s only when she gets out of the costume, fixes her hair and make-up so she looks like herself again, that she starts to feel a little bereft, sad for the loss of Kate Percy and everything that had meant - all wild emotion and desperation and everything with Joe, whatever that everything had been.
“That was insane,” she tells Joe when they’re waiting in line to check out of the hotel, at the back of the queue behind the rest of the cast and crew. “Great fun though,” she adds, smiling at him in a way that’s not manic or enthused, instead a little wistful and entirely genuine. She touches his arm lightly when she says a quiet “thank you.”
And Joe looks a little bashful, maybe nervous, head bowed, looking down at her hand on his arm before he looks up to meet her eye. He says “yeah, it was great, and I’ve been wondering - no pressure or anything - but would you like to meet up some time and, I don’t know, get coffee? Or tea? Whatever you fancy.”
And she says “yes, when we’re both in London. Yeah, definitely.”
And she doesn’t know how she feels about Joe, purely about Joe, isn’t sure how this date-which-might-not-be-a-date will go.
She knows that, when they get on trains headed in different directions, she doesn’t feel that desperate ache she’d felt before and that’s a good thing, a lot of weight off her shoulders, pressure no longer heavy in her chest. But she misses the feeling a bit.
She wonders how she’ll feel when she gets coffee with Joe, just Joe, wonders if they’ll pretend to be the Percys again, out of habit, doesn’t think she’d mind if they did. But she wants to see what will happen when it’s them, just them, no pressure, none of that mad intensity, something easier and lighter. She doesn’t know what will happen but she’s glad that she said yes. She can’t help but smile when she thinks about it and smiles even more when he finally calls and asks her if she’s in London or if she will be any time soon.