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Interview with Amelia Bullmore who plays Rachel Liebermann in Vienna Blood

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What are the Liebermann family like?

The real Liebermanns and the people playing the Liebermanns are actually quite a different bunch. The Liebermanns are very traditional, conservative and bourgeoise – apart from Max who is pushing the envelope, questioning all kinds of things. But the people who play the Liebermanns are not particularly formal or conservative or bourgeois. The real Liebermanns are an English, Jewish family who’ve gone to Vienna. The actors playing the Liebermanns are actually two Irish people – Charlene who plays Leah, and Conleth who plays Mendel. And then me, I’m a bit bourgeois. And there’s Matt who is from the north of England. We are not how we appear.

What’s Rachel Liebermann like?

Rachel Liebermann is a very devoted mother. I think the domestic realm is her thing, not surprisingly given the time she lived in. The Liebermanns run a textile emporium that is doing pretty well, so she’s all about the drapes. In this series, her main preoccupation is getting new curtains up in Max’s offices. The Liebermanns have chucked some money at it and set him up in his private psychoanalytical business with these rather deluxe offices. And Rachel, as every good mother should, has sorted out the curtains!

How do the Liebermanns fit into Viennese society?

Rachel really cares about reputation and she cares about their social standing, which Mendel does as well. It’s a very big deal for them to be accepted by Viennese society – the whole of society. And, of course, they have an important Jewish identity and go to worship at synagogue, but they really want to fit in.

How is Rachel’s relationship with her son Max?

She adores Max, and even though he gives her problems, basically she’ll go with it if it’s Max, because she’s got a massive soft spot for him. Max is up to things that she doesn’t really approve of but I think she’s fascinated and maybe even a little bit proud of his unusualness: it’s part of his intelligence.

How did you prepare for the role?

I watched a great documentary about Vienna set exactly at the time the Liebermann films are set. It was amazing to see the collision of architecture, art, ideas, social change, political change, change in thinking and that’s what the Liebermanns are perched on. The older Liebermans are just trying to keep everything just as it is, and Max is following the scent of that change and is interested in it. It’s an amazing time to set a story.

Do you share any character traits with Rachel?

Well, I love clothes. Rachel loves clothes and it’s been really good fun wearing her clothes, some of which are original and that’s quite something. Every mother would say this but I think I’m mad about my children. Although Liebermann dinners have an apparent formality they eat together, talk together, bicker together – and I certainly identify with that. We certainly do that in my house!

What do Rachel’s clothes say about her world?

The clothes that Rachel Lieberman wears, because of her social class, are clothes you need help to get into. You couldn’t corset yourself or button yourself up so it’s a whole window into that kind of life; a life with servants and that hierarchical structure.

How was filming during Covid?

Filming in 2020 in Vienna in Covid times was an incredible treat. Because we had the luxury of having filmed the series before so we knew each other, we knew the place and most of the crew were the same. I think everybody had this feeling of joy at being back at work. For most people it was the first work they had done since they got locked down or since the virus began and it was fantastic – people like to work.

I remember, halfway through lockdown, I needed to fix something and I needed some gaffer tape and I was ripping the gaffer tape and I thought, the rip of gaffer tape – filming, I want to be filming! Because when you’re filming, somebody, somewhere is ripping off a piece of gaffer tape and you just realise how much you love it. How much you are used to it – all the sounds and sights. It is different because filming is a funny combination of being really organised and really social at the same time. It’s very efficient, it all gets done, but in between there is always a moment for a chat or a joke or something and that’s different when people are masked. It just is. But it was a very, very good experience.

Would you like to have lived in 1907 Vienna?

That’s an interesting question, because Rachel, Mendel and Leah Liebermann are slightly pretending that something dark and difficult isn’t coming, which is this rising wave of anti-semitism. But it is. Max is the one in the family who says, “Look, look this is coming and you need to pay attention to it”.

Knowing what I know now about that time it would be hard to wish to be a Jewish person living in Vienna then. But having said that, if I didn’t know that, I think the beauty and buzz of Vienna, particularly if you were fortunate enough to live comfortably like the Liebermanns, I think it probably would have been a very good life. And Rachel is happy. She lives in a conventional time but she loves her husband so she’s not trapped by convention in something rotten that you easily could be as a woman in 1907. I think ‘actual Rachel’ has a pretty good deck of cards.

Would you have made a good psychoanalyst?

If I was a psychotherapist in general, rather than specifically a Freudian psychoanalyst, I’d probably be okay. I’d have to learn not to chip in, not to finish people’s sentences; and I’d have to learn not to want to be liked by my clients; to learn to not want to bond, to keep that distance. And I think I would find that a bit tricky. You’re not supposed to go anywhere personal. You’re not supposed to say ‘oh, I like your shoes’ or ‘I’ve got one of those’ or ‘my dog did something funny the other day’ and I think I would find that really hard!