Airing on Channel 4 on 16 December @ 9.00pm is the much anticipated Black Mirror festive special White Christmas, a trio of interlinked dystopian future visions penned by Charlie Brooker and starring Oona Chaplin, Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall. Here the gorgeous Oona tells us what attracted her to the project and what it was like working with Jon Hamm.
You star in the feature length Black Mirror Christmas special, ‘White Christmas’. Can you reveal who you play and what their story is?
I play a pretty anally retentive, single, extremely wealthy woman from the future, who likes everything just so. And I can’t tell you any more than that, sadly.
What was it that attracted you to the project?
I thought it would be wonderful to play an extremely wealthy lady in a plush house! But mainly, it was Charlie Brooker, really. I’ve watched all of the Black Mirrors. I had a few friends in the first series, and I got totally hooked. I really love his curiosity and his way of making social commentary without ever becoming moralistic. He’s never proposing an idea of right or wrong, he’s just exploring what the human condition is, and how it relates to technology. I think that’s really clever, and really pertinent to today’s society. And he’s one of the only people that can explore technology without being boring. There’s very little drama in a scene with a group of young girls texting. It’s not very interesting. But he takes it that next step further, and actually makes it entertaining and challenging and interesting and surprising.
Black Mirror is fairly dark and dystopian. It doesn’t seem a natural fit with Christmas. I take it this isn’t all chestnuts roasting on an open fire and goodwill to all men?
No. I don’t think the Christmas theme is that strong in this, although I might have missed it. We talk about it being Christmas, but the programme isn’t really about Christmas. Mind you, Christmas isn’t really about Christmas any more. It’s about shopping and being a really big capitalist venture. If anything, this is more in tune with that.
What was it like working with Jon Hamm?
It was a real treat. I came to Mad Men quite late, so I’d actually just finished watching it when I got the call to go and work with him. That’s synchronicity if ever there was such a thing. He’s a really cool dude, he’s relaxed and confident and he listens, which makes for a fantastic working atmosphere. He’s intelligent, he likes to think about things in different ways. I learned a lot in the little time that we did work together.
You’re from a family with an extensive showbiz history. Did you always feel that you were going to act as a career, or did it start out as a hobby?
No way, I resisted it for as long as I could! I really, really didn’t want to be an actress growing up. I thought it wasn’t a real job, but it was thanks to the history of my family, and maturing enough to be able to see the social value that it has, that changed my mind. Storytelling is a really honourable profession, we learn and grow with stories. You can change the world! Getting more to grips with what my family had done, in the greater scheme of things, was actually what really inspired me to get into it. If I’m in a project, maybe whatever I do doesn’t inspire people, but maybe they look me up – speaking of technology – and maybe they see who my granddad was, and go and watch one of his films, or one of my mum’s films, or read one of my great granddad’s plays. To encourage that curiosity so people may rediscover those great storytellers – that’s good enough for me.
You’ve had some amazing roles in recent years. What are you most proud of?
That’s such a tough question. I’m actually really proud of them all, in very different ways. The great thing about this line of work is that you get to be a part of so many different projects that have such a different vibe and purpose that you learn a lot. Each job is an opportunity to learn about people and the world and relationships, and with so many different points of emphasis. But, if I had to pick, I did this series called Dates on Channel 4, and I think that maybe my best performance. It was really hard, she was the most different to me of any character I’ve played. She was composed and controlled and manipulative, and I’m just a bit jokey and all-over-the-place. I’m really proud of that work, and so grateful to John Maybury and the guys for their patience and skill. of course, Game of Thrones was such a defining point in my life, and not just because of its mammoth reach. It’s trying to say something about how we are and how we live. It has such an astute way of portraying relationships of power. It’s really pertinent to a world today, where power is something so abstract. You don’t get a king who’s a villain, and then people kill him. It doesn’t happen like that. It’s much more subtle now. So maybe exploring it in a more extreme setting can help us see the world for what it is. So I’m immensely proud of that, too.
And more recently, you did The Crimson Field, which everyone was very surprised wasn’t recommissioned.
I think that’s just a symptom of how entertainment works nowadays. It’s a real mystery. But it was great while it lasted. I’m really grateful to have been a part of something that was a new take on an old story. It was interesting to find out about the female side of the First World War. But I’m also grateful not to be freezing my tits off filming in Bristol right now.
You’ve also made some Spanish films over the years. This might sound like a daft question, but does acting in Spanish feel different from acting in English?
That’s actually a really good question. Even when you’re working in different accents, you’re using different parts of your mouth and facial muscles, and placing your voice somewhere else. How you express yourself is so tightly-knit with what you’re expressing. When I talk in Spanish I’m a completely different human being. Spanish is a much more poetic language than English.
English is more cerebral, whereas Spanish is more visceral. Even in really common colloquialisms, you’re using a level of metaphor and humour that you don’t get to play with as much in English. It’s a different way of expressing yourself. I love it. I love languages. I speak French as well, and again, when I speak French, I suddenly become a little more tight-lipped. It changes my view of the world.
You’ve lived a fairly peripatetic lifestyle. Is that a good preparation for a life in acting?
I don’t know if anything is a good preparation for life in acting. At the same time, everything is. The thing about acting is that you devote your life to experience – to be able to experience the truth of other human beings, or of situations that you would never find yourself in. I suppose the answer to your question is, yes. It probably opened up my horizons in a more accelerated way than if I’d been in one place. But that doesn’t mean that other people who have stayed in one place don’t have a wealth of experience that I can’t fathom. A really good teacher in Spain – this amazing, massive Argentinean old queen who had really long toenails and a beautiful brain- he said “Acting is an expression of life lived, and seen lived in a direct fashion.” (sounds better in Spanish!) Anything that you can experience first hand helps you evolve, but also just turning on the TV and watching the news and seeing a mother mourning her son who’s buried under the rubble in Baghdad, to see that woman’s truth and feel empathy, means you enrich your own scope of human understanding.
Black Mirror: White Christmas – Channel 4 – 16 December 2014
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
THIS JUST IN
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