Star of stage and screen unboxed
Despite her new-found prominence on our screens, Annabel Scholey has had an illustrious career on the stage spanning performances from The Old Vic to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Andrew Peters caught up with her ahead of the release of new BBC TV series The Split in which Annabel takes the lead alongside Nicola Walker.
Sky Atlantic's Britannia - Photo copyright: Sky UK Ltd
Q Annabel, your mother was a nurse, your father a retired fireman and your sister is a teacher. What made you want to become an actor?
A Yes, I am the one who defected! I always danced and sang from when I was very small and so it was never even really a conscious decision that I would be in the industry somewhere… It just sort of happened over many years. I loved performing and was very focused on it growing up. Mum and dad always took us to the theatre, which I loved, but it was when I started drama classes myself and was introduced to Shakespeare that I really fell in love with acting. I enjoyed the language and pretending to be different characters and I think I felt most comfortable doing drama rather than dancing and singing. My nerves would always be horrendous with those, but not with acting.
Q Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, you now live on the south coast. Is there still a lot of the Yorkshire girl left in you?
A I will always be a Yorkshire lass at heart and very proud of it. My family is still there and it was my home for 18 years. It’s a beautiful county and I still visit a lot, so I get the best of both worlds.
Q You studied at The Oxford School of Drama, which was, and remains, a small, but highly regarded school. How did you choose it?
A I auditioned all over the country, had some rejection and a couple of acceptances, but Oxford felt absolutely right for me. I was from Wakefield, very naive and so was very happy to stop off in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside for a few years before moving to London. It’s a fantastic school and the classical training there really suited me. Hard work though!
Q You started acting in theatre and much of your early career was spent on the stage, has this proved to be a good grounding for your career?
A Absolutely, yes. I needed it and loved every second of it and hope to do another play soon. You really can’t hide on the stage. If you’re bad then people will see it! I learnt from some of the best actors we have and got to know them. I made some of my best friends doing theatre and some of my proudest moments were whilst working on the stage.
Q What’s the most important aspect of being an actor?
A Maintaining a sense of self. If you don’t have that then it can be a very harsh world to live in. Realising it’s a long game and that rejection is part of it and that it’s not personal is very difficult, but ultimately the way to survive. Be yourself at all times.
Annabel Scholey as Maddie (centre) with Hannah Arterton (left) as Taylor and Katy Brand (right) as Lil in Walking on Sunshine - Photo copyright: 2014 Vertigo Films
Q You liked to sing and dance at a young age, so apart from a chance to test those skills, replacing Kylie (Minogue) for the part, and the two and a half months in Puglia, Italy, what was so good about your first film, the feel-good-musical Walking on Sunshine?
A What can I say? It was absolutely amazing! The people, the locations, the food… we recorded an album (something I have to say I never thought I’d do!), but most importantly being in Italy was incredible. It’s my favourite country.
Q We interviewed Lee (Ingleby) a short time ago: you were his romantic interest in Inspector George Gently – was it good to play a character a little closer to home?
A I loved working with Lee. He’s a fantastic actor and a really great bloke. It was a lovely job. A bit rainier than Puglia, but I loved being part of the series and trying out my Geordie accent…hmmm….not easy.
Q You’ve recently starred in Sky Atlantic’s Britannia and have described the series as unlike Game of Thrones and rather psychedelic. Can you explain that a little more?
A I think I meant that Britannia has a completely different vibe to GOT. It is an epic period drama as is GOT, but the similarities stop there. There is certainly a very 1960s’ hippy vibe to it, which Jez and Tom Butterworth (the writers) were aiming for; the tribes smoking strange substances, people hallucinating and taking trips to the underworld, it’s completely bonkers.
Q The part you play is Amena, one of five strong women in the drama. What aspects about her do you like best?
A Well, she’s not particularly a nice person, but I do enjoy playing her a lot! She’s ruthless and determined, so I suppose I can admire that in her. As a character to play, I love her slyness and distain for most other human beings… it’s fun to play a bad guy.
Q Is there any of her in you?
A Erm… I hope not. I’d say maybe her focus and determination, but that’s it.
Q The Britannia role is physically demanding: was that easy for you?
A I really enjoy physical parts. I suppose that’s down to my dance training, but I’m always happy to learn new physical skills such as horse riding and stage combat. I’m in my element really if it’s physically demanding.
Q They say history repeats itself, so do you see any parallels between 43AD and today?
A I think there are some similarities yes: the world is still unsettled. There is violence worldwide over territories. We are currently trying to separate ourselves from Europe…in 43AD we were trying to remain in control of Britain. In 43AD the tribes here were fighting each other and today we find the left and right at loggerheads. There are similarities for sure.
Q I know you like Italy having worked frequently there (RSC Richard III, Walking on Sunshine and Medici), would you have liked to have been one of the Romans rather than Celts?
A Well, funnily enough, I sort of end up with the Romans at the end of this series so…I always find Italy in the end!
Q Who have been the biggest influences in your acting career?
A So many people! Starting with some excellent teachers at drama school, then actors and directors I have worked with: Zoë Wanamaker, Tim Pigott-Smith, Sir Peter Hall, and actors my age from whom I have learnt and admire from watching their work.
Q You’ve had such a varied career to date, has that been a conscious decision?
A Not at all. I have gone with the opportunities that came my way, but I always wanted to avoid being typecast and have managed to do that so far.
Photo by Joseph Sinclair, makeup by Sam Cooper, hair by Polly Miteva for Paul Edmonds
Profile: Annabel Scholey
Annabel started her career playing Diana Rivers in Jane Eyre, and went on to star in Being Human and BBC3’s Personal Affairs.
Annabel has had an extensive theatrical career, playing in many productions. At the RSC she took the lead role of Cressida in Peter Stein’s Troilus and Cressida. She then took on the role of Anya in Sir Jonathan Miller’s production of The Cherry Orchard alongside Joanna Lumley. She has worked in various productions at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester, including House of Special Purpose directed by Howard Davies. She starred as Hermia in Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside Dame Judi Dench, and then in his West End production of The Rivals as Julia Melville.
Other theatre credits include The National Theatre’s production of Antigone at the Olivier with Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston, Peter Nichols’ Passion Play at the Duke of York’s Theatre with Zoë Wanamaker, Owen Teale and Samantha Bond and then in The Almeida’s hugely successful Mr Burns.
Annabel was the lead actress in the 2014 musical film Walking on Sunshine, and more recently she played the Contessina in the eight-part series Medici: Masters of Florence. The second series to Medici will be out later this year, and while Annabel will make an appearance in it, she promises the Contessina will be “somewhat older and wiser in this one”.
After Sky Atlantic’s Britannia, Annabel takes a lead role in the upcoming BBC One six-part drama The Split written by award-winning writer Abi Morgan and also starring Nicola Walker. Beyond that, she is thinking of another film role in the near future and maybe returning to theatre as it has been two years since her last play.
Q Jodie Whittaker is, of course, the new Doctor Who, and you’ve worked with her before. If asked, would you like to take a trip in the TARDIS?
A I would definitely take a trip with Jodie…she is the best. An amazing woman and actress, so yes, sign me up!
Q You’re soon to be seen in BBC TV’s The Split with Nicola Walker. Can you tell us a little about that?
A The Split is a six-part drama about a family of divorce lawyers: mum and three daughters. Nicola Walker plays Hannah, the eldest, and I the middle sister, Nina. Our baby sister, Rose (Fiona Button), is a nanny. It follows our professional lives within the Defoe family firm and its rival firm Noble and Hale. At the heart of the drama is the family and all the intricate and messy relationships within it. Beautifully written by Abi Morgan, it’s full of brilliantly flawed, but ultimately good, characters struggling to work out what it is to love.
Q If you could choose a role, current or past, what would it be?
A I would choose Nina Defoe from The Split. I loved playing her and found her a challenge.
Abi Morgan’s The Split, starring Nicola Walker and Annabel Scholey, is on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC One.Twitter: @AnnabelScholey