Interview: Jessica Ellerby on Sky’s LIVING THE DREAM & Netflix’s LOVESICK

JESSICA ELLERBY took some time to talk with CROOKES Magazine about her upcoming role in Sky’s LIVING THE DREAM and the process of making her short filmThe Hungry Games.

AC: First of all, lets talk about your first short film The Hungry Games. Where did your inspiration for the film come from?

JESSICA ELLERBY: It’s an observational comedy so I was very much inspired by real life experiences and stories (shared or overheard).

What was the festival circuit like?

Daunting, initially! I actually put it off for months after completion because I completely bottled it – this thing that I’d sat alone at home thinking up was going to be seen by people, and that felt completely exposing.
But once I swallowed my pride and put myself out there, I’ve found festivals have been brilliant! It’s been amazing attending screenings and seeing what stories people are telling, and how they’re telling them. I’ve been very lucky actually that the film has been accepted into quite an eclectic cross section of festivals; from comedy to female led content to short film so I have seen a really diverse load of other work because of that.
You’re also often sat in a room with the other film makers, and to be surrounded by a whole host of driven, creative and talented people is extremely inspiring.

How do you think audiences reacted to the short?

I was really warmed by how much it resonated with people actually. And that people laughed! There’s always this moment when you’re sat at the screenings and there’s a punch line and you think “oh god, please think this is funny!”. At the festivals I managed to personally attend, I had loads of people come up to me afterwards to tell me their stories, or their friends stories, or just be like “oh my god, YES! So true!” – and that was lovely, to experience first hand that people had connected to it. 

Is there one thing you’ve learnt from making the short, that you will take into your next project? Do you know what that next project might be?

I mean I learnt so much – every step of the process was a huge learning curve for me! It was a serious case of chucking myself in the deep end!

I think overall though I learnt that you’ve just got to make the stuff that you believe in and in a way that is authentic. You can’t be second guessing whether the end product will be good or not, or what people will think, or what festivals are looking for – that stuff is all out of your control and not the point anyway. And for me, writing and making my own work is very much about flexing my creative muscles (in a way that sometimes I can’t fully just as an actor) so as long as it’s always feeding that then the rest is a bonus. Oh, and having a great team is everything – having supportive, enthusiastic people egging you on is invaluable. It makes the whole process so much easier and enjoyable.

As for what’s next; there’s a horror and a drama that I’ve written that I’d like to make if I can squeeze it in before I start filming again!

Has producing your own short film made you more empathetic to the production crews on television shows and films?

​So much. I’ve always admired and had huge respect for the crew. I think they’re wizards. But yes, not having them certainly magnified that. You realise what a well oiled machine a production crew is; how important every job is, and how bloody hard everyone works. Going back onto set as an actor felt like a breeze – I was like “I just having to do the acting bit?!”. I’m not worrying about continuity or if someones parking is about to run out, and if we’ve got enough props to do that take again – dreamy!

Living The Dream is about to return – what can we expect from the second season?

​I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll have to tune in! But expect more joyful, wholesome family comedy/drama in the Florida sunshine – and a few new faces – obviously! It’s so refreshing actually to have a programme that is full of unashamed sunshine and positivity – obviously with a good dose of British sarcasm for balance!

Can you tell us any funny stories from on-set?

Leslie Jordon. The man is a constant source of comedy; he is anecdote King. And each story comes complete with a photograph. My favourite is his ‘riding Lady Gaga’. Need I say more?

You’re perhaps best known for your role in Lovesick – what do you think it is that makes the show so popular?

I think it’s great writing; it’s funny, it’s hopelessly romantic and has a great gaggle of friends to follow. And I think those things appeal to a wide audience. 

I also think the device of skipping backwards and forwards in time is very clever and allows you to delve deeper into the characters histories and also introduce new faces too, so there’s always something new for the audience.

Also episodes, as you know, are also only thirty minutes long and I think having it available on Netflix [it was originally made for Chanel 4 and later bought by the streaming service] means that people can view as many as they like in one sitting. I’ve had friends message me to say: “I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss this show before now, but I’ve just started watching Lovesick that you’re in and watched all three seasons in a week”. I mean who doesn’t love a good binge?

Speaking of Netflix, are you binge-watching anything right now? Any recommendations?

Oh yeah! I’ve always got something on the go. I naturally gravitate towards quite dark, moody dramas, and I’ve just finished Ozark season three and Unforgotten. For something lighter though, I’m also really enjoying The Good Place.  I’m usually a bit of a tough crowd when it comes to comedy, but this made me laugh out loud. I think the writing is very clever and the performances are flawless across the board.

Alongside your upcoming projects, is there one thing you’re particularly excited about for the future?

Well, work wise, I’m shooting a really cool new show that I think is going to be brilliant. I get to play an extremely iconic character which is quite special. And life wise, I’ve always had the travel bug hard so there’s a few places I’m looking forward to ticking off my bucket list.

Living The Dream continues on Sky One, Tuesdays at 9pm

PHOTOGRAPHER – JOSEPH SINCLAIR

INTERVIEW: ADAM CROOKES

STYLING – HOLLY OUNSTEAD

HMU – SAMANTHA COOPER

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Interview: Alistair Petrie on Netflix’s SEX EDUCATION & HELLBOY

ALISTAIR PETRIE can currently be seen in the new Netflix comedy-drama Sex Education, alongside Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield. In April, Alistair will be seen in the superhero-epic Hellboy and then returning to espionage-thriller series Deep State for a second season later in the year.

AC: All of the projects that you’re acting in this year are incredibly different. What makes a role interesting to you?

ALISTAIR PETRIE: A heady combination of script, part, director, production, creative team and cast. That’s a pretty delicate algorithm to fulfill. I do subscribe to the notion that a huge part in a terrible script is a complete waste of time. Although, that said, I also realize there can be bills to pay. ‘Interesting’ doesn’t ever necessarily mean ‘big’. Give me someone with flaws, someone struggling with something, someone trying their best, trying to figure out how to be given the circumstance they exist in. Sometimes you can come across underwritten characters in a really good piece of writing and you feel an instinctive grasp of who they are – a grasp that tells you no-one else can bring this person to life. That’s exciting. Then, if the hirers and firers let you, the collaboration begins. The party starts.

Tell us about your role in Netflix’s Sex Education. How does your character fit into the story?

The Mighty Mr Groff is the Headmaster of Moordale School trying to keep a grip on an institution that is inhabited by teenagers doing their best to figure out who they are, want they want to do and who they want to do it with. Like most Headteachers of any Secondary School, he’s like Noah on day one of the Ark trip standing at a lectern trying to tell the animals how to behave and and what do. Good luck with that. There’s an added issue in that his teenage son is a pupil at the school which presents challenges for the both of them. He’s not the most compliant of offspring.

Can you recall any funny stories from on-set?

My final shot on the series was a solo improvised dance sequence to be done from one angle in a single take. Yes, really. We were pushed for time, I blithely ignored the offer of a choreographer and I told the entire crew very confidently ‘don’t worry, I’ve got this’ knowing everyone wanted to get this done and get home for the weekend. I was having so much fun, I kept pleading for another take just so I could bust out some moves I’d kept in a box for twenty plus years. The final straw was my when I asked if I could do it yet again, this time channeling Tom Cruise in Risky Business. The silence was deafening.

As an actor, how can you tell when you’re reading a great script for a project?

I can have a very immediate and visceral reaction within a couple of pages. My stomach jumps and my eyes can water. Scripts arrive from my agent, Roxane, via email so you can be anywhere when the phone goes ‘bing’. Being sent any new script is exciting. I can’t help but immediately start reading it, if only a few pages to get a sense of it. If the first couple of pages are good, all verbal hell can break loose. I’ve been on a bus, taxiing on a plane, walking the dog and been heard to say too loudly “Holy f**k, this is great!”. Then your job becomes to convince those involved to actually ask you to do it. If the email also says, “they’d love to offer you the role of ‘x'” then break out the party streamers. Even on the bus.

What’s the best script you’ve read?

Utopia by Dennis Kelly which we did for Channel 4 was pretty astonishing. The skill, of course, is for a director not to mess it up. With Marc Munden at the helm, that was never going to happen. The Night Manager was hugely seductive too, again marshaled wonderfully by the incomparable Susanne Bier. I read a play years ago called, I think, Prince On A White Bike that a regional theatre was doing. it was written by a first time writer in his eighties who had always wanted to write a play but didn’t have the courage. I cried when I read it partly because of the piece but partly for being denied future brilliant work by such an amazing writer. 

Deep State will soon be returning – what can we expect from the upcoming second series?

It goes big; bigger than season one, both thematically and in its scale. Set two years before and six months after the events of season one. The mighty Walton Goggins joins as does Victoria Hamilton, Alexander Siddig and a vast new talent, Lily Banda. We spent two and half months in Cape Town and then moved to Southern Morroco on the Algerian Border and the Northern Sahara. It’s very, very good and I’m hugely proud of it. 

An action-packed trailer for Hellboy was released just recently – did you get the chance to work with CGI? How did you find the experience?

You don’t so much work with CGI rather than work without it. It feels the bigger the CGI they will do in post production the more daft it can feel on the day you shoot the ‘live’ bit of the sequence. But the job is to get over that and go for it; believe it and make it happen. Special effects wizards and the director describe what it will eventually look like and you fill in the gaps. So you have a picture in your head and then dive in. The result, and I’ve seen bits of a CGI heavy sequence we did in Hellboy, is breathtaking. My son is studying Special Effects at University and what a magnificent playground he’s entering.

Are you a comic book fan?

As a kid living in the Middle East, access to TV and film were sparse so comics were my way of finding stories. All sorts, from Tintin through to X Men and Batman and beyond. Having done Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, my character, General Draven, features in the Marvel Star Wars Comics. It’s huge thrill, I’ve bought dozens of editions.

Is there one character trait which unites all three of your upcoming roles?

If I combined them all into one, he’d be a gun-toting, dancing chocoholic, who frequents sex clubs, drives a Lamborghini and knows ten names for Marijuana. All three wear a tie at some point.

‘Sex Education’ drops on Netflix on January 11, 2019

PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVID REISS

INTERVIEW: ADAM CROOKES

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Interview: Robert Emms on ITV’s ‘Cleaning Up’ & HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’

It’s going to be a big year for ROBERT EMMS with major roles in two new dramas on different sides of the Atlantic. This January, you’ll see Robert in the ITV drama Cleaning Up, opposite Sheridan Smith. Then later in the year, he will be appearing in HBO’s Chernobyl – which dramatizes the true story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history.

The six-part series Cleaning Up lifts the lid on the dangerous world of insider trading. We spoke to Robert Emms about his role in the drama.

AC: There’s been a lot of anticipation for ITV’s Cleaning Up – how does your character fit into the story?

ROBERT EMMS: My character moves into Sam’s [Sheridan Smith] house and they become friends and he finds a place in her family.

What was it like to work with Sheridan Smith?

It was great! She’s a real professional, always delivers such a brilliant performance and a real team player.

Can you recall any funny moments from your time on-set?

I had to pretty much run a magic show in front of about twenty screaming kids dressed as a wizard. That was a challenge! Thankfully it was supposed to be a rubbish magic trick.

How much can you tell us about your role in HBO’s Chernobyl?

I play a person called Leonid Toptunov who worked in the main control room on the night of the accident. He was fairly inexperienced in his new role as the senior reactor control chief engineer and he suffered the consequences of having to run a test he was never trained to do. This is a well known and documented part of what happened. 

How much research did you do for the role?

Production sent us lots of great research material. Part of this was about understanding how a nuclear power station functions. Also understanding the politics and the way of life in that time and the other important part was about understanding moment for moment what happened that night from the perspective of our characters.

With the series tackling such sensitive subject matter, were the sets ever chilling to work on?

It was very fun to work on for its scale and the people, but yes at times the scenes could be emotionally challenging. It was important to remember whilst approaching a scene that everything happened for real to these people. It sounds obvious, but it helps to engage properly with the story.

You also recently starred in the film Apostasy – another project which tackles heavy subject matter. How would you describe the film? 

Apostasy was written and directed by Dan Kokotajlo who used to be a Jehovah witness before leaving the organisation. It’s a story about his experience. It follows a mother and her two daughters and explores how their relationship is tested and pressured by the church when one daughter tries to leave. It’s a really brave debut by Dan and I was thrilled to be a part of it. I play Steven, an elder who pursues the youngest daughter as a potential wife and they have a relationship.

Is there one character trait which unites all three of your recent roles?

I’ve never really thought about that. I suppose all three of these characters are honest and sensitive people.

Alongside your upcoming projects, is there one thing you’re particularly excited about for the future?

I have recently started writing songs. I am a pianist and singer and I’m very excited at some point to share these with people! It’s something I’ve been working on for a while. Now I’m at a point of recording the songs and then will see where to go from there.

Cleaning Up will air in six parts starting on Wednesday 9th January at 9pm on ITV

PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVID REISS

INTERVIEW: ADAM CROOKES

STYLING: SABINA EMRIT

GROOMING: PATRICK FORINI

Interview: Tom Brittney – Takes The Lead In GRANCHESTER

As one crime-fighting vicar leaves, another arrives. TOM BRITTNEY marks a new era for the ITV drama Granchester as it enters its fourth series. Tom Brittney talks to us about following in the footsteps of actor James Norton, who led the show in its three prior installments.

AC: How does it feel to be following in the footsteps of James Norton? Did he give you any advice?

TOM BRITTNEY: It was the most daunting thing I’ve ever done! I was a big fan of James’ before getting the job, from seeing him in things like Happy Valley, and I knew how well loved him and Sidney are, so I knew I had a big task ahead of me in taking over. His main advice to me was just to have fun and just enjoy it, and it really helped me relax into the job.

What does your new character bring to the village of Granchester?

I think Will sort of represents the new generation coming in at the end of the 50s; the rock and roll, rebellious youth of that era. He didn’t fight in the war like Sidney and Geordie, and has a much more optimistic, and possibly idealistic, view of the world, which is very different from Geordie’s perspective. He also has an incredible passion to help people, which sometimes has a habit of coming out in the wrong way…

You’ve joined an already very established cast, how did they welcome you?

I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome, honestly. It was like stepping into a family I’d been a part of for years. It was truly the most wonderful set I’ve ever worked on, and every single cast member made me feel at home. Which is the opposite of the characters in the show!

What are some of the challenges unique to leading a cast?

You work longer hours for a start! I hadn’t done a job before where I’d filmed pretty much all day every day. But I’d always wanted that, and loved it. I’d also say there’s a different type of pressure on you too, but that was me putting it on myself as opposed to anyone else. I wanted to do the best job I could and not let the fans, actors or the crew down in anyway.

Many people won’t know that the show is based on a series of short stories. Have you read any of them?

Yes! I read the first book when I got the role. Not that Will Davenport is in them, but I wanted to get an idea of the feel of the village and the time. James Runcie is a wonderful author.

Quick Questions with Tom Brittney

If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Time travel! I love history and I’d love to be able to visit different time periods. But I wouldn’t change anything, don’t worry. We all know from films that fiddling with the past causes nothing but chaos!

Scary film or a happy ending?

I am a fan of a really scary film but I’d have to go for a nice, heartwarming happy ending. That’ll probably make me cry a lot.

Three people dead or alive that you’d have dinner with?

Robin Williams. One of my acting heroes growing up. When he died it felt like the world lost a funny uncle that we never knew. His performances showed me you could play and have fun on screen and still be amazing.

Tim Hetherington, a photographer who died covering the conflict in Libya in 2011. One of my favourite photographers and just an incredible person and humanitarian.

Louis Theroux. Who wouldn’t want to have dinner with him? Imagine all the stories he’d have!

Last photo you took?

I did a terrible thing and Instagrammed a photo of my dinner last night. I try to never do that but it was this stupidly tiny dessert and looked ridiculous.

Best thing that has happened to you today?

I got to fly home for Christmas and see my family.

Last country you visited?

I was just in America filming a show down in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a really cool city I’d love to have a chance to explore again.

Best way to decompress?

I play a lot of video games in my downtime. I don’t really buy myself a lot of things in general, but when I do its usually a new game or game console. Right now I’m deep into living as a cowboy in Red Dead Redemption 2

If your life was a song, what would the title be?

“The Devil’s Curly Hair”.

PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSEPH SINCLAIR

INTERVIEW: ADAM CROOKES

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