Cucumber/Banana – Georgia Henshaw interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
GEORGIA Henshaw talks about playing Sian in Banana and Cucumber, the new series created by Russell Davies, which is currently airing on Channel 4, E4 and online as well as some of the challenges this involved.
She also reflects on her career to date, from starting acting at the age of eight and gaining the invaluable support of her mother, to some of her favourite roles and the challenges they brought. And she talks about taking on theatre for the first time.
Q. What did you like most about playing Sian in Cucumber and Banana. And what was most challenging about her?
Georgia Henshaw: I think Sue Perkins did such a good job of writing such a headstrong role. The first scene I read was her opening up. It’s like a little monologue, so I got to see a glimpse into her true self and her views on things such as her mum. Her mum is a very strong woman and she [Sian] thinks she’s been wronged. She also has her head on the career ladder and her relationship suffers as a result. I’ve [previously] played meek characters and I’ve done vibrant ones and even damaged victims, so to play such a headstrong worker was great. Her priorities are in such a different place to other characters I’ve played before. She’s a realist and she probably sees the grey in things a lot more than I do. So, I thought that would be a real challenge because I’m really not playing myself. And that’s real acting.
Q. Did you enjoy playing her?
Georgia Henshaw: I really enjoyed playing her and finding the moments where she actually discovered things and learnt a couple of lessons. You have to listen to people [in life] or you will lose out on love or a great relationship or some of their knowledge. But she’s so headstrong that she doesn’t always think she needs other people’s advice. So, I particularly enjoyed those moments where she realises things and she comes out of her head a little bit. But I also enjoyed the scenes with [co-star] Hannah [John-Kamen], my lover on-screen, where she lets her hair down a little. Hannah was so much fun to play with… she’s just my kind of girl. When we first met, I said straight away: “Yep, you’re my girlfriend!” And we both had such a great time.
Q. When Queer As Folk first aired it was described as landmark TV. Do you think Banana and Cucumber are still landmark shows? Or do you think attitudes to homosexuality have improved so much that that’s not so much the case?
Georgia Henshaw: I’ve got to say I don’t think it’s particularly taboo busting because we see things like this on our screens anyway now. We’re not shocked at these topics, so the taboos have gone and rightly so. So, I hope people are going to warm to it because all of the characters are relatable on some level, whether you’re watching the show as a gay or straight person. We’ve all been in love. And they’re also a fun set of characters to watch. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s dramatic. And I love the concept of Banana being an individual story per episode. It means you can get totally engrossed in the character and see this person go on a journey. It’s definitely the kind of show I’d be watching if I wasn’t in it [laughs].
Q. And the idea of tolerance is perhaps more relevant now than ever before given the state of the world when it comes to religious intolerance….
Georgia Henshaw: That’s so right. Shows like this need to happen because it shows that this is Britain and we can do what we like on our channels – and audiences can like it or lump it. I think it’s fantastic that our broadcasters will do that. And it’s brilliant that we have so many fantastic writers who write such real characters. But again, I don’t want this to be known as simply a gay drama. There’s so much to these shows, which you’d be missing out on if you wrote it off as such.
Q. Did you get to work much with Russell Davies?
Georgia Henshaw: I first saw Russell at the read through and it was wicked meeting him. But I didn’t work with him a lot. That said, every day after filming we got a text from him because he’d look at all of the rushes and was really involved, which was amazing. I remember getting one from Russell after a costume fitting where he said: “No, no, these aren’t characters, they’re real people, so the clothes must reflect that.” So, he got a say on everything. And it was really nice to get texts from him ever night because it showed that he cares.
Q. You’ve been acting from such an early age, so how did you first catch the bug and what have you learnt along the way?
Georgia Henshaw: I started when I was eight, when I went to a class in Swansea. It was three hours and it was a lot of fun. But then I was a confident, happy kid and improvising was my thing. It’s served me so well, such as when I auditioned for Casualty. But I’d have to say that my mum is the reason I’m here because she’s so lovely and relaxed and not pushy at all. Pressure shouldn’t be put on children at these kinds of things because it’s all to gain and there’s nothing really to lose. So, my mum would be like: “Let’s go to the audition, we might have some lovely food and remember that they’re there to meet you.”
I remember being sat in audition rooms just chatting to her calmly and then looking around at other parents who’d be looking at their kids and urging them to read the script, or hearing the kids say that they felt sick with nerves. So, I’d walk in and feel relaxed and come across as comfortable – but then you’re never going to impress someone if you don’t look comfortable. Hopefully, from there I learnt to act and I’ve been learning along the way ever since. Thankfully, my career has just kept rolling. But really I’m just a chancer… I’m chancing it.
Q. And how do your parents view your career now?
Georgia Henshaw: They’re cool with it. They’re happy for me and my successes. And they support me. They don’t make a big deal if I fail at anything. Recently, I came super close to a lovely part, which I didn’t get, so I rang my brother and told him I didn’t get it. But all he said was “that’s shit”. I asked him to tell my mum for me, so he did, and my mum in her true style, because she’s not a dweller, said: “Alright, ok… I‘m going to bed.” It was nothing at all. We don’t dwell on the bad [as a family]; we just think of the positives. My brother is a manager – he manages DJs and that’s exciting too. So, we have a pretty creative family. And it’s nice to follow my brother’s career as well. We all support each other and enjoy each other’s successes.
Q. But is it hard to stay positive all of the time? I’d imagine you also need a pretty thick skin for this industry at times?
Georgia Henshaw: I would say the hardest thing is when I’m unemployed and have nothing to do because I need one activity to do every day. So, if that’s the case, I generally end up cooking something delicious or going out for a meal – and spending my money! Look, I would have given up a while ago if I took on board the things that I didn’t get. You have to go for so many things, so you have got to be realistic about it. Not everything can be perfect but the things you do get are because you’re right for them, so go in there and smash it. I just hope that I’m able to keep it up.
Q. Which projects do you look back most favourably on and which do you feel you learned most on?
Georgia Henshaw: I loved The Crash for BBC3, which I did about two and a half years ago, It was about seven teenagers who were all involved in a crash. I played Rachel. She began the show as so sparky and fun but then following the crash was in a coma. She also suffered two broken legs and a broken arm as well as brain damage, so she came out completely different person. To do that transition was great. I love to be challenged when I’m acting, so I had a great time on that one. I also love getting to travel all over the country and meeting interesting, like-minded people.
Q. You’re also now doing theatre with Donkey Heart, which has been enjoying a run at Trafalgar Studios in London? It began life at the Old Red Lion in Islington before transferring, so how did you feel when you heard that it would be making a transfer to the West End?
Georgia Henshaw: It was great. We, as a cast, get on so well and we’re having such a lovely time, so it was fantastic to find out that we could spend a little more time together. It’s the first show I’ve done in the theatre and it’s been a lot of fun. I remember that during the first press night I just got through it. So, I felt really fortunate that I was able to have second run. It showed me my potential… that if I get a little bit of time on something, then my nerves really slip away and I can have more fun with it. I was able to find much more [about my character] and have really got to grips with it now. So, it’s lovely to see that potential realised.
Q. What do you like most about theatre?
Georgia Henshaw: The best thing about theatre is the audience reaction and the fact that they’re there. It adds something… it adds a bite to your performance. It’s so different in that regard and it’s still new to me. But I think it’s lovely to have such a variety of work. I love TV and film, which is where I started off, but I’m really enjoying theatre as well. And now I’m ready for a nice film project next.
Q. Do you have anything lined up?
Georgia Henshaw: Well, I had a little meeting today but I’ve also got a holiday lined up. It’s tropical rays and drinking rum punch for me next. In fact, I’ve just been sent over a video, as my friend’s out there now, and it’s of a woman twirking and her ass is so big it looks fake [laughs]. But it’s not. My friend has confirmed that it’s real. It’s fantastic. So, I’ve got to get some practice in.
Georgia’s episode of Banana airs on E4 on Thursday night (February 5) at 10pm.