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Lightfields - Antonia Clarke interview (exclusive)

Antonia Clarke

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ANTONIA Clarke talks about some of the pleasures and challenges of playing Lucy in new ITV series Lightfields and why her grandmother played a key part in helping get into character.

She also reflects on her own career to date, including getting an agent after missing out on a school play, appearing in Les Miserables and learning some invaluable tips from Anne Hathaway and appearing with Mark Strong in her next film, Mindscape.

Q. What appealed to you about Lightfields and the role of Lucy?
Antonia Clarke: I think l loved the whole concept. I can’t remember reading anything that was set over so many different time periods. It made me think about the different people who had lived in my house and slept in my room. I thought the whole concept was really clever. I hadn’t seen Marchlands. But I thought the script drifted seamlessly throughout the different time periods.

Q. How much could you relate to Lucy?
Antonia Clarke: Quite a lot. She’s very different to me in a lot of ways. She’s quite a naive teenager growing up in Suffolk. But she’s 17, I’m 18 and I could identity with the growing up element and experiencing different things and meeting new people.

Q. Is the mindset of a teenage girl living in 1944 different to that of a teenager living now in terms of what she is and isn’t allowed to do and think? Was there perhaps less room for independent thinking?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, definitely. She’s living in 1944 and has a different set of principals she needs to abide by. But generally, what you go through at this age in terms of the emotions of growing up and experiencing new things is still the same.

Q. Did you do much research into the role?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, I did and it was great. When my grandmother was 17, she lived in 1944, so I basically talked to her about what it was like for her. With every character that I’ve played, I always write a back-story that may help fill in any blanks. So, my grandma would tell me what her interests were and she would recall certain experiences. But the script also gave me a lot to work with as well because it was so well written.

Q. How did your grandmother feel about being a consultant?
Antonia Clarke: She loved it [laughs]. She got out all of her old photos and things. She really enjoyed being able to offer a helping hand.

Q. And how was working with your co-stars, such as Dakota Blue Richards?
Antonia Clarke: I did one scene with Dakota on Skins, so it was nice to see her again. She was great. Our characters are good friends, so we became good friends to. It’s one of the things I think I love about this job – how at the beginning you hardly know anyone and by the end, you’re all great friends. You get to meet such interesting people in this profession.

Q. And also open yourself up to so many different experiences. Did Lightfields enable you to try your hand at some farming?
Antonia Clarke: Exactly! And yes, before we started shooting, we all went on a farming lesson and learnt how to thatch roofs, look after cows and bale hay. I quite liked it. I wouldn’t mind living on a farm. Certainly, for this role it was really interesting and provided a great backdrop. It was so very different to what I’m used to because I’m from London.

Q. I read that you decided to go out and get an agent after missing out on a role in a school play. Is that true?
Antonia Clarke: [Laughs] It is true. My school was great with plays and stuff but I really wanted to be in that one particular play and I didn’t get in. So, while everyone was rehearsing I got an agent and started doing my own stuff outside of school. But my school was still great and luckily I did get some parts. It’s funny, I never realised I would be so upset about missing out on the original play. But maybe it was a good thing in terms of how it gave me that determination to prove them wrong.

Antonia Clarke

Q. And the decision has certainly paid off. When you look back, are you amazed by how far you’ve come in such a relatively short space of time?
Antonia Clarke: I don’t really think about that more than how much I want to keep on going, to carry on working and getting new jobs. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far because I’ve played some really cool parts. But I really want to keep that going.

Q. What made you want to become an actress?
Antonia Clarke: I’m not sure. I think maybe, subconsciously, I’ve always wanted to be an actress. I was always quite a weird little child, putting on plays in my room by myself. It sounds a little weird to admit, but I used to always think there were cameras following me around. I’m the youngest… I have two older brothers who were always out playing. But I’d be inside putting on those plays.

Q. How was your experience of making Les Miserables?
Antonia Clarke: Les Miserables was amazing… it was unlike anything I’ve ever done. It was a bit of a shock walking onto the sets. It was such a huge studio at Pinewood and the sets were amazing… they were so realistic. I had so much fun and it was such a learning process because I was out of my comfort zone, not having sung or danced in the past. I played one of the Lovely Ladies ensemble.

Q. So, how much do you feel you learnt from that experience in particular?
Antonia Clarke: Well, I was working with Anne Hathaway in one of the scenes, so I was constantly watching her and how she prepared for the role and the part. But also getting to be with all the other actors in the ensemble, most of whom come from the West End. They gave me a lot of advice about projecting my voice and moving around.

Q. Did you have chance to talk to Anne off-set?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, she was in our scenes, so she spoke to everyone, which was really nice. It was really interesting to hear what she had to say and she was so nice. I got to see her before some of the intense scenes she had, including when she had to have her hair cut off. She listened to music before she started acting, to get her in the right mood, which I thought was a really great tip. In fact, I’ve started doing that now. I listen to music before doing any big emotional scene, especially if it involves needing to cry.

Q. Do you have a go to track?
Antonia Clarke: I listen to a lot of Laura Marling but no song in particular.

Q. And how was being directed by Tom Hooper?
Antonia Clarke: He was great. I was terrified at first because I’d seen The King’s Speech, of course, and thought it was so great. You can really see in Les Miserables through the cinematography that the shots he created are so beautiful. But he really took charge and told everyone where they needed to be.

Q. Did you go to the premiere?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, I did. The premiere was incredible. It was mad. I loved seeing the premier. Everyone was chatting after every song and there was a real buzz.

Q. Did you get to walk the red carpet?
Antonia Clarke: I did. It was weird… a mix of crazy, terrifying and exciting… seeing all those people. It was so crowded and freezing! It was weird seeing that side of filming because until that point, I’ve usually only been on sets or in a cold field somewhere doing my scenes. So, it was fascinating to see the more glamorous side of things.

Q. Is that something you have to be mindful of – the glamour and celebrity? I remember Emma Watson was constantly asked about staying grounded. Is that something you have to be aware, not to get side-tracked by the glamour?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, although personally I prefer just getting down and acting. All the other background is nice but it’s not really for me. I know some of it is part of the job. But I’d much rather just stick to the acting.

Antonia Clarke

Q. Looking back, would you say that Wild was the thing that changed things for you?
Antonia Clarke: Oh my God, Wild was the thing that put me on the map. Without Wild, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t be with the agency I’m with now. That was the gateway and it was an amazing experience. It was a short film but the director, Edward Bishop, was so nice. I’m so grateful that he gave me the part of Laura because I know there were a lot of people in the frame. But that was a role that was so much fun to play. It was made in a short space of time and was really intense filming. But I’m so pleased with the way it turned out.

Q. Do you prefer that kind of intense filming, as opposed to the bigger things where there may be more waiting around?
Antonia Clarke: There’s waiting around in everything but definitely, I like the intimate sets where you can concentrate on the acting. Les Miserables was almost like a machine, getting everyone in their places and then going straight for the shot. But again, it’s something you just have to deal with.

Q. Are you still at university?
Antonia Clarke: I’m currently taking a gap year.

Q. But will you be studying in addition to continuing with the acting to keep your options open?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s great to learn more. I want to do a history of art degree. I think education helps with acting as well because learning new things can help develop parts. So, I’d like to balance the two. I’ve been doing that anyway, as I was able to balance auditioning and acting with my school work.

Q. How do you feel about auditioning?
Antonia Clarke: I don’t mind it. When I first started I remember being at my first audition and feeling so shy and terrified to even look people in the eye. But you’ve got to get through that. And it became much easier. I actually find them quite fun now because you get to do auditions for so many cool parts, even though you may not always actually get the role. It’s a good experience.

Q. And you learn from the failures as well as the successes?
Antonia Clarke: Absolutely. It’s another opportunity to meet new people, to learn what to do and what not to do in auditions, and even to tackle and play a really different role, or part of one, even if you don’t get to play it completely. You do have to grow a thick skin because there is a high rejection rate. But I’ve come to really enjoy them.

Q. How was working with Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall on Parade’s End?
Antonia Clarke: I didn’t actually get to do any scenes with them. But director Susanna White was amazing. She was so nice. She was a really sensitive director. She would come up and talk personally to me rather than just screaming across the set, so that was so much fun to be a part of. And it was my first period drama, so I loved getting into costume as well.

Q. Is that another of the appeals of acting, getting to do things that are so far removed from your everyday reality at times?
Antonia Clarke: Yeah, I’m quite curious about other people and I always try to imagine what it would be like to be someone else. Acting allows you to experience emotions you wouldn’t experience in everyday life.

Q. Have you ever been asked to convey an emotion that has been so far removed from your reality that you found it difficult to access?
Antonia Clarke: I once played one a girl who was being sexually abused by her dad, so… But I really loved doing that because it was so far away from me and although it was dark subject matter, I am drawn to that, just because it is so far away from me. Obviously, you have to find a part of yourself in any part you play otherwise you’re just lying. But that was really intense and I enjoyed the challenge of doing it.

Q. Is there an actress you look up to?
Antonia Clarke: I’ve always looked up to Kristin Scott Thomas. I think she’s amazing because she’s so versatile. And I also recently watched Amour with Emmanuelle Riva and found her performance incredible. But I also admire some actresses that are nearer my own age too. Imogen Poots is someone I’ve always looked up to. I think she’s had an incredible career to this point and all of the roles she has taken have been so diverse and she’s been so great in all of them.

Q. She’s working in Hollywood a lot now. Is that somewhere you’d like to head eventually?
Antonia Clarke: You know, maybe. I’m just going to see what comes up. But hopefully one day, if it it’s a good job.

Q. You’ve just worked with Mark Strong haven’t you?
Antonia Clarke: Yes, I worked with Mark Strong on a new film called Mindscape and he was amazing. He also taught me so much… to be brave and to ask questions – don’t be afraid to ask questions. Although it was only a short time, I feel I learnt so much. But you learn with every job, especially as kind of a young actress. I’m like a sponge, I soak up everything.

Q. What’s your favourite memory of being on a film or TV set to this point?
Antonia Clarke: Oh gosh, that’s a hard one… there are so many. [Pauses to think] I think maybe… The whole experience of Lightfields was great because it was the first time I was playing a central character. So, that was really fun. And I loved Lucy as well. She represented a broad challenge because it was the first time I’ve got to play someone who was alive and dead. I don’t think I’ll ever get to play a part like that again.

Lightfields airs on ITV1 on Wednesday nights from 9pm.