Charlotte Spencer, Screen International’s Star of Tomorrow 2015, is heading back to yesteryear in new BBC One drama The Living and The Dead, set in Somerset at the end of the 19th century. She stars as Charlotte alongside Colin Morgan as her husband, Nathan Appleby – a young couple, whose new life in the isolated English countryside is threatened by strange, unsettling, and dangerous supernatural forces. FAULT sat down with Charlotte to talk corsets, elephants and spooky on-set happenings ahead of the new six-part drama, airing on BBC 1 this June.
What was it that drew you to the role of Charlotte Appleby?
Well, since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to do a period drama; my parents would always ask “Why are you putting on Lark Rise to Candleford? Why do you like this?” and I just was like, “I love it! I want to be in it!” So it’s a dream being fulfilled, really. Also the character, Charlotte, is so cool – she’s quite a modern woman for her time, and that’s what drew me to her.
What sort of research and preparation is involved in getting ready to star in a period drama?
Colin and I had a lot of rehearsals before shooting, and we would go through things like the way we stood, little etiquette things, like you had to make sure you didn’t slouch or anything – it’s very hard to slouch in a corset anyway, believe me! And you want it to be realistic so, as much as they’re quite a modern couple for their time, they still have very Victorian values. Even though we wanted to stay true to our characters, we had to remember that they are living in Victorian times.
Are supernatural or horror shows something that you enjoy watching?
Yeah, I love anything that’s a bit out there and original, and I’m pretty into supernatural stuff – I’ve been watching American Horror Story and things like that for a while now. I’m watching a lot of documentaries at the minute, like Life and Death Row, which is really interesting and kind of insane.
I love all the dramas that are out as well, I think TV is in a really good place right now; Peaky Blinders is great and I’ve really loved Undercover, it’s amazing. Basically, the BBC is smashing it at the minute!
After wanting it for so long, what was it like to be part of a costume drama at last?
I’ve loved every minute of it, I really have! Learning how to be in a corset on set was the hardest thing, but everything else I’ve absolutely loved. The costumes were amazing, so beautifully made and really well put together, they were just fantastic. Our designer also made sure that, because Charlotte Appleby is quite a practical woman, all my costumes were practical – but the beauty of them was well maintained. Our characters are living on a farm, so all of the costumes had to be farm-ready.
So, now that you’ve fulfilled one dream, what’s the next thing you’d like to check off?
For me, the main thing that attracts me to a project is good characters. I’d love to do a Western, or something with swords or gun slinging; a cowgirl kind of thing, that’s what I’d like.
You’ve previously starred in the West End, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward, is that something you’d like to do again?
Definitely, I love it all – musical theatre, theatre, film, TV, all of the genres. Musical theatre is where I started so I hope that, if the right part came up, they would have me back!
Outside of acting, is there anything on your bucket list to do?
I love animals, so some way of helping animals would be on the list – I love elephants, and I really, really want to go and help at an elephant sanctuary. But, at the same time, you have to make sure you’re around for work opportunities that might come up, so we’ll have to see.
What was it like behind the scenes of a show that’s so full of spooky goings-on?
It was great, genuinely! There were odd things that happened in the house now and then, because we were actually filming in a very old house; we’d hear noises and footsteps, and sometimes you thought someone was behind you, but they weren’t.
At one point the sound department decided to keep recording equipment in the kitchen overnight, and when we listened to it back you could hear these vibrations, and what sounded really strongly like someone clapping. When I was listening to it I thought someone was standing behind me and clapping, so I turned around but there was nobody there, it was all on the recording. But we never felt scared. We would scare each other more than anything else!
What is it that makes this show different to other supernatural dramas that have come before?
I think probably that it’s not trying to scare you – well, okay, I suppose it is – but it’s character driven, primarily. The hope is that viewers will love the characters, that you’ll care about them and what happens to them, more than all of the supernatural things that are going on.
Judging by comments across social media, people are very excited about the show – without giving too much away, what can they expect?
Yeah, Colin has a lot of fans and they are all very sweet. I hope people like it and watch it. It’s different, but I think that’s good – you’re going to be shocked! There are some very good cliffhangers after every episode. I think that you’ll get really into it and start to understand the characters and, even by the end of the first episode, people are going to be like, “Oh my god, WHAT?!”
Charlotte, what is your fault?
Oh wow, I have loads, I’m full of them! I suppose I’m quite loud. I sometimes think that everyone is on the same level of loudness as me but, no, they’re not. I can get a bit carried away with things, like I’ll be on a night out and dancing really enthusiastically and my friends are like “Charlotte, nobody else is dancing, just you.” So, I’m not always very aware…
Words Jenny Parkes
Photography Jack Alexander
Styling Kate Sutton
Make-Up Natalie Viner
Hair Jonathon Eagland using John Frieda
Special thanks Wheatsheaf Tooting Bec