How would you describe Lady Persie?
Persie’s a funny one. She’s selfish, headstrong, rude and a bit ditsy at the same time. She’s a bit troublesome. But she’s also charming, and doesn’t really mean anyone harm. She does some terrible things, but for some reason you can’t help but like her. She loves adventure and she definitely goes against convention. Excitement plays a massive part in the choices she makes. She has to better herself all the time. I think it’s just the way she likes her life to be. She doesn’t see why everyone has to be so boring all the time.
What sort of relationship does she have with her sister Lady Agnes?
Persie feels that she’s not the sister that Agnes wants. Agnes wants the debutante, air-headed girl who is happy having a pretty frock on and a diamond star in her hair. Persie sees it all as something she’s expected to do and thinks it’s all very meaningless. The problem is that Persie isn’t the brightest. Sometimes the things she says, thinking she’s being outlandish, is actually just stupidity. She has no inhibitions.
Persie becomes embroiled in the fascism movement in the series. Do you think she really knows what she’s doing?
That’s the hard thing. It’s been difficult to look on from the outside knowing what happened a couple of years later. As an actress you have to believe that she really believed in it. For me that was extremely difficult to get my head around. I did a lot of research about it, and there was a big movement of women who joined the fascist party at the time. Society was changing and there was a lot of excitement around politics – with people looking for a lead to change the country.
How was it recreating the Cable Street riots?
It felt like you were there. The extras were amazing – they were screaming and shouting all day, which really helped the atmosphere. When you’re filming scenes like that you can’t do it all in one take, and so I watched from the sidelines for some of it. It just looked incredible. It’s funny recreating it in Wales rather than London. But weirdly you could make it look more authentic in Wales. It was funny how just like it was to the scenes I’d watched on YouTube. The way Heidi has written it is very true to how it happened.
Did you do any research into the period?
I did quite a lot actually – not necessarily about the period itself, but more about the type of people Persie would have known, and the circles she would have moved in, and the debutantes’ scene. But I think everyone has their own image of what 1930s were like – the war etc. It’s quite a personal thing.
Did you watch any of the old series before you started filming?
You can’t have lived in the country if you haven’t heard of Upstairs Downstairs. But I think it’s so accessible – it’s a classic. Everyone will always be interested in the goings on in class system. My grandparents watched it. We’re not remaking the classic series – we’re doing something new with it. So in a way I didn’t want to watch it, because we were coming in to it new. But I really want to go back and have a look at it now that we’ve finished.
How was it working with Eileen and Jean – co-creators of the original series?
I only had one scene with Jean, so I was a bit annoyed about that! She’s just such a wonderful actress. But I did get to speak to her quite a bit. She’s such a lovely woman. For her and Eileen it’s more than just a job – and you really feel that. That’s what’s so lovely about it. You are very aware that you’re in something so much bigger – there’s a gravitas behind it.