Interview: Annabel Scholey

From the interview archives.

She played the powerful Contessini in Medici: Masters of Florence and upcoming you can catch her as Amena in the new historical drama Brittania. VULKAN caught up with Annabel Scholey to get some insight on the exciting new series and how she got into the mind of Amena for the role. 

What was your perception of the film industry when you first developed an interest in acting and how has it changed now if at all?   

I really went into this industry completely naive and unaware of how it operated. I was 18, from Yorkshire and no one in my family is part of that world. So I was young, hopeful and clueless! I think one thing I was aware of from day one though was how hard you have to work if you want to succeed within it. It’s tough. It’s the best job but its not for the faint hearted. I also think there was a real sense when I left drama school that as a woman in this industry you have to “make it” in your 20’s or it’s over. That, thank God, is no longer the case. I really feel that there has been a huge step forward now and I have found that since turning 30, the parts are being written for women, not girls, and are interesting and challenging and there seem to be more around. I really hope we keep moving in this direction! 

Britannia has got quite the buzz going, and it’s even gotten some comparisons to Game of Thrones. Do you think that comparison is apt? 

I think the comparison was bound to happen as Game Of Thrones is such a huge success and is an epic costume drama with a fantasy element. I think it’s hugely flattering to be compared to that, but actually the shows are very different in tone. They have a similar look in terms of design, but Britannia I would say has a very unique sense of humour running through it; that is of course down to Jez and Tom  Butterworth’s amazing script and bizarrely vivid characters. Also, of course, Game of Thrones is a fantasy world and Britannia is based on an actual period in our history, although not meant as historical fact.

How do you prepare for a role set in a specific period? Do you find you do more reading and research to help immerse yourself in the time?

I really enjoy history and am a bit of a geek. History was a favourite of mine at school, so I always do research whether it’s helpful or not! I enjoy immersing myself in another time and sometimes you may just find a little helpful gem from the history books, a detail that might help unlock something about your character. I find costume is the first real bridge onto the character’s wavelength. Amena wears a lot of very earthy colours and rough fabrics and it really gave me a sense of being part of a tribe, living amongst nature and battling the elements. Also Amena is a very physical, sensual character and so again, the materials chosen for her really helped me to tap into that.

You play Amena who is the Queen to the Cantii throne, would you describe her as more passive or assertive? 

There is not a passive bone in her body! She is fiercely determined and will not allow anything or anyone to get in her way. Extremely fun to play a character like her who doesn’t abide by rules!

The dynamic between Amena, Phelan and Lindon is sure to be an interesting one. Is Amena happy with her current arrangement? 

Amena is far from happy. Her ambitions are boundless and she is constantly manipulating and watching for her chance to gain power. Her husbands seem to be a huge disappointment most of the time, although she does enjoy Lindon for awhile! 

Would you have wanted to live in Britannia during this time? Why/why not? 

I can say without hesitation absolutely not! It was a brutal and unsettled time to be alive. The tribes were vile to each other. Any time when torture was considered a normal punishment does not get my vote!

What do you think is the most fascinating part about the way the Brittania world functions? 

I think Jez and Tom have done a fantastic job of meshing the world’s together. I think the most fascinating thing for me when I watched is that it’s believable. You really believe in the power of the God’s and the existence of the underworld. They have written it in a way that makes it plausible… so the tension is high and I think that makes good drama.

What is one thing you didn’t know about this time in history that surprised you?

I didn’t know that there had been so many different, powerful tribes in England. I had heard of the Celts, of course, and the Regni, but there were many many more. Imagine if that were still the case…

Looking back on your educational background, what would you say is the best piece of advice you received from a teacher or peer? 

My dad said to me when I was leaving home,  “Don’t let the buggers grind you down!” and I think it’s absolutely the most useful in life! 

What was it about Contessina de’ Medici that made you want to portray her in Medici: Masters of Florence? 

Contessina was the most incredible part to play. On the page she clearly stood out as the heart of the piece and I fell in love with her immediately. Her strength, fiery temper, love for her family. I have a huge love for Italy, so to play the matriarch of such an important Italian family really felt like something important. Oh, and we filmed in Italy, so that might have been slightly attractive too! 

What was your favourite location to film at for that series? 

Pienza in Tuscany. It was somewhere I had never been and we arrived in October so it was really beautiful. We actually filmed in a square where Franco Zeffirelli filmed Romeo and Juliet; that really blew me away. All the locations were stunning, though. Rome is my favourite city in the world and we were there for five months.

If you could only eat one Italian dish for the rest of your life, which do you choose? 

It would be Tiramisu but from Taverna Trastevere in Rome. Specific, I know.

You’ve done some voice acting for video games as well. Are you a big gamer? 

I have done a few games and really enjoyed them. I particularly enjoyed Harry Potter as I had to hold a biro (my wand) and cast spells in the studio. I would have to say though, I’m not remotely a gamer. 

What challenges do you find with voice acting that differs from live action filming? 

I really enjoy voice work as in some ways it’s low pressure. Nobody can see your face for one, so you could turn up in your pj’s and no one would know! You do really have to work hard on finding colour in your voice and variety of tone or else you might put everyone to sleep and it’s really satisfying when you manage it. 

What do you think is one of the biggest issues plaguing the film industry today and what might you want to see change in the coming years? 

Well, I think given the current climate the biggest issue would have to be abuse of power across both genders. I think, thankfully because of the extremely brave victims who have come forward recently, finally the spotlight is on the abusers of power. Well, certainly some of them. So, I am hopeful that if we keep being vocal as a unit, that things will continue to change for the better. I certainly feel like pay inequality still needs to be looked at. Again, the recent revelations relating to pay suggest we have a long way to go, but talking about it is a start.

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