The first season of the eight-part drama series Victoria (which has already been picked up for a second season), airing on Masterpiece on PBS, follows the young Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) from her accession to the throne as a very young and vulnerable 18-year-old, through her education in politics, courtship and marriage. It is the story of a monarch who was raised to be the pawn of her powerful elders, but who wasted no time in voicing her own opinion and taking charge in her own way, as she learned what it meant to be the most powerful woman in the world.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) talked about her first time playing someone real, what she did to prepare for the role, what she loves most about Queen Victoria, understanding what it must have been like to be in a position like this, the huge journey she gets to take with the role, and what having been a part of the much beloved Doctor Who means to her, personally and professionally.
Collider: What’s it been like to take on Queen Victoria?
JENNA COLEMAN: I’ve never played anybody real before. It’s always been fiction that you can research through a book or whatever has been adapted, but nothing that’s really happened. There’s so much to access. It’s history and it’s interesting reading from biography to biography because the voices are very different and it can be so subjective. I just read a range. (Show Creator) Daisy [Goodwin ] gave me a bit list of stuff to read, to try to get an idea of her character.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in a position like this while being so young? That must have been so crazy!
COLEMAN: Daisy was having a conversation with her daughter and turned around and looked at her and thought, “Wow, could you imagine if you became the most powerful woman in the room tomorrow? You’re a teenager!” The thing about Victoria is that she was extremely obstinate and stubborn, by all accounts. Lord Melbourne said, “The Queen only tends to think forwards. Once she’s made up her mind, there is no unearthly power that will make her go ‘round.” It’s that stubbornness and that will that made her who she was. Otherwise, being an 18-year-old in that position, I can’t begin to imagine. She’d never really spent any time by herself or spent a night in a room by herself or had been in a room alone with a man before, and she was becoming the most powerful woman in the world and had to navigate Parliament. When you put it into context, it is an extraordinary story.
Do you think the fact that she didn’t seem to know or care about how she was supposed to behave is what helped people like her?
COLEMAN: Yeah, and it’s one of the things I love most about her. None of the way she’s supposed to behave and the uniform of her life has squashed her lust for life, regardless of growing up in the Kensington system. I find that really amazing about her. Also, she’s so unapologetically herself. She’s flawed, in that way, but I think it’s what makes her really human. It’s really interesting to play because she’s so inconsistent. She’s so many things. She can be quite childish and frivolous, at times, and emotional, but other times, she’s like the wisest person in the world, way above her years. She was tempestuous and she was known for violent outbursts when she was younger, but she was incredibly romantic and with a big heart. She was very loyal to her servants. She was such a multitude of things, so trying to play that inconsistency of her character and also be unapologetically flawed yet likeable has been interesting to navigate. It’s all really, really fun to play. I keep watching Judi Dench’s Mrs. Brown. That’s what Daisy said she thinks is the most accurate performance of the Victoria she has studied and read. It’s interesting to think, “Okay, that’s the Victoria in 40 years time. That’s where we’re headed.” That way, you can get the essence, but she’s a lot younger and she’s very vibrant. She’s been through a lot, but you can see where she’s headed to, in a way.
Did it ever get totally overwhelming playing someone like this, especially with all of the emotional ups and downs?
COLEMAN: Yeah. I always want more time. You want more time to shoot, but you have to just roll with the punches. You do as much prep as you can, and then you throw it all away, get on set, and see what happens and what the other actors bring ‘cause that changes everything. You get as prepared as you can be, but then you have to be willing to fuck it all up. Peter Capaldi probably taught me that the most. You just want to keep it alive, and hopefully, if you’ve prepped well enough, that’s there. It’s interesting because there’s such growth in this series. We really start at a place where she’s really, really young and really vulnerable and uncertain, and then we really see her grow into Queen and that role of command. You’ll see her fall in love and go through the coronation, and get pregnant and become a mother. The arc of the series is one of huge growth, and of becoming more and more Victoria, as we go on.
What was it like for you to go from fighting aliens to ruling a kingdom? Did it feel equally daunting?
COLEMAN: It’s just different ways of working. It’s interesting, working on the voice was something I felt a lot of pressure on, in particular. It’s trying to get the sense of someone who’s younger yet regal, and that doesn’t distance, but is really accessible. I thought Emily Blunt did an amazing job in Young Victoria. There wasn’t really a day on set that wasn’t huge. You’ve got these journals that she’s written in, that tell you how she felt on the day. It just felt like you could shoot it as a feature film, but we were shooting in for TV, and we just wanted to get the detail. There is so much detail and you move through it all so fast. There’s so much wealth in all of the moment and you want to capture that.
What was it like to put on the clothes and the contacts, be on these sets, and have people call you, “Your Majesty”?
COLEMAN: Alastair Bruce, who worked on Downton Abbey a lot, comes in and talks about protocol, and he was like, “Look, when you’re in a position like this, you never play the power. It’s just inherent that it’s there. It’s about the way people respond to you, rather than you trying to project a certain status.” I think that, if you have that status, you don’t need to. He was really useful. He said, “It’s the people around you that make you Queen by their reaction to you, but you’ve got nothing to prove.” She’s an inexperienced 18-year-old girl, going through everything that an 18-year-old girl goes through, at the same time that you’re navigating ruling and being the most powerful woman in the world. She was 4’11” and 18 years old, and so openly passionate. It’s fascinating.
Did you ever put yourself in her shoes and wonder if you could have stepped into a role like that, at 18 years old?
COLEMAN: Yeah, and the answer is resolutely no. Her mother told her that she had to sign a regency to give up her power until she turned 21, and she just said no. She was about to become the Queen of England and her mother was telling her to do this, and she said no. She was a force of nature, and she remained that way. People just see these images of her, but by all accounts, she loved to laugh. Her humor was so apparent. She was very sociable, she had a love of opera and music, and she used to paint all of the dramatic scenes of the opera. It really captured her imagination.
You were one of the longest running Companions on Doctor Who. What was that experience like for you? Do you feel like it really made you grow, as an actor?
COLEMAN: Yeah, it really did. It’s such a different way of working. It’s such a unique show and a unique beast, in itself. Every two weeks, it’s so different, and you’re playing an over-arching character. It’s the relationships with Matt [Smith] and Peter [Capaldi] that made that job everything that it is, and what they taught me, as actors. They’re so uniquely wonderful and really amazing friends. I think I was very lucky to have fallen into the hands of both of them, and we’re really good friends today
Victoria premieres on Masterpiece on PBS on January 15th.
Can you tell us a little bit about Shop Small and the role you play in helping small businesses?
I’m supporting Amex’s Shop Small campaign to encourage people to ‘shop small’ in the lead-up to Christmas in particular. And helping to shine a light on some my favourite independent shops.
Why do you think Small Business Saturday is such an important cause to support?
I think it’s important to encourage the creativity and individualism that small shops offer. I love to spend my Saturdays stumbling across a new independent store and finding an upcoming designer to offer something new for the home or for an individual gift. Also, the personal customer service, in your local coffee shop for example. I think variety and individualism is the key and one of things I adore so much about living in London.
How would you encourage people to support small businesses in their everyday lives?
It’s all about discovery, and finding those smaller, one-of-a-kind shops and taking enjoyment from it. It’s simple. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my tips and ‘finds’.
What was the first record you ever bought?
Cher, ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ or Johnny Nash, ‘I Can See Clearly Now’.
What is your favourite film?
Hardest question ever, but I love classics like Bringing Up Baby, Betty Blue and Little White Lies. I am a big fan of Damien Chazelle too.
What do you have an irrational fear of?
Rollercoasters. Ironic after growing up in Blackpool.
What is your favourite childhood book?
Black Beauty strikes a chord. Alongside Enid Blyton’s The Wishing-Chair.
What is your signature dance move?
All about the hands. And a slight hip bob.
What surprises people about you?
That I am indeed of Scottish/English descent
Who was the first actress you were inspired by?
Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, where I used to go on school trips.
What was a book that changed your life?
East of Eden, I remember reading the section about ‘Thou Mayest’ and finding it pretty profound wherever I was in my life at that point. Recently, I adored Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch, it felt very ‘big’.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was in Bali with a taxi driver and he was trying to explain his life philosophy through a language barrier and it came out as “making easy”. I love the simplicity of this. I also read a Ricky Gervais quote on Instagram today which was: “No one else knows that they’re doing either”, which gives me immense comfort.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud that all my girlfriends from school have maintained such close friendships for 16 years now, through school, university, moving to London, working in totally different fields, life moving in different directions and now entering our 30s together.
What are the skincare products you can’t live without?
Bioderma, Su-Man toner, Linda Meredith Q3, Sisley Black Rose mask, [which is] especially good for a flight.
What is your signature scent?
Acqua di Parma Ginepro Di Sardegna.
What is the best beauty tip you’ve ever been given?
Ice your face for two minutes after cleansing – the cheapest and most powerful trick. It also wakes you up.
How do you keep in shape?
I really believe in functional medicine and try to put a lot of vitamins into my body. I switch between yoga and jogging, As of recent, a bit of horse-riding too.
Who is your beauty icon?
Keira Knightley. I think she has such a Romantic grace about her.
For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series – where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way – we’re posing some of the big questions to JENNA COLEMAN.
Following her roles in ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Waterloo Road’, Jenna broke through as one of Doctor Who’s most popular ever companions Clara Oswald.
Since then, she’s taken the title role as the young Queen in the ITV drama ‘Victoria’. In her capacity as an ambassador for American Express Shop Small, she spoke to HuffPostUK about what she’s learned along the way, and why her family would never let her get away with any queenliness herself…
How do you switch off from the world?
I take a bath. Or I read. Or both at once. Sometimes I go for a long walk.
How do you deal with negativity that comes your way?
If it’s justified, I’ll have a think, I try to take it on board. Sometimes it takes a phone call to my mum to rationalise. She’ll tell me, ‘Chin up.’ I do try to learn something from it.
When and where are you at your happiest?
I love being on an aeroplane. It means I can switch off, but I also like the switching of environments. There’s something about being in the clouds.
I also like being around my school-friends in London. It brings me back to who I’ve always been. They’re very supportive of my work, but they don’t let me take myself too seriously.
What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received?
I was in Bali, and I was struggling to communicate with my taxi driver, we had a language barrier. But we ploughed on, and he was trying to explain some philosophy, and he came up with ‘Making easy.’ And I’ve always remembered it.
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
You can’t fix everything.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Don’t worry so much; Have more faith in yourself and your instincts; Don’t try so hard to fit in.
What three things are at the top of your to-do list?
Learn the piano; Learn French; Get better at photography.
What do you think happens when we die?
After watching ‘Black Mirror’, I’d want to ask Charlie Brooker. I’d like we think we go to some special place, but maybe we just come back as grass.
When do you feel in the presence of something bigger than ourselves?
When we look at the Supermoon, or we’re anywhere where we look up and see the stars.
What quality do you most treasure in relationships?
Unconditional love, when you’re doing something for another person without expecting a reward.
What keeps you grounded?
Northern pragmatism and humour. I can just see my family’s face if I went home and tried to indulge in some queenliness a la Victoria. I wouldn’t last long.
What the most recent act of kindness you received?
I got into a cab, and I told the driver ‘I’m having such a bad day.’ And he thought I said ‘It’s my birthday’ so he proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to me, the whole song. I didn’t have the heart to stop him, and it actually cheered me up a lot.
Jenna was on BBC Radio 2 this morning with Victoria co-star Tom Hughes,I’ve added images of her during the show a photoshoot which was taken during the interview and leaving the studios! Enjoy!
Jenna was featured on BBC Radio 1 yesterday to talk about Victoria, I’ve added photos of her during the interview and leaving BBC Radio 1 to our gallery,enjoy!
I’ve added a photoshoot of Jenna for the Guardian,you can also read her interview below,enjoy!
It took a long time to get any meetings. I had to take a job at a pub in Hampstead.’ Photograph: Jon Gorrigan for the Guardian
“I don’t like that word,” says Jenna Coleman, wrinkling her nose. “People describe me as that a lot, and it makes me cringe. It feels dirty.”
In the garden lounge of a London hotel, we are talking about the word driven. “Something about it feels ruthless, which doesn’t sit well with me.” It would be impossible to describe the gentle, slightly reticent presence next to me as gimlet-eyed. But it’s also hard to describe her rise without sensing that ambition and determination must have played a part. Her first job, at just 19, was wild child Jasmine Thomas in Emmerdale. Intended to be a small role, she grew into a series regular, and Coleman set aside thoughts of drama school to play her for five years. She followed this with acclaimed BBC series Waterloo Road, original dramas by Julian Fellowes and Stephen Poliakoff, and then the big one. In 2012 she was anointed Clara Oswald, the sparky and instantly lovable companion to Doctor Who, beamed into millions of households across the world. These things don’t just happen.
She’s about to return in a leading role, playing Queen Victoria in ITV’s high-budget chronicle of the formidable monarch. It’s rare for British actors to hold the public’s attention, or enjoy quality parts, after abandoning an established soap character. Sarah Lancashire did it; arguably Martine McCutcheon did it, for a while. But on the whole, the less familiar you are the better. Jude Law’s start on daytime soap Families is now forgotten, likewise Ioan Gruffudd’s five years on Welsh-language Pobol y Cwm. (Most implausibly, Sir Ben Kingsley spent two years on Coronation Street in the 1960s, having an affair with Ken Barlow’s wife Val.) So how did Coleman travel from farm to castle in such a short time? Presumably having a Tardis helps.
“A lot of interviews talk about Emmerdale and then Doctor Who – but there were six years between those,” she protests. “You should have seen me when I was trying to get an agent. It was like, ‘I’ve only worked in soap, I’ve not been to drama school, I’m 22 years old and haven’t worked for a year. I’m a great catch!’ ” She’d stayed longer than she wanted to on Emmerdale; despite having been nominated for best newcomer at the National Television Awards, it took her a long time to be considered for significant roles afterwards. “I’m northern, and working class, so people put you in a box. It’s crazy.” She would be sent scripts for supporting characters with northern accents, “and I’d be pointing out different parts, saying, ‘I think I can do that.’ It took a long time to get any meetings. I had to take a job at a pub in Hampstead.”
She’s describing the kind of unpromising situation that can consume young actors for a decade or longer, but her zeal to turn things around marks her out. She became an avid self-taper, sending casting directors scene footage in very different roles, showing off her range. “I love playing away from myself, expanding people’s perceptions.” She took herself out to LA for pilot season, where she went up for various unattainable parts, returning home jobless but fearless, and rich in audition experience.
It paid off. The Beeb started taking note, and Coleman has since impressed in all her high-profile roles. She was wounded and aggressive as hard girl Lindsay James in Waterloo Road, impertinent as Oswald (she won the role because she could talk faster than Matt Smith). As Victoria, she is at her most vulnerable playing the young Queen; the arc toward the obstinate and grand presence Victoria eventually becomes is one Coleman is relishing.
So, isn’t there anything embarrassing on her CV at all? “I did a lot of dance shows as a child: when I was 10 I played an Italian bridesmaid with Darren Day in Summer Holiday, the musical. I got the job by singing Happy Birthday to myself in the audition, literally inserting my own name into the song” she breaks off, laughing to herself. “Sorry, I’ve got Peter Capaldi in my head. He always takes the piss out of me for that.” She mimics Capaldi’s impression of a theatrical impresario, boasting about his latest protege: “This one, oh, she started young… hahaha!”
Her affection for her former Time Lord is clear. She originally joined the BBC’s flagship show as a viable love interest for Matt Smith, the pair flirting like colts and even kissing. However it was when the Doctor regenerated into Capaldi’s grouchy, blepharitic form that things got really interesting. Negotiating Clara’s love-anger at the disappearance of her handsome suitor and guilt towards the older man who needs her, was a skilful balancing act, resolving itself in a deeply touching relationship.
“Peter is so graceful. His work is detailed, sensitive, intuitive; I’d love to be like him when I’m older. We have our own bizarre language, and make each other laugh.” She admits that working on the genre-pushing show taught her a lot. (She stayed on the show for three years.) “It moves from comedy to action film to farce; it’s domestic and epic. Peter and Matt do takes in so many ways, throw so many balls in the air – it’s an invaluable experience.” Heading off the inevitable, she adds, “Fans always ask which Doctor I prefer, but it’s a question I can’t answer.” It’s obviously Peter though, isn’t it? “Hahaha! I usually say David Tennant.”
She’s also having fun with Victoria co-star Rufus Sewell, who plays Lord M, her most trusted adviser. “They had an indefinable relationship: prime minister and Queen, but also father and daughter; some said they were lovers, too. He spent every night at the palace, and she became totally obsessed with him. The public drew cartoons calling her Mrs Melbourne.”
Victoria is about other unusual relationships: that of the young queen and her manipulative German mother, who devised a system of rules to keep Victoria isolated and dependent; and the first cousin to whom she proposed. “On one level they’re Vic and Albert, teenage lovers getting to know each other. But they’re also playing roles, because it’s a unique business transaction.” Negotiating these contradictions, and avoiding the lavish blandness typical of many period dramas, is what concerns Coleman most.
“You have to keep fighting for detail. You have to use the set creatively. There’s so much life in a palace that we don’t usually see.” Many of Victoria’s dresses and personal artefacts are on public display at Kensington Palace, her childhood home. Coleman researched these assiduously, mining period texts as well as Victoria’s own journals, in which she wrote an estimated 60m words. “The best research material I saw was actually her paintings. Her daughter censored the diaries, but the watercolours really let you see through her eyes. I found one of her governess, with lots of detail and colour, and then one of her mother, which is in silhouette and black.”
Did she avoid watching The Young Victoria, Emily Blunt’s earlier interpretation? “Oh no, I didn’t shy away from that, or Judi Dench’s Mrs Brown – we’re telling the untold story between those two points. Emily does a great ‘soft regal’ voice which helped me. Normally when I read scripts, a voice for the character jumps out at me, but this was harder. It changes over time. I used Kate Winslet’s Marianne from Sense And Sensibility, too, to find passion.” Coleman closely examined films such as Jane Campion’s Bright Star and Saul Dibb’s The Duchess, “trying to pick up the era – how does a footman pass me, how do I respond? The tiny unconscious things of that world.”
There have been a lot of proposals. You feel responsible for making it a romantic moment
What was she most attracted to in the character? “Her flaws. She was impatient and emotional, and had this absolute will. Her ladies in waiting describe her as the most stubborn person you’d ever meet, and they were her best friends.” Charming. How would Coleman’s own circle of friends describe her? “Oh – I don’t know. It’s intriguing. You never know how people see you, do you? I’ll text one and ask,” she says, fiddling with her phone. “They’ll probably say ‘Shut up, I’m at work. We have proper jobs.’ ”
Coleman was born in Blackpool, “which everyone dismisses as stag-and-hen central, but has a charm you don’t appreciate until you leave. Something to do with faded 50s glamour and nostalgia.” Her grandfather, now in his late 70s, has worked on the seafront all his life and still does, “getting on his bike and working the hoopla”. With no other performers in her family, she counts herself fortunate to have been shown a way to pursue acting. At school she became obsessed with the polymath Anthony Minghella, devouring his plays and studying his process as a film director, which involved an unusual degree of involvement in every department, from costume to props to camera, as well as acting as producer. Another influence was her drama teacher at Arnold School, Colin Snell, who treated his students as adults, encouraging them to think and act for themselves. “We operated a semi-professional theatre company. He’d take us up to the Edinburgh fringe festival. I was lucky to fall in with him – I just moved school and he was there. The place has been bulldozed now.”
Coleman is aware of how far her life has moved in the past four years. “I was filming in Paris last week, Florence the week before – oh my God, that sounds really jet-setty, doesn’t it?” she asks with a flash of horror. She recently bought her own place in London, but has yet to stay there. The strangest facet of fame is dealing with fans; a factor multiplied tenfold with Doctor Who, which is popular in places as far-flung as South Korea and Brazil. At international Comic-Con events, galaxies of ultra-fans queue in their thousands to meet her, dress like her, and ask her nerdy questions she can’t answer. (Before she got the job, she hadn’t even seen the show.)
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened at one? “There have been a lot of proposals. I’ve had two – but they’re always a bit rushed, and you feel responsible for making it a romantic moment.” That’s very generous. What does she say? “Congratulations?” Isn’t that a weird thing to say when someone asks to marry you? “They’re not proposing to me! They come in with their partner and propose with me in the middle.”
Her own love life has inevitably come under scrutiny, in particular her reportedly on and off relationship with Game Of Thrones actor Richard Madden. Last year she was pictured chatting with Prince Harry at a polo event, the royal hand on her knee. Tabloid speculation inevitably ran rampant that she was dating the playboy Prince. “We’re just friends,” she says. “I don’t really want to talk about him – we’re still friends, and I don’t think it’s fair.”
That button-bright face, with its optimistic features, belies the birthday she celebrated a few weeks before we meet. “Yeah, I spent it filming in Italy, with glandular fever. I mean, what does 30 mean? I remember picking up my diary on the day, waiting to be struck by some profound realisation, and…” She leaves a comically long pause. “Well, I’m not sure yet, but I’m enjoying getting older. I have always looked a lot younger than I am.”
She has a certain ambivalence about her elfin appearance, though at 5ft 2in Coleman is still taller than the diminutive Victoria, who only stood 4ft 11in. Much is made in the series of the Queen’s height, and her struggle to be taken seriously. Can she relate? “Drama school can’t teach you how to hold your own on a set, how to come into a huge crew, with big cameras and men everywhere. That took a long time – I’m still working it out, really.” She comes back to an image of the teenage Victoria suffering from typhoid, pressurised to abdicate her powers. “She’s ill in bed, surrounded by men in wigs trying to make her sign a regency. I would never do what she did – which is turn around and say no. I find that fascinating.”
Stories like these make it obvious that Coleman is in her element on set – with disappointingly little tendency towards diva behaviour. She tells a story about filming with a younger, less experienced actor on Doctor Who. “There’s a type of mark [tape stuck to the floor to show an actor where to stand] we use called a sausage – it’s slightly raised so when you hit your mark you can feel it. I was calling out, ’Can I get a sausage, please?’ His face! He stood there for 10 minutes, thinking he was waiting for Jenna’s 11am sausage to arrive.” She cackles, then considers. “Although I’ve done lots of scenes with Dash (Victoria’s beloved spaniel) recently, and we have to bribe him, so a lot of the time I actually am walking around with a little sausage in my hand.”
Despite her early success, she is keen to keep learning. She lists her favourite actors, all strong women with impeccable CVs, particularly on stage. “Helen McCrory, Ruth Wilson, Denise Gough – actors whose whole bodies are alive, you can’t take your eyes off them.” She talks with approval about the creative risk of Matt Smith’s current job, an improvised and ever-changing Anthony Neilson play at the Royal Court in London. Coleman has recently made the foray into big films, playing opposite Emilia Clarke in Me Before You. Do her ambitions lie in Hollywood?
“No, not hugely. I’ll chase a great part in a great script wherever it is. I’d never live in LA – it’s always a relief to come home and talk about other things.” She’s secure enough not to need a plan, confident enough to stop nailing the accelerator. Having spent four years on Who, followed by six months on Victoria, she’s allowing herself to relax a little. Well, sort of. “I’m taking some time off – you become boring when all you see in life is a trailer. I’m going to read, pick up my camera. I’m keeping a journal, writing stories and short films. There’s talk of some plays.”
She looks set to confound the curse of the companion, many of whom have sunk back into obscurity after their appointment with the Doctor. And of course, Coleman has form when it comes to overcoming expectations. When was the last time she watched Emmerdale? “A long time ago. I think I’m still in prison.” (Her character left after beating a policeman to death with a chair leg and dumping the body in a lake with her lesbian lover.)
For now, it’s checkout time. From here Coleman is off to New York, then LA for promotional duties (Victoria will air there, on the same channel as Downton Abbey), then has plans to take off around Italy, having rewatched The Talented Mr Ripley. Before she heads off, her phone pings. It’s her friend Amanda, taking time out from her proper job to tell a famous friend what she’s really like. Coleman reads the text aloud, in a deadpan voice. “What is Jenna like? Fucking small, weirdly so. Hmm. Cheeky, shy and –” she wrinkles her nose in distaste, before resigning herself to the verdict. “Driven! Well… I guess it might be true.”
• Victoria starts on ITV on 28 August