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