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You star as Vera in the forthcoming Universal Pictures movie Dad’s Army. How did
you get the role and were you previously familiar with the classic TV sitcom on
which it’s based?
I'd grown up knowing of Dad's Army of course, but to be honest, everything about the show was lost on me. As a kid there is very little about the show that draws you in which is why I'm SO grateful to be given a second chance to love the series! I now own the whole Box set of the original and dip in whenever I get some down time.
I auditioned for the part twice before being offered the job. However, the schedule clashed heavily with 'Derek' so for about 2 weeks it looked like I would miss out on my dream film job. With a lot of support from Oliver Parker the Director and the 1st AD's on each job, they managed to arrange the schedule in such a way that meant I was able to do BOTH! For that, I am forever grateful! That's not without it's issues though! Travelling from London to Scarborough EVERY night for 2 weeks and filming two very different projects during the days was a challenge of stamina! But I did it!
For the uninitiated, can you give us a (spoiler free) overview of what to expect
in Dad’s Army?
The whole premise of Dad's Army is following the escapades of a group of men who
were either not fit enough to join the army, or too old so they form the 'Home Guard' which are a hapless bunch of hilarious characters given the task of protecting their little town (which never seems to be under any real threat anyway!)
With the film, everyone involved has endeavoured to stay as close to the original themes and feel of the series as possible. We were all aware we are dealing with one of Britain's greatest treasures so we weren't looking to stray too far, just celebrate a classic with a Revival!
Inbetweener Blake Harrison plays your boyfriend Private Pike. His character is
often labelled as a ‘stupid boy’, but what was Blake actually like to work with?
Blake's a really sweet, very intelligent man so it is actually quite a testament to him that he plays such a believable 'Dimwit' in the film. It was lovely to work so closely with Blake. I've always been a fan of The Inbetweeners so loved hearing his stories about growing up while filming that. We did have a laugh!
Set in 1944, what can you tell us about your period costumes, hair and makeup?
Did you pick up any style tips and would you love to rock the look again?
Well Vera is quite a sweet, plain looking girl who is more concerned with her dear Pike than 'dolling up'! So I had very minimal make up. I had my hair done in the classic Victory Rolls which were a staple hairdo of the time. Catherine Zeta Jones makes them look effortlessly classy....whereas I give it more of a 'child at the end of sports day' look! Haha. I remember my hair always looked great after I'd taken the rolls out as it went all curly! It was great to wear the ATS uniforms too, it really helps you embody the character and the era.
Dad’s Army features a fabulous best-of-British cast, with the likes of Catherine
Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon and Annette Crosbie. Do you ever get
star-struck or pick the brains of your co-stars between takes?
Who? I've never heard of any of them! Haha. It was a bit ridiculous on the first rehearsal day as every time the door opened, in walked another absolute Legend of British stage and screen. You couldn't move for brilliant actors old and young. I got all my "I loved you in (insert Classic title)" out of the way on the first day. I knew I'd be spending a lot of time with these people and they don't want to be working with a Superfan! Also, you realise pretty quickly, as I did with Ricky Gervais: these are just people. Incredibly talented, hard
working, wonderful people, but people nonetheless. It was great to hear their stories of shows-gone-by but was also nice to just chat about how they felt that day. They were an absolutely brilliant cast to work with. The way they would all bounce off each other comedically, on and off screen was very special to watch!
Catherine Zeta Jones invited all of the cast for dinner on the first weekend of filming which was a really lovely thing to do. I was on the edge of freaking myself out before telling myself "she's just a very hard working actress who has risen to the top of her game by working very hard: but we all gotta eat!" It really calmed me down to remember the Welsh girl behind the Hollywood headlines. I don't really get star-struck, I'm far more endeared to people with a lovely personality, famous or not. Luckily, these guys had both!
Running from 1968 to 1977, what do you attribute to the Dad’s Army’s enduring
1968-1977-2016 !! I really think they made a winning formula years ago that had the British public behind it from the start. It shone a light and made fun of a terribly serious time In history, one its viewers had possibly lived through.
They needed that light-hearted hindsight after such a depression. I think some of the best British sitcoms, like Dad's Army follow a similar formula IE: Fawlty Towers, Only fools and Horses and even The Office. They are all about well meaning men who have all the good intentions but end up making their situation far worse. Us Brits have always been good at laughing at our own misfortune and to see it written into a brilliant Comedy of Errors makes for great viewing.
I think the themes of Dad's Army are unfortunately resonant today and the film makers would have kept that in mind. There are a couple of lines that really show how far we have come as a country since the original.
Do you have any fun anecdotes or memories from the production that you’d like to
Some days were quite long and cold as it was nearly Winter in Scarborough. It was great to keep the morale up and have a laugh with your cast. One day, when the actors version of 'cabin fever' began to set in I started up the 'tap game' where you tap someone on the shoulder and disappear before they can turn around. It caught on in particular with Sir Tom Courtenay and I; it lasted for a good few days. On one of the days we filmed a scene with over 300 people in it, so when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned round I just saw 300 people, yet I knew EXACTLY who the culprit was. Actors never seem to get old as they never stop playing!
The last surviving platoon member of the TV show Ian Lavender (the original
Private Pike) returns for a cameo as Brigadier Pritchard. In addition to the
nostalgic casting, do you think the movie has captured the spirit of the
I Really think so. It can never be the original: you can't polish perfection. But you can rebuff it and display it proudly again which is what I like to think we are doing with this film. The whole way through the process everyone made sure they were sticking with the original themes of the show. Some familiar catch phrases and perilous situations will hopefully transport people back to the original series. It was a lovely touch to include the two remaining cast members in the film. Also the wonderful Frank Williams who played the Vicar returns briefly to his original role. The fact they were so pleased to help
bring Dad's Army to 2016 is a testament to the authenticity of the film.
Can you explain your inventive (and certainly original) Christmas present to
Dereck co-star Ricky Gervais?
Haha! Right. Disclaimer: this paragraph includes offensive language that some readers may find offensive!! All Derek fans will know there was a very funny scene in series 1, at the seaside where Kev starts writing rude words on Crabs. It became quite an iconic moment of the series and one fans picked up on. In December Ricky invited some of us from Derek and his latest projects to his house for Christmas drinks so I thought "what do you buy Ricky Gervais for Christmas!?" I love making little Felt things so I thought "I know! I'll make him a Twat-Crab to hang on his Christmas tree!" and that's exactly what I did.
His reaction was priceless (so was his reaction when I turned up at his front door with a Kev-mask on! *shudder*)
I Love original, hand made gifts anyway and this one was a real pleasure to make! Here's a picture of his reaction! I've had quite a lot of interest from Twitter followers since too so standby for my online Twat-Crab-Store!
You had an incredibly busy 2015, appearing in Call the Midwife, You, Me and the
Apocalypse, Jekyll & Hyde, DIC Banks and the movie Aaaaaaaah! With Noel
Fielding. What were your personal highlights?
It really was an amazing year for me. Each job was a different set of challenges and things I'd dreamt of doing. Filming You, Me and the Apocolypse was definitely a massive highlight as we filmed it in Cape Town. I got to stay there for a week which was an absolute dream come true for someone who hasn't travelled hardly at all!
The film Aaaaaaaah! By Steve Oram (Sightseers) Will always be something I'm strangely proud of having on my CV. It's so wild and like nothing you've ever seen before which was incredibly fun to create. The cast in that are so diverse and legendary too. Some of Britain's best current comedy actors appear in it: Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett amongst many others. And Toyah Wilcox jumped at the chance to be in it! If you're intrigued and love the weird, the wonderful, the dark, the funny, then you'll be pleased to know it is just about to be released on DVD and BluRay from Jan 18th. You won't want to miss this cult
What do you have planned for 2016 and would you be open to returning for a Dad’s
Army sequel (if there is one), or perhaps a spinoff with the ladies?
This portion of the year is dedicated to the release of the Dad's Army film. I'm so excited for my first big film role to be in such a classic remake. It's a film that has something for everyone in it. Bring yours kids and your grandparents!
I have a really great role in a very exciting upcoming series for E4 which will air early this year. It's entitled 'The Aliens' and boasts another absolutely brilliant cast. I'm very excited to see that too and will let you know more about it closer to the time.
Haha that sounds like a great idea. FunnyWomen.com asked me who my ideal 'Mum's
Army' would be made of so if Felicity Montagu and Alison Steadman aren't free
I'll assemble my cast (mum included!) for my own independent version of Mum's
Army!!.........or maybe I'll quit while I'm ahead!
By Sarah O'Connell on 25th January 2016