Annabel Scholey is an actress most recently acclaimed for her performance in the Netflix hit series Medici: Masters of Florence after starting her TV career in the cult Channel 4 series Being Human. However despite her new-found prominence on our screens Scholey has had an illustrious career on the stage in productions spanning from The Old Vic to the Royal Shakespeare Company. culturised got the chance to catch up with her ahead of the release of new Sky TV series Britannia in which Scholey takes the lead alongside Zoë Wanamaker, David Morrisey, and Mackenzie Crook.
Things must be really busy for you at the moment with lots of new releases imminent? I have just finished something in mid-November, The Split, which is a new Abi Morgan drama for BBC 1 that is out in the spring as well as another few bits and pieces. Then the biggest at the moment Brittania which has had a considerable amount of press around it. I was unsure how much they would promote it but they have really gone for it, which is great news. You have had a glittering theatre career alongside your TV and film exploits. Did you ever set out to do one more so than the other? Or did they both happen simultaneously/accidentally? Do you know what, they didn’t happen simultaneously. Not equally any way. I started with theatre when I graduated and that was always what I really had a lot of passion for. Mainly because I hadn’t really got a great deal of knowledge about the film industry and you don’t really cover it that much at drama school. I knew that I really wanted to be on stage and I am really glad that I spent my twenties pretty much in the theatre because it gives you such an amazing groundwork and you become quite fearless I think, and you get to spend a lot of time watching other more experienced actors and learning from them. It gives you a lot of confidence I think, which you definitely need when you are going into the audition rooms for the TV and film work. With the exception of the odd thing like Being Human and a series called Personal Affairs, I spent most of my twenties on the stage. It has really been the second part of my career so far, from being about 29/30 that I have suddenly spent more time in front of a camera. I was quite happy for that to come, because I had got to a place with theatre where I had had so much variety and was proud of it, but I had begun to feel quite saturated by it, quite tired. I had done quite a lot of long jobs, my last being at The Old Vic in High Society where I had to sing a solo and my nerves were so bad with that that I got quite exhausted and lost quite a lot of weight finding myself thinking that I needed to take a break from this or I was going to end up hating it. Luckily then I ended up getting a job in Italy with the Medici series that I did for Netflix. Here I really enjoyed learning about being in front of a camera and spent a lot of time on set in the character and so for the moment I am very happy to be in front of the camera. However I definitely will always consider theatre to be my first love. Over your theatre career you have performed in spaces from The Old Vic to the Chichester Festival Theatre. Do you have a favourite space or is that asking the impossible? It is absolutely 100% The Old Vic for me. I think it is magic and I have always wanted to work there. Whilst doing a read through for Richard III with Sam Mendes in the rehearsal room at the top of the theatre and he said “in 1957 Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh sat down in this very room reading these words”. Vivien Leigh had played Lady Anne like myself, that sort of thing really blows my mind, and is part of the reason why I became an actor. There is something magical about that particular theatre, the stage is incredible, the atmosphere is wonderful and I have had some really great times there. It is a really special place.
Most recently you have found yourself starring in the hit Netflix series Medici: Masters of Florence. How did this role come about? I got an audition through and I had a really bizarre connection with Italy having always had a love for it and dated an Italian for many years. So had fallen in love with the country since being a teenager and then for some reason I had always seemed to get drawn back there with work. With Richard III we went to Naples, which was fantastic, and then with Walking on Sunshine that was filmed in Prea. When it came through I saw it was filming in Italy and my gut sort of went “I think this is my part…”. I had had a really weird time with lots of auditions for TV and film coming through with lots of close calls but no cigars. Anyway, I auditioned and it went away for a few weeks where I didn’t know anything about it, but then it came back as an offer. I was incredibly supported by the casting director who was herself a real theatre buff and she really believed in the work that she had seen me do on stage. That was quite important for me, because it was a very classical and almost theatrical role in itself, so I felt that my Shakespeare work had stood me in good stead for the part. Then a few days later I was whisked off to start filming in Italy; it was fantastic. Coming on to you latest venture Brittania, can you talk us through what the series is about and our role in it? It is a nine-part drama set in 43AD and it is centred around the second Roman invasion of Britain. They had previously had the first attempt and given up because it was too frightening. So they arrive on the shores of Britannia and this is a place that is not in good shape, it is at war within itself, lots of different tribes fighting each other leading different Gods. It is a real clash of cultures really between the Romans and the local peoples, and within the tribes themselves. At the centre of it are these very strong warrior women as back then women were revered and allowed to be the head of tribes. Lucky me I am one of the five strong women in the series, part of the Celt tribe led by Zoë Wannamaker (brilliantly!) and then opposing this is the magic world led by Mackenzie Crook. They are the scary, superstitious mouthpiece of the Gods so we are all completely terrified of them and they bring a slightly weird, psychedelic element to the series, which I think is why it is so unique. The script has been written by Jez Butterworth who is famed for his gritty stage scripts, can we expect something similar? Absolutely! If you have ever seen Jerusalem and most recently The Ferryman it is very classic Jez. It has also been written in part by Tom his brother, and it is just fantastic; such a great script to get your chops around. It is very funny, dark, and as ever he doesn’t stay within the lines with characters and so they are all completely bonkers, imperfect, and quite rude. It is a real meaty script, which is one of the main reasons I am so excited to be a part of it because he is not afraid to blow up the rules on stage and on screen.
The question on all of our lips is whether this will fill the Game of Thrones gap in our lives? We have actually been asked that question a lot, and I am not surprised. Game of Thrones has been the most successful show that we have had in the last decade and we should be so lucky to be compared to it. I am hoping that the fans of Game of Thrones will give us a chance. It is actually very different to Game of Thrones, it has a very different energy to it. Like I said previously the humour is quite important, and the psychedelic 60’s twists that they have cleverly woven into the period. While it is a different animal I do think the people that enjoy Game of Thrones will enjoy Britannia as well. Looking to the future do you have any exciting projects on the horizon? I went back to do some more on the Medici to play Contessina, I am playing her older this time around which has been quite interesting and that should be coming out later this year. The Split is also due out in the spring, and I am very proud of that and excited. I worked with Nicola Walker who played my sister and she was incredible. That was an amazing dream job for me and hopefully there will be more of that if it is liked by the audience. Possibly another Britannia so there are a few things bubbling up, although I am not entirely sure yet. I have just had a really busy time and so I’ll wait to see what happens.
All episodes of Britannia will be available Thursday 18 January exclusively on Sky Atlantic and TV streaming service NOW TV. Brand new drama The Split is coming soon to BBC One