Q: What attracted you to the role of Annie?
“My initial thoughts were that the scripts were different, which is a good thing! I knew it needed a good strong vision, and so had a couple of meetings with Paul Whilngton (the director of the first 2 episodes) to make sure we were on the same page. I remember the audition ending with me saying, ‘She’s amazing!’ in reference to Annie, and I loved that the dialogue for her is quite minimal in that first ep. It read as a very visual piece of story telling.”
Q: Did you do your own research into this period?
“I very much wanted to, and I thought a lot about the day-to-day rituals of food, and tried to find Victorian recipes and the equipment they had. By the time we meet Annie, of course, she has nothing so would have had to make do with what she had. Most of the research I could get my hands on was very much from the male perspec6ve, about the navvies and the building of the viaducts, the awful sacrifice a lot of men made to building it. All incredibly interesting, but it made me keen to show the female perspective truthfully from this time.”
Q: Who is Annie and what’s your take on her as a character?
“Steve Thompson had written a great back story for Annie, which really helped. She is a schoolmaster’s widow. But her husband was a gambler and the family proved to be in massive debt, leaving her with nothing when he dies. So we meet her at this crucial ‘sink or swim’ moment in her life. Literally gelng thrown out of the family home and rejected by neighbours who are perhaps influenced by Victorian values and snobbery. I found Annie inspirational from the start… surviving, just. Determined, head strong, resourceful, vulnerable.”
Q: What challenges does Annie face in Jericho with two children to feed?
“I loved the line, ‘A hard town for a woman, have to scratch to find your place.’ I’m not sure it’s made it in to the final cut, but that was crucial for me in terms of how it was for the people in Jericho. Having decided to open lodgings, she is pretty determined to keep up her lifestyle of fine china saved from the family house, and good manners, which in a town like Jericho would seem pretty irrelevant. I love how she tries to keep up that side of her life and wants the children to keep reading their books. Her life has clearly taken a turn for the worse – in the eyes of Victorian society – but she refuses to be beaten by it.
“At first she is determined to make money so she can leave Jericho but pretty quickly sees how libera6ng life in Jericho can be. Annie discovers she is actually a very capable business woman and Jericho is the only place that that could have been made possible.”
Q: What sort of town is Jericho?
“Jericho is full of navvies. A rag tag bunch of tough workers used to a rough life on the road and settling wherever they can earn a wage. The lodgings are basic, the first buildings to go up are the tavern and the whorehouse. So you get the idea…! This is all completely shocking for Annie, but she see’s a gap in the market for good lodgings and good food. It’s not that she’s is trying to better these people, I think she knows that if there’s tasty food and comfortable lodgings they’d be glad of it.”
Q: Does Annie have a good relationship with her children Martha (Amy James-Kelly) and George (Sam BoVomley)?
“It’s clear from the start that Martha and George come first for Annie, but she hasn’t necessarily told them everything about their father. Neither is very happy about leaving Settle but Annie tries to make the best of it for them. I feel very lucky with the casting of ‘my children’. Amy brought a level of professionalism that was wonderful to work with and Sam brought almost the opposite…just a raw instinct for it all. Sam particularly had a hard storyline for someone so young and I cannot praise him enough! I always looked forward to our scenes together as it felt like the camera’s disappeared and it was just him and me, rare for child actors. He’s got a bright future ahead I’m sure.”
Q: What choices did you make about Annie’s accent? Is she ‘prim and proper’?
“I’m a bit allergic to the phrase ‘prim and proper’. It’s not how I see Annie at all. I wanted her to be earthy and have that dry Yorkshire wit that I see in a lot of northern women. But she has to get to this point…so I worked with a dialect coach and made an effort to not drop my h’s in the first couple of episodes, but as the series progresses I decided to use more of the colloquialisms that Steve had scripted. So by the end she uses a lot more ‘lasses’ and ‘happens’…to show that she has truly settled in to Jericho. It is such a beau6ful accent, I really hope I’ve done it justice.”
Q: What was it like filming the family’s steam train journey to the valley?
“Those opening shots really were a case of ‘no acting required’. I remember looking over to Hans Matheson, who plays Johnny, lying amongst some hessian sacks in his costume and just feeling like we were in a western. Wonderful!”
Q: You filmed in a remote part of Yorkshire. Did that help with the feeling of a new community all but isolated from the rest of the world?
“The town of Jericho has been built from scratch, really in the middle of nowhere. Apparently the buildings have to be pinned down with huge tarpaulins at the end of each filming day so they don’t blow away. It was also a real feat to get us all up there every day. It is a world away from everything, and it is a real help in terms of character. We were pretty lucky for the most part with the weather, and it looked like an American frontier town in the blazing sunshine which was just perfect.
“I must also say what an incredible group of supporting artists (extras) we had. They would be acting their socks off alongside us and some camped out to be there. So that gypsy-like community feel also informed it all.”
Q: What sort of relationship develops between Annie and Johnny?
“Hans and I discussed at length what Johnny and Annie’s relationship was. We both thought it a good idea if neither is particularly interested in a relationship at this point in their lives. Both are up to their neck in what life has thrown at them, so it’s the last thing they are concerned with. But there is a huge attraction between them, and it is almost inconvenient.
“We also liked the idea that these two are mature, they are not innocents when it comes to love and relationships, so they are wary. Circumstance keeps throwing them together, and I found it really fun to play with that idea of Annie being resistant yet attracted to Johnny. We were also determined it should be epically romantic. I love watching those kind of relationships on film, so my references were Holly Hunter in The Piano and Days of Heaven. I wanted the audience to long for these two to get together.”
Q: How would you describe Annie’s relationship with prostitute Lace Polly played by Lorraine Ashbourne?
“Annie is pretty shocked that her lodgings are right next door to the brothel. She is concerned on the influence this will have on George and Martha, and has probably been indoctrinated with the snooty Victorian values of the time. But, as with all things, once she actually gets to know Lace Polly she begins to understand and eventually respect and become friends with her. It’s a great arc to play.”
Q: Does Annie trust American Ralph Coates, played by Clarke Peters?
“I think Annie instinctively never completely trusts Coates. She knows that he is a clever watchful man and that nothing comes for free in this town…which is all delicious to play! Clarke has got Coates’ slipperiness down perfectly. When working with him I always felt Annie never led a scene knowing whether she had won or not, that off kilter feeling was useful for her.”
Q: Tell us about Annie’s oufits.
“We are introduced to Annie in her finest mourning dress. Or the tightest dress known to man as I like to call it. It is beautiful, but I had to get sewn in to it every time so you can imagine the constriction..
“Her costume journey is wonderful though, as is her hair and make up. The audience can watch her physically relax, the clothes become more practical, the hair comes down and becomes soder. It is like a releasing of all those strict Victorian morals. I was thrilled with all aspects.
“By about half way through, Annie’s signature top would always be the same shape, high neck, belled sleeves with tight cuffs, strong jewel like colours and very shapely. It’s like she finds her style and knows who she is. Very clever.”
Q: Do you think Jericho will remind viewers of the huge effort and sacrifice that went into building our railways?
“I think we just take it for granted now that these viaducts got built, but when you look at the engineering and sheer man power that went in to it, it’s almost unbelievable. I’m really glad we are shining a light on it and I hope it is a tribute to all those who helped build it. I had no idea that these shanty towns popped up while the viaducts got built and it’s such a rich and different life we’ve not seen in costume drama before.”
Q: In the opening scene we see Annie packing a few precious things into a suitcase. What single thing would you pack if you had to leave home in a hurry?
“My cats! Although I’m not sure they’d like being in a suitcase.”
Q: Annie is a civilising influence in Jericho. Is there an example of bad manners in everyday life that really annoys you?
“I’m pretty chilled out, I get a bit annoyed when people butt in and don’t let others finish a sentence. Generally the more informal and relaxed the better for me!”
Q: Jericho is a raw, new community. Do you think we have lost our sense of community today?
“I think it’s very easy to look back with rose tinted glasses, I’m sure there was a great sense of community in those times. But I also think it’s up to individuals to create a community. So if you want one, muck in and make it happen!”
Q: What do you hope the appeal of Jericho will be to a television audience?
“The sense of something different. A period drama with a bit of grit to it, a frontier town rising from the dust, a woman surviving against all odds and a cracking thriller amongst it all. It’s so full of vivid characters and stories, which is all you want from a good bit of telly really.”