From Downton to dating
Audiences and critics have praised the former lady’s maid for her role in a harrowing drama, writes James Croot.
t was just one of those jobs I couldn’t say no to.’’ Joanne Froggatt speaks with great enthusiasm about her latest project Liar. The former star of Downton Abbey, Coronation Street and Bad Girls returns to Kiwi TV screens next weekend in a role very different from what fans will be used to.
The 37-year-old Yorkshire woman plays a secondary school teacher whose first steps back onto the dating scene after a long-relationship ends in disaster. Smouldering surgeon Andrew (Forever’s Ioan Gruffudd) seems like the perfect dinner companion, however their relaxed evening will have far-reaching consequences.
The six-part British drama, which begins screening on TVNZ1 on January 28, attracted critical and audience acclaim when it aired in the UK and US late last year. Writing for the Daily Mail, Claudia Connell described it as ‘‘the best ITV drama since Broadchurch’’.
Froggatt says she was hooked after reading the first episode. ‘‘I thought it was a rather brilliant thriller in the making and something I hadn’t done before. I didn’t know who was telling the truth and who was lying. It raised a lot of interesting questions.’’
A Golden Globe winner and threetime Emmy nominee thanks to her role as lady’s maid Anna Bates on Downton, Froggatt says the toughest challenge of bringing Laura to life was ‘‘playing the truth’’ of her character ‘‘without giving away the story’’.
‘‘It was an interesting process to go, ‘OK, I’m going to instinctively play this scene like this’, and then check in with the director to ensure we weren’t giving too much away. It was quite interesting to play a scene with one emotional response that can be perceived in different ways. You could go, ‘she’s behaving like that because she’s telling the truth’, or, ‘she’s behaving like that because she’s not telling the truth’.
‘‘For certain key scenes, James [Strong, director of the first three episodes] would ask us to do what we felt was instinctively right and then he’d say, ‘let’s do one held back’, ‘really angry’, or, ‘push it in a different direction’, so he had choices in the edit to manipulate the story should it turn out it was becoming too one-sided and easy to guess.’’
She admits filming the intimate drama meant some days on set were tough. ‘‘There were a few days that were physically and emotionally taxing. Doing lots of different versions of a scene that might not initially seem that emotional can make it so.’’
Then there were the challenging weather conditions. ‘‘Trying to concentrate without getting hypothermia in the freezing cold with a rain machine on full, and having to be wrapped up in a thermal blanket between takes – those days are always fun,’’ she laughs.
Fortunately, Froggatt says, she had supportive cast and crew. ‘‘It felt like a really collaborative job. I’d never worked with Ioan before but we were excited about doing the project and wanted to do a great job, taking on the serious nature of the show and its subject matter.’’
Adding that it was a delight to play someone so confident in her own decisions, Froggatt believes it is an exciting time to be a TV actress. ‘‘There are so many great roles for women and TV is definitely the place to be working. It’s where the budgets are and, sometimes, better stories.’’
With fellow Yorkshire woman Jodie Whittaker having debuted as Doctor Who and the likes of Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster) and Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley) from neighbouring Lancashire proving that female-led dramas can draw big audiences, does she feel that there’s something about regional Englishwomen that makes them great actresses?
‘‘Yeah, it seems we’re coming into fashion. But maybe it’s just coincidence that a few northern girls are doing well.’’
Froggatt says she has a couple of American independent movies due out and a key role opposite Elle Fanning and Maisie Williams in big-screen literary romance Mary Shelley. ‘‘I’ve also just started a production company in the UK. We’ve got a couple of things in the early stages of development, but obviously it can be quite a long process.’’
Then there’s the second season of Liar, set to go before the cameras in January 2019. Did Froggatt envisage that when she signed on?
‘‘It was always a possibility. Jack and Harry [the Williams brothers writing duo] wanted to have something that stood alone as a story, but that could also provide a second season. It wouldn’t go on and on with these characters, because obviously only so much can happen to one set of people before it becomes unbelievable.’’
Froggatt is fairly confident the follow-up will be worth the delay, drawing a parallel with Doctor Foster, another successful British relationship drama. ‘‘There were two years between seasons for that, so hopefully we can do just as well.’’
8.45pm, Sundays, TVNZ1, from January 28.