‘It was just im­pos­si­ble to get a job, soIde­cided to ap­ply for drama school’

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Grow­ing up in Rick­mansworth (“at the end of the end of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan line”), Clu­nie didn’t imag­ine she’d be an ac­tress. The daugh­ter of a busi­ness con­sul­tant and a med­i­cal sec­re­tary, for a while she har­boured am­bi­tions to be a fash­ion jour­nal­ist: “I saw The Devil Wears Prada one too many times and just de­cided that was for me.” She still has her old col­lec­tion of Vogue mag­a­zines dat­ing back to 2010, as well as one from the month she was born, Oc­to­ber 1987, a 30th birth­day present from friends.

But it was in a dif­fer­ent area of the in­dus­try that she ended up work­ing, at least for a while. Scouted by a model agent on the Tube aged 14, as a teenager she spent her week­ends on shoots, later walk­ing at Lon­don Fash­ion Week and work­ing as a show­room model.

She found much of it “soul de­stroy­ing”, with “seedy pho­tog­ra­phers giv­ing me s***” and a con­fi­dence-crush­ing con­veyor belt. “You see all th­ese gor­geous young girls be­ing told they’re not good enough, that they’re fat and look aw­ful,” she says.

It was only when she left univer­sity that act­ing beck­oned. Study­ing English at New­cas­tle, she had been in­volved in stu­dent drama, play­ing Miss Prism in The Im­por­tance of Be­ing Earnest. “It was im­pos­si­ble to get a job and ev­ery­one was do­ing mas­ter’s de­grees — I thought, ‘I’m go­ing to ap­ply to drama school. Now’s the chance’. From there it sort of hap­pened. I went to the Ox­ford School of Drama and grad­u­ated in 2010.”

She landed an early role as an aris­to­cratic hos­pi­tal pa­tient op­po­site Daniel Rad­cliffe and Jon Hamm in Sky’s A Young Doc­tor’s Notebook, about a vil­lage doc­tor in rev­o­lu­tion­ary Rus­sia. Vic­to­ria fol­lowed a few years later. “I got the phone call as I was walk­ing to my friend’s house to hang out. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I think this might be quite a big deal!’ We had a bot­tle of Pros­ecco — it was great.”

The first two se­ries saw the cast, which in­cludes Jenna Cole­man as Vic­to­ria and Tom Hughes as Al­bert, holed up in ho­tels in Har­ro­gate for six months at a time, “which was hi­lar­i­ous”. They’d kill time by do­ing jig­saws and dined out to­gether ev­ery night. Cole­man and Hughes, she says, are “lovely”, while Rufus Sewell, who plays Lord Melbourne, “is re­ally silly, very fun — we did a din­ner scene once and he tried to start a food fight. He was throw­ing grapes and I was like, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got to stop do­ing that! In this beau­ti­ful stately home.’”

The pro­duc­tion fea­tures ac­tors from across Europe, in­clud­ing Ger­man ac­tresses Daniela Holtz, as Baroness Le­hzen, and Cather­ine Flem­ming as Vic­to­ria’s mother. For Clu­nie, it high­lights the prob­lem Brexit will cause. “It’ll be the same is­sue as for Amer­ica. Ac­tors in Jan­uary do loads of pi­lot tapes and if you get the part you have to sud­denly magic a visa out of the air. It’ll be re­ally dif­fi­cult. I’m so sad about it.”

Brexit isn’t the only is­sue Clu­nie feels pas­sion­ately about. The ac­cu­sa­tion that mil­len­ni­als aren’t in­ter­ested in cur­rent af­fairs is “re­ally odd and largely wrong be­cause I’d say all of my friends are pretty en­gaged”. She has fol­lowed the Time’s Up and equal pay cam­paigns closely. “Salma Hayek said that if men re­ally be­lieve in equal­ity, they need to take a pay cut, be­cause if there’s a bud­get for a film and it’s $10 mil­lion, and the lead ac­tor is get­ting $9.7m, how’s the rest of the film even meant to func­tion? I thought that was a re­ally good point.” So far, she says, “I’ve never come to a ne­go­ti­a­tion where I’ve been like, ‘And how much are all the guys be­ing paid?’ I could see it happening in the fu­ture. I’d be more will­ing now”.

Fol­low­ing a brief turn in Sky At­lantic’s Pa­trick Mel­rose, Clu­nie has a busy few months. She’s just fin­ished shoot­ing an in­die hor­ror, Here Comes Hell, about a 1930s din­ner party that goes wrong. And as well as the Max Mara gig, she will soon be ap­pear­ing in the BBC’s Death in Par­adise. RIS­ING TAL­ENT: Then there’s the small mat­ter of the flat she and her mu­si­cian hus­band Tom Bull — whom she mar­ried 18 months ago at St Giles’ in Cam­ber­well — have bought in Peck­ham. “I can’t re­mem­ber a life be­fore not wor­ry­ing about paint colours,” she laughs. Still, there are perks. “You have to go down and get pizza at Theo’s. It’s so good. The Cam­ber­well Arms is amaz­ing as well. On a Sun­day you get a pie with a suet crust and a bone stick­ing out of it. It’s so good.” When she isn’t film­ing or paint­ing or eat­ing pizza, you’ ll find her watch­ing The Hand­maid’s Tale, vin­tage shop­ping around Por­to­bello (today she’s wear­ing a vin­tage denim jump­suit from Re­for­ma­tion in LA) or writ­ing in her diary, which she does daily. “I sup­pose it’s a bit med­i­ta­tive — you’re let­ting go of what hap­pened in the day and you can wake up and start fresh.” Next she’d love to add theatre cred­its to her CV. “I like the idea of do­ing Shake­speare, but it’s also ter­ri­fy­ing. Some cool new writ­ing is al­ways good, too. I’d like to work at the Royal Court, the Na­tional.” Watch this space. The Tro­phy Day col­lec­tion by Week­end Max Mara is avail­able ex­clu­sively at Fen­wick stores © ES Mag­a­zine

ac­tress Mar­garet Clu­nie, and (in­set be­low) in ITV drama Vic­to­ria

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