Jenna Coleman, From ‘Victoria’ to The Old Vic
Around this time last year, British actress Jenna Coleman was aboard a plane to Australia. "With the most amount of fear," she adds.
Coleman was en route to film the mystery BBC miniseries "The Cry," which debuted in the fall of 2018. "What's been most amazing is the speculation," she says of reaction to the show and the accompanying whodunit around a mother and her missing child. "The worst thing in the world would be a really obvious psychological thriller that doesn't keep people guessing; that doesn't have secrets."
Coleman's had little time to catch her breath since that plane ride — a day after wrapping "The Cry," she was back in character as Queen Victoria for the third season of "Victoria," which premieres Jan. 13. There's been a lot of filming, a lot of press, and as Coleman puts it, "It's been a real freight train of a year."
"To be honest, each project that you start feels quite scary, always feels like a bit of a mountain in a way in terms of: how on earth do I get to know who the real Queen Victoria was? And how on earth do I play a grieving mother going through the most unimaginable circumstances in a way that can lend itself to a thriller where you have to play the truth, but never give the truth?"
The answer for Coleman is a lot of research channeled through intuition. At the end of the second season of "Victoria," her character had already become a mother to three children, with four more "on the way."
"The feeling we left them with was 'we're no longer children anymore, are we?'" she says, describing the dynamic with her onscreen husband Prince Albert, played by her real-life partner Tom Hughes. "And then we pick up this season and it's like: jump cuts, so many years [have passed], they have seven children now, they've been married 10 years. And so she herself is older and looking at [the question] how do we age?"
While the 32-year-old brunette has no personal experience as a mother to draw from, Coleman still had a deep pool of maternal proclivities to tap into for both "The Cry" and the upcoming season of "Victoria," and in a way, her portrayals benefited from her explorations of the other one.
"What's really interesting is…actually sitting down and considering the day-to-day practicalities of what it means to have a child — from your entire world changing, from I can walk out the door and grab a coffee, and the difference is of course you can do that as a mother, but suddenly the independence of that changes," Coleman says, adding that despite what differentiates both characters — time, class, country, age — they remain linked through the universal aspects of motherhood. "I'm pretty convinced [Victoria] experienced post-natal depression, as you can see from her diary. She was already very emotionally susceptible — or human, shall we say — and there's a point in her diaries when she stops writing for months after the birth of her second child, which is totally uncharacteristic," she continues. "And when she comes back she can't articulate what it is she's been through. And then also we meet Joanna in 'The Cry,' and she's completely lost her identity."
But on a meta level, the experiences of filming the two shows couldn't be more different. While "The Cry" was visceral and raw, with moments of pick-upa-camera-and-change-course guerrilla style shooting, production for a period show like "Victoria" is quite literally more buttoned up, with long resets between takes, elaborate production design, child actors, and all of the accompanying etiquette. Coleman found the juxtaposition interesting, and is pivoting to the stage this spring, when she'll start work on an Old Vic production of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" in London.
"I've been looking to do [a play] for ages, because I've done TV for so many years straight. You're always on camera and it's always quick. You have to work quickly; you can research and research and research, but then on the day you're always subject to schedule," she says, expressing excitement about the prospect of spending eight weeks developing and diving into the two-hour performance. "Sally Field is playing Kate Keller and Bill Pullman is playing Joe, and the ensemble is so wonderful. To be in a room with those people and get to explore, is really exciting."
But before she enters that particular 1,000-seat room, another plane ride is in store — this time for a different sort of exploration.
"I'm going on holiday; I'm going to go to Marrakesh and Mexico and do a bit of traveling, because there's not been a great deal of that recently," she says. "So I'm going to do some of that, and then potentially something else. And then the Old Vic starts in March."
Just like any good psychological thriller, Coleman can tease secrets of her own.
The actress steps back into character as Queen Victoria before turning her attention to a London production of “All My Sons.” BY KRISTEN TAUER PHOTOGRAPH BY VIRGINIE KHATEEB