An Adventure in Space and Time: on-set interview with Jessica Raine

How has the Call the Midwife star captured the spirit of Doctor Who’s formidable first producer?

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An Adventure in Space and Time: on-set interview with Jessica Raine
Written By
Patrick Mulkern

It’s 12 February 2013, a hectic day at TV Centre, and it’s looking touch and go whether there’ll be time for RT’s interview Jessica Raine. I’m twiddling my thumbs in one of a suite of rooms on the fifth floor, which the Adventure in Space and Time team have re-dressed to suggest 1960s production and design offices. Then suddenly, there she is, walking in, radiant and chic, her hair freshly coiffed, in character as Doctor Who’s original producer Verity Lambert.

Before we start, Jessica notices my copy of that week’s Radio Times – she’s on the cover for the latest series of Call the Midwife. “Oh my God. Oh I wanna read it now. We can’t do the interview!” she jokes.

You’re becoming a regular RT cover star. It’s your second time this year already and it’s only the start of February.

It’s weird, mad, yeah.

How are you finding the filming of An Adventure?

Really fun, yeah.

Has it all been at TV Centre so far?

No, we’ve been at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, which is the most beautiful building you’ve ever seen. Quite near where I live. We’re based here at TV Centre for about a week and it’s such a privilege to work in this building. It’s really sad because half of it’s empty.

Is it the first time you’ve worked here?

I’ve only come for auditions here. So this is in a very different capacity. I’m coming in and it’s 1960s offices and this 60s gear.

And how are you finding the 60s sophistication and glam?

I’m loving the costumes, they’re like gorgeous shift dresses. Our costume designer Suzanne Cave is incredible. So they’re quite simple, classic designs. Verity was a really classy woman. They’re not restrictive at all. You can move about quite freely in them, which is telling as well.

She died six years ago. Your paths never crossed?

No they didn’t. I think that’s before I started becoming officially an actress.

Are you just going by the script or have you done any research or watched old footage of her?

I have watched old footage but the footage I’ve seen has been quite modern. Because she did a lot of interviews about this [earlier] time, which was really useful, to see her spin on it. What I got from that more than anything is that she was a warm, composed and compassionate woman.. When you first hear the name and hear what she did, which was become the first female producer at the BBC, you think, ‘Wow, she must have been a real ball-buster.’ But actually that would have been a boring way to play her, because there’s so much more with the warmth and vulnerability that comes with that. Walking into a building where everyone is saying she probably slept her way to get here.

So in the drama are we seeing her at work or some of her home life?

The majority of it is work but we’re introduced to her at her house at a swinging party, because apparently she held these fantastic soirées. She was really into art and would get all these artists’ work and hang it around her house. Invite the artists and invite everyone over. (laughing) I felt very cool dancing with my cigarette. That’s the kind of woman I want to be. 

What’s been the highlight so far of the filming?

I really enjoyed filming in the Rivoli Ballroom. There’s a restaurant scene where they’re trying to persuade William Hartnell to be part of Doctor Who and of course David Bradley is just a joy. We felt quite left alone because we were just at a table, and there’s not too many props and you can concentrate on Waris and Verity trying to persuade this grumpy man to come on board. It’s an interesting dynamic. I feel like I’ve got the majority of my things to do in the next few weeks. So I think the best moment is probably to come.

What would that be?

I can’t put my finger on it. It would be working with the actors and going through scenes where she first walks into the BBC. I’m really looking forward to a scene tomorrow where she walks into a room and these two men are there and she says, “I think you’re in my office.” And they just don’t compute that she could possibly be the producer of this project… “Oh, is he behind you…?” That kind of thing.

What’s it like playing a real person, as you’ve done that several times now, people from recent past?

With Jennifer Worth, she was not in the industry. She was a midwife obviously, so I had the books to go back to again and again, but with this everyone in the industry knew Verity so there’s a little more pressure on it because although you’ve got to have blinkers on in certain ways, I really hope she comes across as the warm and amazing woman she clearly was.

And the Doctor Who episode you made, Hide, was that last year?

Yeah, a long time ago now. 

So you’re kind of steeped in Who now.

I know! The Tardis is following me. That was set in the 70s, so I’m slowly clawing my way up through time – 50s, 60s, I wouldn’t mind skipping the 80s. [she cackles]

We’d all like to skip that. You wouldn’t like the hairdos.

Yeah, I’m not sure I could pull that off. Yes, it’s set in the 70s.

What was it like working with Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman.

Great. I think it was Jenna’s first episode that she filmed. So we both felt quite like newbies together which was really lovely and we’ve got some mutual friends as well. She’s fantastic. Matt I’d worked with before. We’d done a play reading of Simon Stevens’s play Punk Rock. So I was very comfortable working with him.

How are you coping generally with shooting to fame in the past few years. How’s it changed your life?

I get recognised a bit. But it’s always people who love it so that’s OK. I’ve not stopped going on public transport. I love going on it.

What’s your next project?

I don’t know. I feel quite snowed under with this at the moment. We film this for another two weeks and then I don’t know, the world is my oyster, I guess. I just audition, which is the actor’s life.

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