Before she arrived in Poplar and put on her nurse’s uniform, actress Leonie Elliott was best known for her role in Black Mirror episode Hated in the Nation, where she played Fiona. She has also recently been in Casualty, Boogie Man and Damned, and in 2015 she played Cherry Patterson in the Lenny Henry comedy drama Danny and the Human Zoo.
The 29-year-old started acting when she was young, appearing on TV in Undercover Heart in 1998 and then in the 2003 movie Wondrous Oblivion. As a kid she appeared on stage in the musicals The Lion King and Annie.
Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas immediately knew Leonie was perfect for the part when she saw her audition tape – and has no regrets.
“Leonie very quickly – as Lucille – finds her place at the heart of Nonnatus House and that community,” Thomas said at a screening in London. “It means a great deal to us that she shares heritage with Lucille and I think that really brings something very special to the screen.”
And the actress took the opportunity to channel her relatives’ real-life experiences.
“My family are from Jamaica, so in that sense, it made it easier. And I have an aunt who has a similar story and came over to England to study,” she said. “So I learnt lots about my family as well, and their experiences.”
Although she speaks with an English accent in real life, Leonie quickly mastered Lucille’s voice: “It’s not an accent that’s alien to me, because that’s how a lot of my family speak.”
Who is new West Indian midwife Nurse Lucille Anderson?
Funny and clever, Nurse Lucille Anderson will bring a “fresh new energy” to Nonnatus House when she arrives in series seven. Her story will introduce viewers to the experiences of Caribbean nurses who came over to England in the 1960s to work in the growing NHS.
“It’s an absolute joy, because I’d wanted to introduce a black midwife for a while,” said Thomas. “I realised during my research we had this golden opportunity, because Lucille represents this wave of usually young women from the Commonwealth who were brought in by the British government to train as nurses.”
But while this “great wave” of Caribbean women who arrived in 1963 may have come at a time when nurses were “hugely needed” in the NHS, “they did not always get the welcome they deserved” – and that is something we will see explored on screen as Lucille faces the realities of life in Poplar, East London.
It won’t all be about race, though. Thomas added: “I think Leonie has brought a comedy dimension to some of our later episodes and you see simple things, which aren’t to do with racial prejudice, which we do highlight in one episode.
“As the series unfolds and she finds her feet, we see the trouble she has finding a church that suits her because she’s a woman of faith and it takes you a while to find somewhere where you feel really happy spiritually.
“And I think it’s important to tell those stories as well. Stories about migration and immigration aren’t always about racial prejudice. I think it’s been nice to tell that story.”