Freema Agyeman on the "tiny bubble" of Doctor Who and new comedy Dreamland
The actress spoke to Radio Times magazine for the Radio Times Podcast about her time as the Doctor's companion, Doctor Who shaping British television, and her new role in Sky comedy Dreamland.
Since then, she has starred in the American medical drama New Amsterdam and most recently alongside Lily Allen in Dreamland, a Sky comedy series about four sisters.
In the podcast, Freema discusses how Doctor Who has been at the forefront in shaping British television and what she has learnt about fame.
You can read what she had to say below, or listen to the full episode on your chosen podcast provider by clicking here.
What’s the view from your sofa?
I’ve just come back from living in New York, so my sofa is still in storage! Once all the dust is settled, I’ll mimic the same set-up I had over there. Whenever I watch anything, I’m on my treadmill. I have my phone in front of my face and walk for an hour and a half.
You watch TV while walking?
I dance to the beat of my own drum. I don’t tend to watch things when everyone else does. I’ll sit there thinking, "Oh yes! That’s exactly why everyone was talking about it. It’s brilliant." I did that with Squid Game, and now Black Mirror, which is amazing.
When did you first realise you wanted to appear on screen?
Not until really late – [acting] wasn’t on my radar! Academia was big in my household and I took school seriously. Opportunities like learning a musical instrument, a foreign language, and studying a wide range of subjects for free that could structure your future weren’t to be sniffed at.
It wasn’t till my A-levels when I took all art subjects because something went "ping" in my head.
You became famous overnight as David Tennant’s companion Martha in Doctor Who. Knowing what you know now about the industry and fame, would you do anything differently?
I wouldn’t have done anything differently – it was magical. There are moments you never forget. I can still feel it in my stomach, getting that call. I worked as an usher in the theatre, and stayed there for five months before it was [publicly] announced. I couldn’t say anything!
We had a lot of support; we were media-trained and told to be ready for our lives to change. While shooting, it felt like we were in a tiny bubble. Being present is important – I kept saying, "I’m here on set! I’m in the TARDIS!"
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You’ve spoken about your surprise at the backlash you faced for being one of the first black companions. With Ncuti Gatwa now taking on the lead role, do you think the show has been at the forefront in pioneering and shaping British television?
The only way to make any sustained and meaningful change in the industry is by having authentic representation behind the camera.
With Doctor Who, Russell T Davies and [casting director] Andy Pryor are very intelligent, self-aware, socially aware and politically aware human beings who are able to shape that show to reflect the people and the topics that are relevant and resonate with as many people as you possibly can. I have all the respect in the world for them.
Your new series is called Dreamland and follows four sisters living in Margate. It puts sisterhood and female identity at the forefront — what do you think viewers will take away from it?
The characters and the storylines are incredibly relatable. We had an all-female writers’ room – it’s a beautifully well-observed, well-written piece, full of drama that hits the nuances of the difficulty and absurdity of life. I also love that they address important issues and themes – they are looking at social mobility, classism, racism, and regeneration versus gentrification.
How does a show successfully flow between comedy and poignancy?
It’s alchemy! Primarily, it’s the calibre of the writing team – and [production company] Merman have their fingers on the pulse. We had a fantastic director, a fantastic cast and Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford [Merman co-founders] – all these brilliant professionals involved.
It was also just a lot of fun and banter. When there’s openness and an inclusive way in which you work and everyone’s voice is heard – and there’s an authentic voice coming from the writers’ room – it stands up in front of the camera, and I think they’ve achieved that.
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