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Keeley Hawes and The Durrells clan reveal all about their own animals

The cast of the ITV drama have plenty of animal co-stars - but here they talk about their real-life furry companions

The Durrells on the sea
Published: Tuesday, 2nd October 2018 at 9:27 am

Keeley Hawes and Nana

Nana is named after the dog in Peter Pan, which was a film we used to watch a lot when the kids were smaller [Hawes has three children with her husband Matthew Macfadyen]. And in fact, she has turned out to be a bit of a nana! She’s coming up to seven and she just loves to snooze. When I was looking for pictures of her, I could only find one with her eyes open.


We’re allergic to dogs, so she’s a hypoallergenic breed called a coton de tulear. She doesn’t moult, so she’s pretty easy to care for. She loves to go out, but she’s very little; she bounces along like a bunny rabbit and wears herself out quite quickly before coming back for a nap.

She has beds everywhere: one in the kitchen, one in my bedroom, one in my son’s room. Her favourite place is in front of the fire in the living room. She has a pretty nice life!

Nana is our first dog but we’ve had hamsters, fish, rabbits and chickens. The problem is that they always end up being my responsibility. When the hamster died, the kids said, “I’m so sorry about your hamster, Mummy.” I could live without hamsters, but we all love Nana very much. And while she may be the family dog, she knows who feeds and walks her, so if she had to save one of us in a fire it would probably be me.

I always had a dog or two growing up so getting one was something I always wanted to do. We mostly had standard poodles, because of the allergies – this was before cockapoos and the other trendy ’poos came along.

Nana’s very patient with the kids. My daughter teaches her tricks: sit, paw, lie down and roll over. Although I think her best trick is “selective deafness”. She’ll just sit with her back to you and ignore you if you’re asking her to do something she doesn’t want to do. Funnily enough, when it’s something fun, her hearing comes back!

As an animal person, The Durrells is a wonderful job. We get up close with them in a way only a zookeeper would. And you never know what they’re going to throw at you. This series there was a scene where I had a sheep on a lead, a goat, a pelican and a donkey. I thought, “Please, this is not a normal job, I’m not sure I signed up for this.” But it’s good fun.

I was also tasked with holding Frank the sloth. It wasn’t supposed to be me, but he was too heavy for anyone else because for a scene that takes a minute and a half on screen, it can take up to four hours to wrangle the animals and get everything right. Turns out sloths are a bit unwieldy. But she – I think Frank was a “she” in real life – was lovely and seemed to live on a diet of mozzarella and strawberry yogurt!

And we had flamingos this year, which are much more on the wild side. Milo [Parker], who plays Gerry, and I had a scene where we got to feed them, which was wonderful.

It’s a real pleasure watching my on-screen family grow up in real life. You don’t notice it so much with your own kids because you see them every day, but in the gap between filming, Milo shot up by about two feet! And he is so good with the animals. He has to spend more time with them than the rest of us and he’s very patient and calm and still with them.

Honestly, though, on The Durrells set the animals get treated better than the actors. The welfare of the animals is higher than any human. A lot of the animals we use are rescued, and often the crew end up taking them home. There are a lot of happy endings. Although I don’t think I’ll take anything home – I’ve got enough on my plate with Nana and the kids!

Milo Parker and Sybil

Sybil is a toy poodle and shih-tzu cross and was born in 2012. But nearly six years on, we’re still at the basic “sit” and “lie down” stage. She’s very yappy and excitable and just a hard dog to train. She gets distracted by everything – just buzzing and loving life.

We have a rota at home so my parents, my 12-year-old sister Amelia and I all take it in turns to feed and walk her. We love her equally but I think Sybil is especially fond of Mum. I miss her so much when we film in Corfu, although we do Skype.

I’ve always loved animals and been quite good with them, so this is a dream job. Before series one I spent a week with Mossup the dog, who plays Roger, so we could build up our bond. She is the loveliest dog and it made me realise how great this job was going to be.

I think it’s important to spend as much time as possible with the animals on and off set. If you’re calm with them, you show them there’s nothing to be frightened of and then they’re calm too. The only time I was afraid was when one of the pelicans started snapping at me. I was sprinkling dirt on a grave during a funeral scene and the pelican thought it was food.

Other than that, the only problem we have is when we’re filming with all the animals in one scene at once and they’re all pooing and making noises and getting smelly. There’s a scene in this series where all the animals are in one room because it’s Gerry’s birthday. It was absolute carnage.

Callum Woodhouse and Henry

The Durrells - Callum Woodhouse as Leslie Durrell

I wish I had dogs I could really call my own, but it’s a bit difficult as I’m away from home a lot. My girlfriend Callie has two, though: Dave the cocker spaniel and Henry the springer spaniel.

Henry is seven now, so he mainly likes to lie down and have his belly rubbed. He is quite dubious of new people but he loved me from the word go. He’s really caring. He’ll bring you a shoe to cheer you up if you’re down. And he’s so greedy – he’ll wolf his food down and then try and eat Dave’s, too.

I’ve never had my own pet – I really wanted a dog when I was a kid but my dad worked in Scotland all week and my mum worked long hours, so it would have been cruel. But I’m hoping to move into a flat soon that will let me have a dog – a dachshund that I’ll call Dennis or Boris.

I’ve been fine with most of the animals on the show but I did have to overcome a phobia of snakes this series. And while I also enjoyed meeting a baby vulture, the trainer pointed out that a full-sized bird could have bitten my finger off! Mossup, the dog who plays Roger, is also great but she is very pampered. She eats better than anyone on set – she gets a fillet steak every day!

My favourite animal was probably the sloth from this latest series. We took it in turns to have her draped over our shoulders and feed her chunks of apple. She was so slow and lazy and funny. If I could be any animal, I’d be a sloth.

Daisy Waterstone and Max

We’ve had a few cats in my family but I had a particularly strong bond with our Burmese Max, who died last year. But he was 19, which is a very good age!

Max was like a human trapped in a cat’s body – he was so emotionally intelligent. He refused to hunt and would be visibly upset when the other cats brought in dead mice. He’d always come and sit with anybody who was feeling sad, too. If I had boyfriends to stay over he would sleep in between us, like he was jealous.

He was adored by everyone. He would stand outside the house when the kids walked past on their way home from school and everyone would be going, “There’s Max!” He loved the attention.

I’m more of a dog person: in a few years’ time I’d love a beagle or a labrador. In the meantime, I’ve just moved out of the family home to live with my sister and we’re planning on getting two new Burmese kittens.

I have loved filming The Durrells. When I’m 80, I will remember every single moment. My favourite animals are the goats. They make us laugh so much and we get so many cuddles from them. I also fell in love with the albino python we did a scene with. He was so gentle.

It’s a chaotic show – you’ll be learning lines and a pelican will waddle past, or a donkey will be trying to get into the house. There’s never a dull moment, but that’s what makes it so special. You train yourself not to be distracted and it would take something really huge to put me off now.

Josh O’Connor and Boe

I’ve never had a dog, which makes me very sad because I’m obsessed with them. Me and my mum always wanted one, but my dad was always anti. Instead, I had a hamster. I called him Beattie after James Beattie, the Southampton footballer. Then two weeks later the real Beattie left and went to Everton. The hamster didn’t last much longer, either, so it was a bit of a sad affair.

There were some puppies in series two of The Durrells, one of which I very nearly took home. That experience helped me persuade Mum and Dad to finally bite the bullet and get a very beautiful cockapoo puppy. We called her Boe. She’s got brilliant golden brown curly fur, and she greets you like you’re the best thing that ever happened to her. Her tail wags so aggressively that her bum shakes and she shivers with excitement.

I had a week off last autumn which was around the time of her first birthday so I rented out a cottage in Hay-on-Wye and spent a week alone with Boe. I celebrated her birthday by letting her sleep in the bed with me, which meant my poor parents had to retrain her when she got home.

I would love my own dog but it’s impossible in this job, really. My girlfriend and I have had lots of conversations about it but she always talks me out of it. I will get a puppy one day, though – I just can’t imagine going through life without ever having one of my own.

The Durrells in Corfu season 3 starts on Sunday September 30 at 8/7c on Masterpiece on PBS


This article was originally published in the 17-23 March 2018 issue of Radio Times magazine


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