Cursed star Shalom Brune-Franklin on 'refreshing' changes to Arthurian legend in new Netflix series
Claire Webb catches up with rising star Shalom Brune-Franklin who talks Netflix's Cursed, working with Hugh Laurie and her upcoming Line of Duty role
Shalom Brune-Franklin was embarrassingly starstruck when she joined the cast of Line of Duty in February. “Being on set as such a huge fan of the show is such a tripout,” she laughs. “I was running around being a fangirl and I don’t know if that’s ever going to wear off.”
The 25-year-old might not be a familiar face yet, but she soon will be. As well as landing a plum role in series six of the hugely popular police procedural, she can currently be seen in Netflix’s new fantasy drama, Cursed, a reimagining of the Arthurian legend, and is due to share the screen later this year with Hugh Laurie in David Hare’s Westminster-set thriller Roadkill, in which he plays an egocentric Tory MP whose past catches up with him.
“It was a masterclass in acting,” enthuses Brune-Franklin, speaking on the phone from her home in Perth, Australia. “We had a 12-page scene [together], and they set aside a day to do it. I thought: ‘This is going to be one of the greatest experiences of my life,’ and it was. I still don’t believe it actually happened.”
You wouldn’t guess it from her Aussie lilt, but Brune-Franklin was born in St Albans, the daughter of an English-Thai electrician and Mauritian hairdresser. When she was 14, her family moved to Mullaloo, a suburb of Perth, in search of a better life. “We lived in a shack, but right by the beach. My father wanted to be a chef and that’s exactly what he did, and Mum now works for the Australian government. It’s the best thing they ever did.”
Brune-Franklin was a sporty kid with no interest in acting, until she failed maths in high school and needed to fill the gap in her timetable. “Drama was the option available and I found I had a knack for it.” Even so, she only ended up at drama school because of an administrative error. Halfway through her first term at university, she had to drop out because she wasn’t yet an Australian citizen and couldn’t afford the costly fees overseas students have to cough up. On a whim, she auditioned for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and made such an impression that she was given a place even though she couldn’t pay.
She bagged her first big gig upon graduation, playing an Irish nurse in Aussie hospital drama Doctor Doctor, and roles in British productions soon followed: an Isis bride in Channel 4’s 2017 jihadi drama The State, and a soldier in BBC1’s army series, Our Girl.
But early success clearly hasn’t gone to her head. She’s sworn to secrecy about whether she’s playing a good or bad cop in Line of Duty. What we do know is that it also stars Kelly Macdonald (last seen in Giri/Haji) as an enigmatic detective, as well as AC-12 stalwarts Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure.
The cast were six weeks into a four-month shoot when lockdown interrupted filming and she doesn’t know yet whether it will resume this year. “I’m really excited to get stuck in again. There’s an amazing sense of community on set because so many people in the crew have worked on all the series. I was so nervous and they made me feel so incredibly welcome.”
In Cursed, she plays Morgan le Fay, while the show’s hero is a sword-wielding teenage fairy who’s destined to become the Lady of the Lake. In depictions down the ages – from Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century Le Morte d’Arthur to the BBC’s hit noughties series Merlin – Morgan (or Morgana) is usually cast as a baddie.
“Our version of the story is female-driven and very different,” she says. “I grew up watching Xena: Warrior Princess and it reminds me of that. There are some amazing female characters and our take on Morgan is really refreshing. Instead of being a wicked witch, she’s a tough freedom-fighter.” Brune-Franklin says she seeks out scripts with strong female characters – “I was raised by incredibly strong black women, so I want to represent that on screen.”
When she’s filming in the UK, she lives with her maternal grandparents in London, but she flew back to Oz at the start of lockdown because she worried about putting them at risk. “When I’m in Australia, I miss my friends and family in England, and when I’m in England, I miss my friends and family in Australia. I love both countries equally, so it’s really hard to decide where to set roots down. So far I haven’t had to make that choice, thankfully. My suitcase has done a few miles though.”
How does Australia’s TV industry compare with the UK’s? “It’s definitely smaller, so it can be quite tough for actors. A lot go to America, England or Canada to try and break out. There aren’t a lot of people who look like me on Australian TV and represent what I represent, so I think it’s important I try to work in both countries and don’t run away and not come back.”
So she doesn’t have plans to follow in the footsteps of Aussie stars such as Margot Robbie and Chris Hemsworth and conquer Hollywood next? “I’ve never had a career plan and it’s been all right so far, so I’m not going to start making any plans any time soon! I’m just going to see where it takes me.”
Cursed - what you need to know
- Cursed is a big re-imagining of the Arthurian legend, told through the eyes of Katherine Langford's Nimue, who is always destined to be the Lady of the Lake. She helps Arthur in his quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword.
- Who is in the Cursed cast? Katherine Langford plays lead Nimue and is joined by Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgard, Peter Mullan, Shalmon Brune-Franklin and Daniel Sharman, among many more.
- How do I watch Cursed? Check out the fantasy series on Netflix form July 17th.
This interview originally appeared in the Radio Times magazine. For the biggest interviews and the best TV listings subscribe to Radio Times now and never miss a copy.