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Nottingham Castle

Interview: Harriet Cains

3 April 13 interview: Zachary Fox
photos: Carla Mundy

Nottingham’s Television Workshop has produced dozens of great actors over the years including Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell and half the cast of This Is England. Next on that conveyor belt of talent is Harriet Cains, one of the stars of recent BBC3 zombie series In The Flesh...

You learned your trade through The Television Workshop. How did you get involved with them?

I went to a drama club called Circle Up and one of the teachers there used to teach at Workshop. After about three year she told me about auditions for Workshop; so I auditioned and I’ve been there since. When you get there you’re really aware that you’re
a small fish as the talent there is amazing. You have to work really hard, but I love it. You can be there until you’re 21 so I’m definitely sticking around for a while.

You’re only nineteen and at the start of your career. What have you been involved with before In The Flesh?
I’ve done a few short films. One was called The Love Interest which I never saw after it was finished. Then there was Human Beings which was my first big job. I loved it. I went down with a friend from Workshop and we stayed in this massive stately home in Marsden – which, funnily enough, is the place that In The Flesh was filmed. Human Beings was brilliant, I met my boyfriend on it as well. After that I did an episode of Doctors; you
have to work fast on that program. 

Have you had much theatre experience?
We do a play season at Workshop, so I’ve done a few. At the moment we’re doing Dangerous Liaisons and I love it. But so far I’ve never done it professionally. I haven’t had stage-school training so it’s not at the forefront of my mind, I’d rather be doing television. I wouldn’t rule it out, but maybe as an actor I’m not quite ready for it.

So, how did In The Flesh come about?
I did a monologue at The Royal Exchange through the Workshop and casting directors and agents came to see it. I was then asked to go up to Manchester to audition which went amazingly well; I think it’s the best I’ve ever auditioned. I’m not saying it was a fluke, but I think the part was suited to me so I found it quite easy.

That must have felt good, getting it done in one like that. 
It felt good but at the same time I didn’t believe it. Myself and David, who plays Rick, were cast pretty much straight away and the rest of the cast took a while. I think the director David Shaw pushed for me so I’m very grateful to him.

You’ve described your character as “ballsy and opinionated.” Did you have fun playing her?
She’s like a heightened version of me. Some people have asked in interviews how I’d deal with being in her position, and I genuinely think that I’d react quite similarly. She’s part of the Human Volunteer Force (HVF), so she shoots zombies; I had to have gun training, which was really cool. She’s not very nice to her parents but she’s got a good reason for it. She was left out in the cold because of everything that happened around her brother. Her parents were so focused on that, she was kind of forgotten. She still is really, even when he’s back.

The make-up in the program is fantastic. Did you ever catch a glimpse of a zombie out of the corner of your eye and jump?
There’s a scene where the zombies are rabid and I was trying to not see Luke and Emily before we filmed to keep the element of surprise. I did catch sight of Emily in the mirror and it freaked me out quite a lot. One time, Luke fell asleep during a night shift in his trailer and woke up, looked in a mirror and absolutely scared the hell out of himself. Nadia who did all of the make-up design was from West Bridgford originally. She lives in London now but
she’s from Notts too.

How did you feel working with TV icons like Ricky Tomlinson and Kenneth Cranham?
I was just in awe really, trying to act really cool like, “Hi, Ricky. I’m Harriet, really good to be working with you.” It was nice seeing how they work up close. Ken was really old school,
nothing breaks his focus on set. Ricky Tomlinson is just quality.

Is he hilarious in real life?
He is funny, but I only had a few scenes with him. David, Luke, Emily and I were so close because we were the main cast and with each other all the time.

As a young actress, do you take whatever roles you can or do you target particular roles?
Any experience is good and I’m not in a position to be picky over roles right now, I’m more than happy to audition for anything. I don’t care what it is, I just really enjoy the atmosphere of being on a set. Basically you get paid to do something you love.

Are you a fan of zombies and the supernatural?
It might be the wrong thing to say, but no. I liked Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. But I wouldn’t go to the cinema to see a zombie film. I think that’s part of the attraction of In The Flesh, it caters to all: it has the zombie thing as well as a human story. The script really did blow me away.

Now that you’ve had a primetime TV slot, does the idea of ‘fame’ scare you?
I don’t really know what to expect, I’m not sure I will get recognised in the street. When we did press the other day I was very overwhelmed, it was so strange. It’s something that I’ll
have to get used to.

How was it when you finished production?
It hit me a bit, I was a wreck in my last scene. It was really sad, you become like a family. The friendships make your life easier and help you deal with those you’re missing back home. 

Outside of acting, do you have any hobbies?
I’m hardly ever at home so I just like to go to the pub with my friends. And of course Workshop. When you’re in it you feel like it’s your life. You want to do well and it’s such a family. That’s what I love about it: there’s no bull, it’s just straight down the line.

What do you watch on TV at home?
I’m a massive soap fan, and I’m not one to go see some big Hollywood blockbuster, I’d rather sit at home and watch an independent film like This is England or Dead Man’s Shoes. I can’t handle horrors, except The Shining. They’re all the same thing and the copper always gets killed.

You mentioned Shane Meadows, do you aspire to get into film production on his level?
I’d love to. There were a lot of people from Workshop in This Is England and there’s a pride thing as well. I’m from the same place, and I train where they trained. I look up to them all really.

Would missing your family and home ever be a consideration when it came to accepting roles?
If I ever passed up an opportunity because I was going to miss people I’d be fuming with myself. There are times when there’s nothing worse than being alone in your hotel room and feeling knackered, knowing you’ve got to learn lines for the next day. But once you’ve had an amazing day on set and nailed a scene it puts you on such a high. The adrenaline takes you through. 

In The Flesh is available to watch on BBC iPlayer throughout April.

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