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Lucy Carless

16 June 15 words: Lucy Manning
"I wasn't half the person I am now when I first joined [Television Workshop]. I was shy, but it teaches you to embrace who you are"

You’re about to star in upcoming Channel 4 series Humans, which is about housework-aiding synthetic people. What was it that drew you to the script?
It was naturalistic, funny and dark. And although it’s based on a Swedish drama, it felt really new and fresh in terms of British TV. It’s really unique. It’s got something for everyone - sci-fi, horror, drama, comedy. It plays with your emotions and hopefully people will find the characters really easy to engage with. Humans explores what it is to be a real person rather than a synth. I hope everyone loves it as much as I do. I play Mattie Hawkins, the daughter in a family who get a synthetic human being - Anita. Mattie’s a bit averse to synths - she doesn’t like the way they intrude on her life. Classic teenager, really.

Tell us about the synths...
They’re created by scientists and, in this world, it’s pretty common for people to have one. There are NHS synths for people who need help getting up or getting dressed - the NHS buy synths and distribute them. There are different synths for different uses - school cleaners and stuff like that. All the jobs that people don’t want to do, especially manual work because they’re very strong and fast. There are no poet synths.

They’re played by very sexy people. Dan O’Neil, the choreographer, designed the way the synths move, think, react and work. Every single person who played a synth had to go through ‘synth school’ and learn how to walk, run and crawl like a synth. They had to learn how to be a completely different creature. Being around them, I’d find myself correcting my posture, and Dan would shout at me like, “Be more human!” I had to slouch, purposefully.


If you could have a synth do one job for you for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably to paint my nails [she says, painting her nails]. I’m not very good at stuff like that - putting make-up on. I’d probably get it to brush and wash my hair for me. Or, you know, something more deep and meaningful. My hair is so tangly, though. My hairdresser once found a piece of plastic in it. It’s so curly so I don’t like to brush it that often and he washed it and was like, “What’s that?” It was a bit of plastic fork. I’d been eating and it seems that the fork had broken and found its way into my hair.

This isn’t your first time on telly. You played Susan Mann in Code of a Killer on ITV…
Yeah, I played the sister of Linda Mann who was the first girl to be raped and murdered in the Colin Pitchfork case. James Strong was the director and he’d just done Broadchurch - he was really good. It was my first job and it was really tough. The first day I filmed, we shot the funeral which was very emotional. It was a really important drama and it was really interesting to be a part of.

The scene where the family were told Linda was dead was really well done. James put us in this house that was furnished like the real family’s home. There were pictures of them up on the wall, and he said he was going to give us five minutes to be in there, and he was going to follow the camera in. We had time to improvise being part of that experience. We could barely hear action being called, so it felt so real when they knocked on the door. All of it felt so real. That first take was really upsetting for all of us.

Have you always wanted to act?
Pretty much. I wanted to act or be J.K. Rowling. I got the part of Dorothy in my year six production of The Wizard of Oz and I was like, “This is it.” It sounds silly cos it was just a school play, but it gave me such a confidence boost. I joined the Nottingham Youth Theatre, and then my mum found out about the Television Workshop and came to me and said, “This is where Samantha Morton went.” I sent off my stuff and didn’t really think about it too much, then I got the audition. I didn’t expect to get in because the audition process is really intense. But then I got the acceptance letter and I was so happy.

What is it about the Workshop that creates such successful actors?
Ian Smith teaches you how to feel rather than how to project feelings. To become and feel all the things your character would feel. Everything you show, then, is as real as possible, rather than just pretending. Although we do theatre work, there aren’t many places you can go that will specifically train you for television and film. Youth groups are always theatre-based. We also get the chance to audition from such a young age and it definitely prepares you. Aside from that, the Workshop helps you to really become yourself. I wasn’t half the person I am now when I first joined. I was shy, but it teaches you to embrace who you are.

You’re eighteen, right? Have you left school?
I did my first year of AS but then I got the Humans role, and knew I was going to be filming in London for six months, so I kind of had to leave. I went to Bilborough, they’ve been really relaxed about it. They’ve said I could go back next year and finish, so that’s a definite possibility.

You’re a feminist, right?
Yeah, I am!

Being a young woman breaking into an industry which often bases women’s worth on their appearance, would you ever turn down a role based on your beliefs?
It’s hard for me to say because I’m at the start of my career. Who knows? You might see me in Transformers 18 leaning over a car like, “I was desperate, I’m sorry!” But in all seriousness, I think I could play a non-feminist role, but I couldn’t play a role in a non-feminist film. I’d never be interested in Michael Bay or something like that where women are purely objects. I saw a fantastic tweet the other day - I think by Rebecca Front - and it was something like, “When you read casting scripts, it always says, ‘She’s pretty, but also intelligent’” Shouldn’t it be pretty and intelligent? I think if I saw something that said ‘and’ rather than ‘but’, I’d be more interested.

Mattie is such a kick-ass female character. All the female roles in Humans are incredibly powerful women. She knows herself and she knows what she wants. She’s not afraid to assert herself. Totally bad-ass. Speaking of feminism, I feel like I should say something better about the robot - painting my nails is not something a feminist would say. I would have my robot stamp on the patriarchy. We would go on marches together.

Humans will air on Channel 4 in June. You can catch up with Code of a Killer on iPlayer.

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