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“Human woman. Lady actor. Bowie enthusiast. Surprisingly good at putting up tents.” Sophie Rundle describes herself as on her Twitter page. The representation itself is a testament to her down to earth nature, which is similarly exhibited when we sit down on a couch in Hoxton ready to start our interview. I can tell instantly she’s going be a breeze to talk to – and I’m not wrong. However, with her impressive trajectory of TV highlights, she could be forgiven for being a bit of a diva (which she’s not).
The crowning jewel of her acting CV (thus far) is surely BBC2’s Peaky Blinders in which she plays Ada Shelby, the problematic sister of Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby. The Brummie gang epic, which is based on the real life story of the notorious Peaky Blinders, appeared on our screens first in 2013. Boasting an impressive cast which includes industry heavyweights like Murphy, Helen McCrory and Sam Neill, it was destined to be a success. Four years later, it maintains an 8.8 rating on IMDB, has attracted oscar-nominee Tom Hardy as a series regular, and continues to be at the forefront of Great British television.
Over the course of those four years, Rundle has dipped her toe into a series of diverse projects. She played fated police officer Kirsten McAskill in the critically acclaimed Happy Valley, an Ann Summers saleswoman in Brief Encounters and she’s currently appearing in Jamestown, a dramatisation of English settlers travelling to America in the 1600s. It’s fair to say it’s a pretty eclectic mix.
As she gets her teeth stuck into filming the fourth season of Peaky, we sat down with Rundle to learn more about her life on and off our screens.
So, you’ve just started filming the new series of Peaky Blinders, right? What can you tell us so far?
What am I allowed to say? The end of series three he’d [Tommy Shelby] sold his family out basically, so it begins with them, what happened to them having to come back together after being betrayed by Tommy. I’m really scared of giving away spoilers because I’m going to get into so much trouble with Steve [Knight] but it’s more of the same! There’s obviously another villain that comes in and he has to fight against that.
Avoiding spoilers, what do you think it is about Peaky Blinders that has made it so popular?
I think the aesthetic of it! The style of the show is so bold and confident unlike a lot of British telly. I think Steve Knight is such a brilliant writer and he creates this world. That combined with the visuals and the music and the style. It’s got a lot of attitude and I think people really responded to that. It’s so creative, it’s got its own energy, and I think it really popped out. To find that show on your telly at 8 o’clock on BBC Two was quite surprising in some ways. I think British telly particularly is really competing on a global stage now and that is really one of the frontrunners, for the quality of it. And who doesn’t love a gangster show? Who doesn’t love those big stories? Everyone grew up playing Cowboys and Indians, I think that’s part of the appeal too!
Obviously, there’s an incredible cast behind Peaky Blinders. What is it like working with such a high calibre of talent?
It’s quite intimidating sometimes. I mean Helen’s always been one of my heroes, I think she’s an extraordinary actress, and Cillian is incredible, so it’s quite hard when you’ve got to play high status, and naturally you’re like ‘you’re much higher status than me’ but you’ve got to try and equal that and that can be quite hard. Also, I was a baby when I started Peaky Blinders, I had just come out of drama school so it’s been five years since we started and I’ve learnt so much from watching them!
What kind of things have you learnt from them?
Just about what they bring to a scene, you can play what’s on the page but they just fill it with so much more and they have so many ideas and know how to work a camera. Just that really, you just soak it all up, and they’re amazing people as well.
So considering that it’s been such a huge part of your life, how do you think you’ll feel when it comes to an end?
I think it’ll be quite weird! I was talking to Cillian about it the other day and he was saying we started in 2012, and I was like that’s my whole professional career, this has been a constant, so I do think it will be quite strange when it comes to an end. I think it’ll take me about a year… ‘So when’s the next season starting?’ Then I’ll freak out a little bit.
Do you remember your first acting memory?
We did Alice in Wonderland at school and I played Alice, and I was like ‘this is fucking great, I get to show off for a living’ and then I joined a drama club and the friends that I made there are still my best mates. It was so freeing, we had this amazing drama teacher and she just taught me about language and the world of theatre and I just fell in love with it, and so I was always in love with it from a young age!
And when you’re not filming?
I’m filming a lot! I really like reading, just listening to the radio, crafting, like going for walks and stuff. I’m really boring, excessive normcore. Because you’re on the go a lot away from home and I’m a real home-maker! I bought my flat two years ago and I’ve just renovated and I love, I’m really interested in property and architecture and restoration and that sort of thing. I think I just like being at home, it’s not very rock and roll is it? Napping, that’s my hobby!
Tell me about the different characters you’ve played? Is there a role that you relate to the most?
Each one you’re drawing something different, if you’re asked to play that part it’s because they see something in you in that and that’s one facet of your personality. I did a play at The National called Three Winters, my character at the end had this huge speech. She just loses her temper and puts everyone in their place and my mum and dad were like ‘oh yeah we definitely see a bit of you in that’, like telling the family off!
So your next project is Jamestown.
It’s all set in the early 1600s and it’s about the first English settlers in America, and it starts off – this really happened – the men had gone over to Virginia and created the settlement and then 10 years later they realised they needed women so they shipped over a boatload of women from England to make wives, and it was literally like they went through an Argos catalogue and picked a wife and paid for their passage and she rocked up and was like ‘oh hi!’, so it’s quite brutal. You follow these three women’s passage and their fates when they arrive in America; I play a character called Alice, who is a decent, hardworking farm girl and she arrives and has a shocking, brutal introduction to Jamestown and it’s all about her journey from there.
What was it that drew you to the role?
It’s always the script, it’s got to be! You know how we were talking about Peaky’s and how everyone loves an adventure story, it was like that! I picked it up and it starts on a big ship in the middle of the ocean and then it’s a big story and I love stuff like that. I think you’ve just got to start reading and then keep reading. I love the character and all through shooting I totally fell in love with her; they sort of take on their own life and you sort of feel like you know them and I got that straight away from her. I love the world of it, I love the story and I think Bill Gallagher’s a brilliant writer, so I think it’s just instinct really, you’ve just got to go with instinct.
Looking at Jamestown and Peaky Blinders, they’re quite historic roles, what’s the research like?
I mean, each role inspires something different so sometimes you find that you’re really quite academic about your research. So you know [in] Peaky for the past couple of years my character has been really political, so it’s been really quite useful to know a lot about the politics of that time from that point of view and then some things, Jamestown for example, my character wouldn’t necessarily be particularly educated, so the visual is much more useful. I’m obsessed with Pinterest, so I can make a quick mood board [that] you can access if you’re shooting. It’s like scrapbooking, you just get an immediate sense of the character that can pull you back into it, and then for other things it’s music. Some things just spark off an idea and then you’ve got to let that guide you.
Talk me through your dream role.
It’s so hard because each time you do it you’ve got to think ‘this is my dream role’ so that you invest in it. I always say I’d quite like to play a Bond villain, I think that would be really fun. Especially because, I dress like a five year old, what a laugh!
What kind of Bond villain would you be?
A surprising one! I’d quite like to be like a young Judi Dench as M, but a villain. Very smart, very cool, very twinkly, do you know what I mean? Very creative in my villainous powers.
Who would be your dream actors and directors to work with?
I’d fucking love to do work with Wes Anderson because I just think his aesthetic is just so deeply pleasing, so I’d love to see how he works. I think that would be really fun.
So finally, what’s the long term plan?
I’d just like to work until I’m a really old lady I think. I don’t really like going to the parties. I wouldn’t want to be a particularly famous person, I would just like to work and have people go ‘oh yeah, I sort of know her, she was great in that’ that’s what I’d like, long term.