Acting was not a childhood dream for Lydia West, but a change of heart in her early 20s landed her in private acting classes. “What I loved most about dancing, acting and music was the freedom to tell stories, and that was a later revelation for me.” Her leap of faith into acting secured her breakout role on the 2019 show Years and Years, created by none other than Russell T Davies. This year, Davies brings her onto his latest series It’s A Sin, which takes us back to the 1980s and the AIDS epidemic.
Coming of age and loss of innocence are themes which apply equally in this story, which follows five London youths who find themselves brought together by friendship and fear. West carries a resounding message about allyship in the character of Jill, the leading female figure and an unassuming hero of the series. “Jill makes life-changing decisions that she doesn’t necessarily want for herself,” she tells me. “She doesn’t claim to be Mother Teresa, she is just a caring, empathic, loving, kind soul. She didn’t expect a round of applause, she just did it for the love of her friends.”
As it happens, fictional Jill Baxter is based on real-life Jill, who we see on- screen playing Jill’s mother. “Russell sent me a message saying ‘Jill is inspired by [a] real-life character, she’s a friend I had. She lived in the pink palace in the 80s, and she was a young actress,’” West recalls. “‘And she’s actually here on set.’”
All clothing by FENDI.
All clothing by FENDI.
Olly Alexander, Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry, who grace the extraordinary cast credits, are names you would only expect to see together in a dream dinner party guest list. Working with such an iconic group would leave anyone starry-eyed, but West notes that it isn’t just the big names that makes the casting so alchemic. “Whenever you start a job and you’re working with very established actors, it’s always nerve-wracking because you’ve seen them in something and you admire what they’ve done. But the new faces like Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells are equally phenomenal. As eclectic as it is, everyone is a perfect fit for this story.”
Next on West’s agenda is Suspicion, a crime thriller where she will star alongside Uma Thurman and Kunal Nayyar. I ask her what it was like to take on the crime genre for the first time. “I started Suspicion only a week later after It’s a Sin, so I had to switch worlds, eras, and genres. I think that’s the best part of the job,” she enthuses. All of this follows a very eventful 2020, the highlights of which include her starring role as Lucy Westenra in BBC One’s adaptation of Dracula
Final question: What hopes and dreams does Lydia West want to put out into the universe? “Looking forward, I’d love to be a part of a biopic, especially if I can learn a new skill for a role and embody something completely different to myself,” she muses. “I’ve been fortunate enough in my short career to work on such monumental projects, and if I can be a part of a story that changes someone’s feelings or beliefs for the better, then I’m satisfied.”