Viola Prettejohn’s mellow voice, blissful beam and cherubic eyes seem to magic an imaginary halo above her head. She’s dewy and dulcet, but don’t let that deceive you: this 17-year-old actor and full-time A-level student is already speeding down the road to success. Having previously held roles in the acclaimed TV series The Witcher and Counterpart, Prettejohn is now starring in HBO’s The Nevers, a fantasy series set in Victorian London. Speaking on the show’s other-worldly plot, Prettejohn shares how a group of women suddenly become ‘touched’ with supernatural abilities dubbed ‘turns’ (from magicking flowers into bloom to glimpsing fragments of the future). And Prettejohn’s character, Myrtle Haplisch, perhaps manifests the most debilitating power of all: the capacity to only communicate in a foreign tongue.
“Every word Myrtle speaks is in a different language,” the West London native tells me whilst sipping on her drink over Zoom. “We figured out that across the length of the season, I’d spoken somewhere over 50 languages!” From a sharp tongue-rolling Russian accent to the rise and fall of Japanese dialect, Prettejohn’s character quickly becomes a mismatched mosaic of languages, pinched from across the globe. She talks in more of a distorted dialect than a constant rhythmic stream. “I was shifting accents from word to word, so it was quite a long process of trying different patterns of words to achieve the right combination,” she elaborates. Specifying the eclectic use of language as her initial attraction to the role, it comes with no surprise that when a conversation about our preferred ‘turn’ emerges, Prettejohn chooses Omnilingualism – the ability to understand and speak any language fluently. “You could form a connection with anyone in the world,” she muses.
Filming The Nevers during her GCSE and A-level exam period was a solvable conundrum for Prettejohn, who opted to schedule costume fittings to coincide with her least favourite subjects. Or attempted to complete her school work on set – “which I never ended up doing” – she divulges, with a laugh. Prettejohn always had an affinity for acting, but it wasn’t until a solitary trip to the cinema to see director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread that her inclination was solidified. “I was in the cinema and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. This is art.’” She declares.
Despite her penchant for appearing on-screen, Viola Prettejohn also has the tenacity to change how things operate behind-the-scenes. “I would like to see more opportunities for women to lead projects and more interesting and complex roles for women. We just want more complexities in female characters. I’m hoping this show is part of a wave to create these characters. I can see it already happening, which is great.” She also hopes The Nevers will spread a profound message that resonates with its viewers. “I think each of the ‘touched’ views their ‘turns’ as flaws. Myrtle’s is a huge obstacle for her, but she is able to transform it into an asset. I want people to extract a feeling of hope from The Nevers, and to embrace the flaws they see in themselves.”
Off-screen, Prettejohn is a self-proclaimed “golf obsessive”. When she’s not acting, you’re bound to find her swinging a golf club or lounging at her family home, underneath the white-hot Somerset sun on the ancient landscape of Exmoor. Wherever she may be, her enthusiasm lingers. Future aspirations include, of course, working with “the pinnacle, the ultimate dream” – Paul Thomas Anderson, as well as upcoming directors Robert Eggers and Ari Aster. I can’t help but think, in the time it takes to blink one of those sapphire blue eyes, she’ll soon be someone’s pinnacle, their ultimate dream.
The Nevers is available now on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.