September 21,2014
Tania   /   0 Comments   /   Holliday   Interview

Holliday Grainger is not, repeat not, posh. But she is also well aware that there might be a perception problem here.

‘I think a lot of people assume that I am a posh, public-school blonde, and a lot of people are shocked that I’m not.’

The assumption, she admits, is forgivable. First there’s her name, like something straight out of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel (her parents were just playing word association with Mollie and Billie, she says). Then there’s her recent career, where she has shone in an array of well-heeled roles, many of them with her brown hair dyed a regal blonde, playing every shade of aristo from Lucrezia Borgia in the TV series The Borgias, to a baroness in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina and Estella in Mike Newell’s Great Expectations. Not to mention Lady Chatterley, the role she starts filming next month (opposite Game of Thrones’s Richard Madden as her gamekeeper-lover Mellors), in the new Jed Mercurio-directed adaptation of the D H Lawrence classic, to be screened on BBC One next year.

Her latest role in Lone Scherfig’s film adaptation of Laura Wade’s award-winning stage play Posh, now called The Riot Club, might also suggest a degree of la-di-da-ness. Except that in The Riot Club, for once, her character is the working-class heroine.

The film charts the course of one anarchic evening gone bad for a crop of filthy rich, entitled and thoroughly spoilt students at an Oxford University dining club – evidently The Riot Club is based on the Bullingdon Club, the exclusive all-male society at Oxford notorious both for its illustrious former members, including David Cameron and Boris Johnson, and also for their heavy drinking and sometimes dreadful behaviour.

The film boasts some illustrious names from the cream of young British acting talent – Douglas Booth, Freddie Fox, The Hunger Games’s Sam Claflin, Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay and Game of Thrones’s Natalie Dormer. Holliday’s Lauren is the chalk to the braying poshos’ cheese, a grounded Northern girl who falls in love with new recruit Miles (Max Irons) and tries to steer him away from the club. Lauren was a character created especially for the film, and it’s hard to imagine that Laura Wade didn’t have Holliday Grainger in mind, so striking are the parallels.

‘I do see a lot of me in Lauren, actually. She’s a Northern girl, not posh, who is obviously very intelligent and quite socialist in her views. She has got into Magdalen College along with the boys. I think of her as representing the modern Oxford, Oxford as it is now – except the truth is that there are still elements of The Riot Club at Oxford even today. Some of the male actors did their research and chatted to people, and it actually sounds as though what goes on in this movie is quite tame compared to what happens in real life.’

Holliday has been acting since childhood, in a string of roles from the BBC’s 1994 comedy All Quiet on the Preston Front (when she was six), via Where the Heart Is and on to Waterloo Road, before her big break in The Borgias. But in all that time, Lauren, she says, is ‘the only character I haven’t had to research. She’s the only one that I wasn’t nervous about because, basically, she’s me.’

Not only is Holliday from Manchester, smart and engaging, but she applied to Oxford herself – and to Magdalen College. ‘I went for four days of interviews at Magdalen. I didn’t know it was the most oversubscribed college. I just basically chose it because it looked pretty and had wi-fi. I arrived at the interviews and I was the only Northern girl there.’

What she also didn’t know was that Magdalen has a reputation. ‘It’s the very posh, old-school college. I was shocked when I arrived at how “other” I felt. I was always sort of the posh one at my local comprehensive [her mother, who raised her, was a graphic designer] and so I had never experienced feeling so working class and Northern – even though I’m not!
‘After a couple of days at the interviews, some jokes started to go round about the “two Northerners”, which was me and this guy from Birmingham. I was, like, “Mate, Birmingham’s not even in the North.” But I’m not sure they were too bothered about the geography.

None of this reflects very well on either Oxford or the Bullingdon Club – unsurprisingly, it’s a time of their lives that David Cameron and Boris Johnson would prefer to go unmentioned. I suggest to Holliday that The Riot Club might make a good date-night movie for Boris, Dave and their respective other halves. ‘Yes, why not? They’d probably be going, “Oh, it just reminds me of when we met at uni!”’

In The Riot Club itself, of course, there are no girls allowed – in the film, the only female characters apart from Lauren are a prostitute and a waitress. ‘That’s almost the point of the three girl characters – to highlight the misogyny of all the guys. That in turn highlights their mentality of being above everything, of being above poor people, above women. If you’re not affected by the injustice of their views on class, you definitely are by the way they treat the girls.’

Ironically, The Riot Club has a female director, in the form of Lone Scherfig, the Dane who directed Carey Mulligan in An Education and Anne Hathaway in One Day. It also boasts a female script writer, art director and casting director, and most of the assistant directors were women. ‘I think it’s so important that there were so many women behind the camera, because the guys in the film are so misogynistic, yet, without giving too much away, the girls in the film still all come out of it with their heads held high. There’s a sense that they’re strong, individual women and not bowing to the ridiculousness of this group of guys.’

Sexism, of course, is not restricted to certain wood-panelled club rooms in Oxford. It is still rife in the film industry, for example, which at executive level remains a bit of a boys’ club. ‘Misogyny and sexism, particularly in our industry, are pretty prevalent. It’s disgusting that you get to a certain stage as an actor and it becomes part of the politics of your job to dodge certain men’s advances. But, if I was to get angry about it, then I’d get riled with someone and start an argument, which is probably not good for my career.’

Holliday is well placed to talk about women in the industry – she’s good friends with several of our leading young actresses, including Jessica Brown Findlay, Vanessa Kirby and Downton Abbey’s Lily James: ‘Everyone knows everyone.’ Together they have been called a female Brit Pack. It’s the kind of throwaway tag that I’d have thought Holliday would take exception to, but she sees it as a compliment. ‘Of course we’re going to be clustered together. Actually, it’s nice to think that there’s a group of actors, 18 to 30, who are known to be working and successful.’

And it also makes it kind of fun on set when you’re essentially working with your buddies. Shooting The Riot Club at Pinewood Studios sounds like it was a bit of a riot in itself. ‘It doesn’t feel like work when you’re with people you know. There’d be that kind of communal atmosphere outside the trailers. Someone would have their speaker box playing and it would turn into a mini rave, just all of us messing around.

One reason she knows so many people is because, at 26, she has already been in the business for more than 20 years. Yet she is admirably grounded, frank, good fun. Not every child actor need go down the Drew Barrymore route. ‘It’s not whether you’re a child actor, it’s whether you’re a famous child actor – then you might go mental. I think there’s a difference.

‘For me, acting as a child was just a good experience. I became independent at quite a young age because from the age of 16 my mum was, like, “I’m not chaperoning you any more,” so I was off getting trains and staying in hotels and learning how to deal with the business. I didn’t rebel as a teenager and I think that’s probably why – because I didn’t really have anything to rebel against. I already had my own life outside school as well.’

In spite of all the extracurricular activity, she achieved good enough grades to apply to Oxford, as we’ve learnt. She wasn’t offered a place, however, and she didn’t mind one bit. ‘I was thoroughly pleased when I didn’t get into Oxford, because I’d thought that if I did get in, I’d be working so hard I wouldn’t want to take any time out to act. So the fact that I didn’t made me go, “Oh phew, I can still act.”

Instead she went to Leeds, but barely attended because by that time her career was taking off with roles in Waking the Dead, Demons and the BBC’s Five Daughters. ‘At the time I had a boyfriend in another city [she is single now], so every weekend I’d be on the train and then in the week I’d be juggling two acting jobs as well.’

But rather than forget about a degree altogether – and this tells you all you need to know about Holliday Grainger – she enrolled on an Open University course in English literature and, in 2012, got a first. Why did she bother when she was already starring in films by that point?

‘If I hadn’t, then my entire life I would have just done half a degree. I had to finish. And if ever I don’t want to act, I have something to fall back on.’

She ponders for a minute, that perfectly round face intent as she twiddles with her hair, plays with her strappy top. ‘Also, when you are in those producers’ offices for auditions, just a little young girl, it gives you a quiet confidence. It’s like, “You know, I got a first. I know I’m intelligent. I can stand here in my towelling robe, naked underneath, but still have you listen to me like a human being. I don’t have to feel like just a silly little actress.”

It’s hard to imagine that Holliday Grainger was ever a silly little actress; she certainly isn’t now. She used to live with her mother in Manchester, but has recently bought her own place there. She is careful with her money (‘I don’t spend that much money on clothes, actually. I’m more likely to go to an antiques fair’) and she’s watchful of her figure.

‘I used to go to the gym a lot. Now I hate it, but I do have to exercise. The past few years my metabolism has gone like, “Oh, I’m getting old!” And I can very easily put on weight. I mean, I binge horrendously occasionally, but I just have to make sure I go for a run the next day.’

After The Riot Club she will appear in Justin Chadwick’s adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel Tulip Fever, with a script by Sir Tom Stoppard, alongside Dame Judi Dench and Christoph Waltz. What she’s most looking forward to in that role is getting to use her own accent.

‘I feel as though I’m quite lucky. There were a few years where I would be cast as the Northern, working-class best friend, but I was never going up for the lead until someone took a gamble and I got the posh period girl. From then on I was posh period girl. Now it’s changing. I feel like all doors are open.’

source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *