Jenna Coleman on corsets, Jack the Ripper and playing one of the most iconic women in history

‘I think Victoria’s quite interesting because, we don’t have video footage, and so you’re relying on sources all the time...'

She spent four years playing Clara Oswald in Doctor Who, and has received critical acclaim and rave reviews for her starring role in ITV’s Victoria (apparently even HRH Queen Liz is a fan). We caught up with Jenna Coleman to talk about the massive international success of the show and what she learnt from playing one of the most iconic women in history…

On Victoria’s interest in Jack the Ripper…

‘I learnt loads of funny stuff on set, things like Lord Melbourne told her she shouldn’t drink a bottle of wine with every meal, that she wrote to the Elephant Man every year and she was trying to find out who Jack the Ripper was and was sending loads of letters like, “Have you thought to look here?” and “Have you thought to do this…?”’

On the unusual way Victoria found out about being the future queen…

‘What was interesting about Victoria is that she wasn’t always in line to the throne and she was eleven or something when she first realised – by looking at a family tree! That’s how she learned she was probably going to become queen one day. So I think there’s definitely something in the inevitability of knowing where your life is headed with no choice, and I think it’s really difficult to compare to being married into a royal family because again you’re inheriting something through love of another person.

On her turbulent marriage…

I think for Albert in particular, it was incredibly difficult, because he was marrying into a world where he wasn’t going to be master of his own house, and in the Victorian era, that’s obviously not heard of at all, that the women should be the boss of the house so to speak, so I think for Albert his experience was potentially quite emasculating at times and Victoria wrote that he’s made such a sacrifice in marrying her that she’ll do everything to make it up to him. However when he did try to get some responsibility, she went absolutely crazy and told him to back off. She’s full of contradictions, and then as time went on, they found something a bit more harmonious, but the first couple of years of their marriage was incredibly turbulent.’

On the public image of Victoria…

‘My only knowledge of the young Victoria was through Emily Blunt’s portrayal of her in the film, The Young Victoria, so I knew she was spirited and temperamental and madly in love with Albert, but like most people, my experience with Victoria was those images of her in black and looking very, very stern and I think it’s probably because photography came in much later that actually we feel like that’s the version of Victoria we most connect with. But, I was watching Mrs Brown all the time through the first series, and I found it really useful.’

Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes starring in series 2 of ITV’s Victoria. Photographer: Gareth Gatrell.

On the love/hate affair with corsets…

‘I’ve done a lot of period drama and I’ve always been very proudly like, “I love corsets” but having worn one for seven months for ten hours a day, psychologically it’s incredibly what it does because you’re constantly restricted, like I’d be, you’d want to run to set and you get so far and your lungs can literally only take in so much oxygen because they’re restricted, so it’s really interested just thinking about women in that time, if you’re constantly like held and restricted, what it must do and what it, in a way, again what society was telling you to be demure and behave and not run upstairs, and I think Victoria’s the kind of girl that just wants to go and literally run in the grass and I guess, not to be held.’

On capturing the essence of Victoria…

‘I think Victoria’s quite interesting because, we don’t have video footage, and so you’re relying on sources all the time, and ultimately just trying to capture the essence of her, and then the rest is kind of up to everybody else really. And I suppose it does add a certain amount of pressure, but it’s also amazing, because there is nothing better than moments like when we went up to Scotland, to Blair Atholl, and you’re like, “Oh god, they came here, this really happened, that moment”, or you’re recreating something that looks like a portrait and you’re like, “Oh wow, this is something that actually happened…” you know, it kind of gives me tingles.

Filming in the Black Castle was really amazing for that: they gave us a special tour and they took us in literally, so we could see the bed they actually slept in, and their furniture, their personal stuff, their letters, the basket that Victoria hand made for the owners there and I was literally holding it, stuff like that is really amazing.’

Victoria Series 2 is out on DVD now. Buy the season 1-2 boxset here

Jenna Coleman

Jenna Coleman starring in ITV’s Victoria

Here’s 8 more facts you (probably) never knew about Jenna Coleman…

1. She’s a former soap star, landing her first on-screen acting role in Emmerdale age 21. Her character Jasmine was involved in some pretty scandalous story lines for 2005.

2. Jenna spent three months auditioning in Hollywood, before being cast in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.

3. She originally auditioned for the part of Mels in Doctor Who, but it was given to Nina Toussaint-White instead. How’s that for an alternate universe?

4. At just 5’2” she had to stand on a box when filming scenes with her Doctor Who co-star Peter Capaldi.

5. She was rumoured to be seeing Prince Harry after they were spotted getting close at a polo match in 2015. But turns out they’re just good friends…

6. You might have seen her on the big screen last year playing Emilia Clarke’s sister in Me Before You.

7. Jenna is an ambassador of the One to One Children’s Fund, working with some of the most vulnerable children in the world, offering them access to healthcare and education. She travelled to Africa last year, where she met parents and children affected by HIV.

8. Lily James, Cara Delevingne, Emilia Clarke and Chloë Grace Moretz were all on the shortlist for the role of Victoria.

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