Having played the role of Abi in CBBC series Dixi, Imogen Gurney this year could be seen playing Tilly Chahal in Harlan Coben’s Safe, currently streaming on Netflix. Since starting her acting career, Imogen has also appeared in many stage roles including as Julie Hope in Billy Elliot and Young Fiona in Shrek the Musical, both in the West End. We chatted to Imogen recently who told us about playing Abi in Dixi, her professional stage debut and appearing in Netflix series Safe.
When did you first know that you wanted an acting career?
I think I was about ten years old. I’d just finished the Sound of Music tour and didn’t want the experience to end. I’d got the taste for performing and wanted more. Before that I’d always wanted to be a vet so that was a shock for my parents!
What was your first professional stage role and can you tell us about it?
The Sound of Music Tour. It was my very first MT audition and I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. I enjoyed the whole auditioning experience and couldn’t believe it when they offered me Brigitta/Marta swing. I even played Gretl for one performance as our Gretl was poorly. That was scary as I’d never rehearsed the role but thankfully I’d seen the show so many times I knew everybody’s words! After five months I was offered the Brigitta role full time. I was on tour for over a year but I absolutely loved playing Brigitta and went on to play her at the Regent’s Park production and also a brand new production in Doha, Qatar. I’ve met some amazing people and made friends for life because of The Sound of Music.
How long were you playing the role of Julie Hope in Billy Elliot West End and how was it?
I played Julie Hope for about nine months. Again, I never expected anything to come of the audition. Everyone was amazing and I thought I had no chance. I’d always taken dance lessons and I was pretty good but my strength was always singing and acting. The rehearsals were really, really hard but being part of this show, plus my team being picked to appear in the Live production and DVD, was the most amazing experience. The Ballet Girls are more of a dancing role but Julie has a few speaking and singing lines albeit mostly swearing… which at thirteen is quite fun to do on stage!
What was Dixi like to film as your first regular screen role?
Tough but fun. Tough because it was my first role out of licence and filming hours were very long and script changes occurred frequently but I soon realised that’s life as an adult actor and you just have to get on with it. It was actually my first audition for my new agents Sainou so it was nice to book my first job with them. I was just about to start my A Levels at Henley College too so I missed quite a lot of my first term. Thankfully they were very supportive! Fun because Abi was a fantastic role. She was very bubbly and was an aspiring actress. She makes a bad decision but at the end of the series it transpires that she is having a difficult time at home. The scene where she shows her friends her audition monologue for drama school was absolutely hilarious to film. Through playing Abi I got to meet and work with some amazing people like Sophie Holland, Dan Berlinka and all my funny ‘classmates’.
How different to Dixi was filming for one of your recent roles, Wannabe?
Dixi was filmed as if you are vlogging, so there was a lot of talking to camera and this actually felt quite strange to begin with. It was a long standing series, albeit a complete cast change, whereas Wannabe was a one episode pilot. Thankfully the BBC loved it and I filmed the rest of the series a couple of months later. In Wannabe my character Kim was aged seventeen, my actual age at the time whereas Abi was fourteen/fifteen.
How would you describe your character Kim and was it a fun series to film?
Kim was very, very shy. She was a member of an upcoming girl group ‘Sweet Gyal’. Unfortunately for them their manager, played by Lily Brazier, was absolutely useless and would take every opportunity to bully poor Kim. Mostly my character would wear joggers or jeans but there is one scene where their manager Maxine plasters them in makeup and puts them in the most horrific outfits for a record company meeting. It was certainly different and not what I’d normally wear but great fun to film that scene. Again, I met some amazingly talented people filming this.
You filmed for the ‘VHS mini-series’, can you tell us more about this?
It’s called The Nest and it was filmed for Snapchat V/H/S Anthology series. Similar to Dixi as my character Lily vlogs to camera. It’s a short horror film and we filmed in a forest in Norfolk. Filming took place late at night so I’d get to bed about 4am but it was a terrific team and we’d sing songs from The Greatest Showman whilst we were waiting for the crew to set up the next scene.
Would you like to do another show like Jason Manford’s Horror: That’s The Spirit, and what was your episode like to film?
Jason and Lucy (producer) were so lovely. Jason is hilarious in person and I loved the funny but poignant script. I’d actually gone to read for another series but after my audition I was given the sides for ‘That’s The Spirit’ and given ten minutes to look at it before I went back in the room to audition for the role of Jenny. Myself and Brenock (who plays my brother) had to film with a Ouija Board and I’d only seen them in movies before so it was a little bit scary. We were sure it moved before we started filming! I love Horror films (even though I scream a lot!!) and would love the opportunity to film more Thriller/Horror.
Do you know if there is a way people are still able to watch the episode?
It was filmed for Sky Halloween Comedy Shorts so you may find it within Sky on Demand but I’m not sure. I don’t have a copy myself as my recording deleted itself and I don’t have Sky anymore!
Where and how long were you filming for your role in Safe?
We filmed in Manchester, which is just the most amazing city. It was my first time visiting there and everyone I met was so friendly. I stayed up there, on and off, for about six months so had plenty of time to explore the city on my days off as well as spending down time with my on-screen family.
Had you worked with any of the cast members previously?
I’d worked with Isabelle Allen, who plays Carrie, in The Sound of Music Regent’s Park. We both played Brigitta but in different teams. Also Nigel Lindsay, who plays Jojo Marshall, was my Shrek when I played Young Fiona in Shrek the Musical.
Had you seen/read any of Harlan Coben’s work before?
No, but my mum had. She’s a massive fan of Harlan. She’d read almost all his books and watched The Five. I was so lucky to meet him at the read-through and he even signed a book for my mum and wrote a lovely message to her. After my History course is finished I intend to start reading them all!
How different is it working on a Netflix series opposed to a television production?
From my own personal experience it wasn’t that much different. The filming was longer and there were some very well-known, amazing actors involved but that’s probably more to do with the show itself rather than it being a Netflix series. Obviously it reaches a far bigger audience and there’s more publicity surrounding it but from a filming perspective it was very much the same.
What do you look for in a script and how do you prepare for an audition?
I don’t look for anything specifically but sometimes you just ‘get a feeling’ when you read a script. It’s difficult to describe but when you can imagine their mannerisms, nuances and envisage that character, it’s exciting and it becomes more than words on a page. For auditions I always like to be off book so I will lock myself away and learn the script until I can’t go wrong. That way I’m not thinking about what line comes next and can totally immerse myself in the character and their emotions.
Are there any current stage musicals you would like to appear in?
Dear Evan Hansen. I would love the chance just to audition!
Are you filming for any roles at the moment, and do you have any future roles that you’re able to tell us about?
I’ve just finished filming for a BBC comedy/drama which is due out sometime next year. It’s a small role but the script is great! Nothing else in the pipeline at the moment but I’ve amazing London and LA agents so I’m excited for what 2019 will bring.
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