For her screen debut, Harriet Turnbull played the role of Jess in Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s award-winning film, What We Did on Our Holiday in 2014, where she experienced her first red carpet event at the world premiere alongside the rest of the cast. Other screen roles for Harriet have included this year’s MotherFatherSon on BBC and she will be appearing in the biographical drama film Radioactive, as Young Marie Curie. Harriet is also an accomplished stage actress, with her most recent production, London’s transfer of Fun Home, leading her to a solo performance of Ring of Keys at The Olivier Awards earlier this year. Talking to Harriet, we learn more about being in the cast of What We Did on Our Holiday, performing at The Olivier Awards and playing Small Alison in Fun Home at the Young Vic.
What was it like filming for What We Did on Our Holiday alongside David Tennant, Rosamund Pike and Billy Connolly?
What We Did on Our Holiday was my very first filming experience. In fact, the initial audition I did for it was my very first casting experience too! It was just the day after my fifth birthday when I went to Briony Barnett’s offices in Covent Garden, and I had simply no idea what to expect!
Actually, I could never have imagined what an incredible time I would have filming in the stunning Scottish surrounds with truly some of the most wonderful cast and crew. Even at such a young age, I found it all so thrilling.
Of course, Rosamund, David and Billy were amazing and gorgeous. Along with my fantastic screen-siblings, Emilia Jones and Bobby Smalldridge, we treasured every moment of being together. It really was like a summer holiday for us all. The sun shone almost every day of the seven-week shoot, and we totally bonded as a family on and off set.
Certainly being amongst so many extraordinary actors inspired me greatly. My screen-parents, Rosamund and David, were extremely encouraging and kind, and I truly felt spoiled to have their love and attention. Needless to say, my screen-grandad, Billy, was as crazy and hilarious as you could ever imagine! It felt like we were laughing almost non-stop whenever we were with him!
📷 : What We Did On Our Holiday
How was the experience being directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin?
Andy and Guy are so brilliant, and so funny too! They made us all feel completely relaxed, which allowed each of us to be as natural and spontaneous as possible. There was no script for the three children, so we were just given an outline of the scene we were about to film, with ideas about how Andy and Guy had imagined the plot would unfold. Whenever they could, they would leave the camera rolling whilst we all improvised around the given scenario. It still makes me laugh so much when I think back on some of the hysterical things Emilia, Bobby and I did and said at times! It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a whole DVD’s worth of outtakes archived somewhere! Just like the filming of their TV series, Outnumbered, Andy and Guy absolutely ensured the whole experience was fantastic fun for all of us! I would more than happily travel back in time to do it all over again!
You attended the film premiere; how did it feel walking the red carpet?
Walking the red carpet for the first time in my life was such a thrill! Emilia, Bobby and I had lots of photos and interviews, and signed lots of autographs too! It was such a big day and night, and I was still so little. It really makes me smile that, during one of our broadcast interviews online, I can be seen grabbing the opportunity for a big yawn! This was obviously no reflection on the levels of excitement I was feeling! Without a doubt, the whole experience was incredibly special, and I have to say that sharing the red carpet with Emilia and Bobby was the most special part of it all. They were always so caring and kind, and such fantastic company too! We are still so close and I love them more than I could ever begin to express in words.
Is there anything you can say about Radioactive and what was it like being cast alongside Rosamund Pike again and playing her younger character?
The film Radioactive is based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, and is a biographical account of Marie Curie, a famous Polish scientist, who discovered the elements Radium and Polonium with the help of her husband, Pierre Curie. Marie Curie is genuinely one of my heroes, so it was such a joy to play her. Not only this, but being reunited with the beautiful (inside and out!) Rosamund Pike, as her younger self on this occasion rather than her daughter, was a complete dream! Truly I could not believe it when I received the news that I would be working with her again, filming in Budapest this time! I had felt so incredibly close to her during the shooting of What We Did on Our Holiday, and that relationship was able to develop even more. She is such an extraordinary actress; her commitment to her work is totally awe-inspiring. She truly embodied the role of Marie Curie, and I learnt so much simply watching her prepare for a scene.
I also had so much fun with my screen-sister, Elise Alexandre, who played Bronia. We clicked immediately! Indeed, right from our first audition together with the Casting Director, Verity Naughton, Elise and I really did feel like sisters! Of course, the whole opportunity would not have been possible without the vision of the exceptional director, Marjane Satrapi, who is someone I love and admire enormously. She taught me a massive amount too, and I am forever grateful to her for choosing me to be in what I believe is going to be, thanks to her chosen team of amazingly-talented creatives as well, an absolutely stunning film.
What do you remember from filming Breathe?
Filming on Breathe was great fun. I was eight years old when it took place during the summer holidays of 2016, and the weather was lovely, which naturally added to my overall enjoyment! I really only had a small role in the film – cast by Lucy Bevan – but I enjoyed it all nonetheless, particularly the fabulous fairy costume I was given to wear! Certainly it was terrific working with such a fantastic cast, including the wonderful Penny Downie, who filmed a scene with me, and was so especially kind and supportive.
Who was your character Lorna Howard in MotherFatherSon?
In MotherFatherSon, Lorna Howard was the daughter of the Prime Minister, played by Sarah Lancashire. As a character, Lorna was very introverted, and, indeed, rather overwhelmed by the challenges she faced as a result of her mother’s approach to her high-profile position. She was therefore clearly really different from her mother, but, at the same time, she had a close relationship with her, loved, and depended on, her mother enormously, and was, in her own daughterly way, very trusting and protective of her. I felt she was actually quite a deep thinker, and I was intrigued by Lorna from my first reading of the sides and then my meeting with Julie Harkin Casting. Of course, working with Sarah Lancashire, and the director, James Kent, was such a privilege. More extraordinary lessons learned on how to be a professional at the very highest level! They were truly so lovely too, as was my on-screen father and brother, Hugh O’Brien and Rudy Goodman respectively. I also had the honour of meeting Richard Gere, as he was in one of the scenes we filmed! What a legend!
📷 : MotherFatherSon (BBC)
How did you find playing the role of Jenny Caroline ‘Qui Qui’ Marx in National Theatre’s Young Marx and were you involved in the live screening?
I was nine years of age when I began playing the role of Jenny Caroline ‘Qui Qui’ Marx, and I absolutely loved it. The play Young Marx was the first to be staged in the new Bridge Theatre in London, and, additionally, under the incredible direction of one of the Bridge Theatre’s two founders, Sir Nicholas Hytner. Playing the piano had always been one of my favourite hobbies, so I was elated to discover at the casting stage with Toby Whale that the role of ‘Qui Qui’ would also involve the performance of three piano solos live on stage. This really added an extra thrill to the whole experience for me!
Everyone in the cast was fantastic, from Rory Kinnear as my father, Karl Marx; Nancy Carroll as my mother, Jenny Marx; to Rupert Turnbull as my brother, Guido ‘Fawksey’ Marx. Yes, my little brother on stage was my real brother off stage! This was the first time we’d performed together in a professional production, and it was actually brilliant fun! We really had the time of our lives! It was also brilliant that for every performance there was a child stand-by team allocated, so during the run we were able to spend time together with all the ‘Qui Quis’ and ‘Fawkseys’! That was amazing!
My brother and I were thrilled as well to be given the opportunity to do the National Theatre Live Screening, which was broadcast to thousands of cinemas nationally and internationally that very night! As I remember for the particular live screening performance, the theatre auditorium seemed to be filled almost equally with audience members and television cameras! It was so exciting! Certainly Young Marx was such an enjoyable (and funny!) show, and I relished every moment of it!
📷 : Young Marx
Last year you appeared in Fun Home at Young Vic, what was it like playing to a sold-out audience?
It was a totally breathtaking experience to perform in the Original London Cast of Fun Home at the Young Vic. The role of Small Alison, which I alternated with Brooke Haynes, was one of the main characters, so, as a result, much of the show was spent on stage. There was a deeply-emotional aspect to this lead character, which presented new and exciting challenges. It also offered so many wonderful opportunities to sing and dance, so that was fantastic too! It truly was a dream role!
The musical itself was amazingly special, and it really attracted a lot of welcome attention. It is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, and there was such a buzz in London theatre circles about its transfer from Broadway that it was sold-out almost completely right from the beginning of the run! The audiences were incredibly appreciative, and I cannot remember a performance given by the cast that was not rewarded by a standing ovation! I also completely loved everyone in the company! In terms of performers, there were only nine cast on stage in any given show, so it was an extremely intimate theatrical experience. It was all quite simply out of this world!
How did you feel booking this role and what were the auditions like?
I was absolutely overjoyed when I heard that I had booked the role of Small Alison as I had become so excited by all the possibilities it offered (even though it had been made completely clear in the casting brief that the role would require me to have my waist-long hair cut to above my shoulders!). What I had realised was that it would be my first proper lead in theatre, and a uniquely-special one at that, so I was super keen to have that opportunity! The auditions were great fun. The initial casting, all as arranged by Julia Horan, was held after school at the Diorama Arts Centre in Camden. We were put into groups of about twenty children, perhaps? Firstly, we all sang together, and then we were asked individually to sing the song, Ring of Keys, which we had been sent to prepare. We then each went through the acting scene we had also been sent.
The recall auditions were already set for a date which, unfortunately, I could not make, as I was in Budapest filming for Radioactive. Thankfully I was able to be seen the morning after I returned later that same week, and I then had three recalls at the Young Vic in the one day, primarily focused on singing, acting and choreography, and with the associate director, Portia Krieger, attending the last of the day’s recalls.
It had been mentioned by my agent, Julie Martin at Sylvia Young Agency, that the original audition schedule detailed a further recall for the following day, so when I didn’t hear anything that Friday evening, we assumed that I must not have progressed to that final audition round. Imagine my surprise when Julie called just a couple of days later with the news that actually I had instead been offered the role! I hadn’t registered that a recording had been made of my last recall, and that it had then been sent to the US to be viewed by the composer, Jeanine Tesori, the writer, Lisa Kron, and the director, Sam Gold, for their approval! Yes, I was definitely… absolutely overjoyed!
📷 : Fun Home (Marc Brenner)
What was the atmosphere like performing solo at The Olivier Awards for Fun Home?
Oh my goodness, what can I say?! It was electrifying and exhilarating all at the same time! I had felt so ecstatic when, a few weeks before The Olivier Awards were to be held, I was told that a request had come from Sonia Friedman for me to perform the solo, Ring of Keys! Fun Home had just been nominated for three Olivier Awards, including “Best New Musical”. They needed a representative piece from the show, and that particular solo was felt to express such an important moment in the Alison Bechdel story. I have always found it so beautiful and emotional to sing Ring of Keys, so I simply could not wait to perform it at The Olivier Awards. When I then heard that the performance was to be held on the Royal Albert Hall stage, I truly couldn’t believe it! I could never really have imagined such an amazing opportunity coming my way, much less at the age of eleven!
Just a week before the performance, I finished filming on an exciting project, but, at the same time, managed to catch a very nasty cold! I therefore spent that final week largely on “voice rest”, which, I have to say, felt far from ideal! Thankfully, with lots of natural home remedies, I managed to recover sufficiently in time for the big day! Phew!
There was such a fantastic support team throughout my time on Fun Home at the Young Vic, including the run’s musical director, Nigel Lilley, and the assistant director, Leo Skilbeck, both of whom were on hand again just before The Olivier Awards performance! The Fun Home run had actually finished some seven months previously, so I definitely valued their notes in order to get me fully back into the Small Alison zone!
On the day itself, I saw the Royal Albert Hall stage for the first time! I felt my heart beating so fast at that moment, and, then, needless to say, just before I walked out to perform that night! The atmosphere was electric! Conducted by Larry Blank, I had the BBC Concert Orchestra behind me! Zubin Varla, who played my father, Bruce Bechdel, in the show, had already come on stage to introduce my Fun Home performance! It all seemed so completely surreal, and yet also totally real at the same time! Every moment of the performance felt so incredibly ‘alive’ somehow… it’s really hard to put it into words!
Certainly it was the most amazing honour to be representing the cast and crew of Fun Home by singing Ring of Keys at The Olivier Awards. The Royal Albert Hall was the biggest hall I had ever known, and it was thrilling to see all of the seats filled, and with such an appreciative audience too! I suspect I will remember it always as one of the most thrilling moments in my life!
📷 : The Olivier Awards
How was it presenting Camilla Duchess of Cornwall a bouquet of flowers at the event?
I was so excited when I heard that I would be presenting Camilla Duchess of Cornwall with a bouquet of flowers as she arrived at the Royal Albert Hall for The Olivier Awards. It was the very first time royalty had attended The Olivier Awards, so that felt extremely special. As the youngest performer on the night, it was then decided that it would be lovely for me to “do the honours”. Amazing!
Admittedly, I was really nervous just before the Duchess of Cornwall arrived about doing and saying the “right thing”! In fact, on reflection, I think my heart was beating even faster then than in the moments before I walked out to perform on the Royal Albert Hall stage!
As it turned out, the Duchess of Cornwall was so smiley and kind that I needn’t have worried at all. It was certainly a highlight for me to be a part of her arrival onto the red carpet, as, indeed, the whole red carpet experience earlier that evening had been also. Then I had been totally relaxed with those present of my completely brilliant and gorgeous Fun Home family! So, throughout the entire Olivier Awards event, I simply felt incredibly spoilt, indeed!
Which other stage shows have you appeared in and can you say about your experiences?
Apart from Fun Home and Young Marx, I have appeared in two other professional stage shows.
The first of these was when I was seven years of age, and was the amazing Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. In that production, I played a character called The Child, and I absolutely loved it! My role largely involved calling out, in the most obnoxious and unpleasant way, any “Thought Criminals” I could find. This included my own stage-father. Really, I could not have been a more horrifying child! At the end of the play, I was scripted to sing a solo unaccompanied, which was intentionally really shocking too. Incredibly, I was also scripted to eat an ice-cream! Perfect! Needless to say, it was all such brilliant fun, as were the extraordinarily warm, welcoming and wonderful cast, who, under the inspirational director, Daniel Raggett, ensured my début theatrical experience was, despite the sinister role, entirely joyful!
The 1984 run took place at the Playhouse Theatre in London during the summer of 2015, and, later that same year, I played the same role in the production when it began its international tour at the Arts Centre for the Melbourne Festival. Whilst in Australia, having completely relished my first experiences performing in theatre, I took the opportunity to audition for the part of Gretl in the London Palladium production of The Sound of Music, which was scheduled to open at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. So, I found myself in a totally contrasted role, from, effectively, most-hated child to most-loved!
Also, whilst I had thoroughly enjoyed working with the other children with whom I had rotated the 1984 role, the gorgeous Verity Firth and Jemima Wright, we had worked individually when it came to each show as there is only one child written into the play. What was so fantastic about playing Gretl was that, of course, there were five other children on and off stage for every performance. They were so friendly as well, and we had a fabulous time! I miss them all, and, indeed, the whole stunning cast, to this day!
There were also other totally new elements to this show for me, which presented exciting challenges! The most significant was… choreography! From start to finish, I learned so much from the extraordinary Jonny Bowles, with the pinnacle of our time working together being the performance given at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney for The Helpmann Awards (Australia’s equivalent to The Olivier Awards), when The Sound of Music was nominated for a “Best Choreography” Award! It was truly so thrilling to perform on such an electrifying night!
📷 : The Sound of Music
What first drew you to an acting career?
The first thing that drew me to an acting career was probably what I would say was my earliest memory of performing. When I had just turned three years of age, I was asked if I would sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as a solo in my Nursery Nativity! The performance was in a big school hall in front of a big audience of staff and parents, and I absolutely loved every moment of it! I can actually remember feeling so excited and so proud! I had clearly always loved to sing, and that had naturally always involved a strong element of acting too! So, very soon after this first performance, I realised I wanted to give more focus to acting in its own right, and, additionally, to dance as well!
You recorded Santa, You’re Still My Friend with Jaime Adler and Ilan Galkoff, how did this come about and had you worked with them previously?
Yes, this was really terrific fun! It came about when the brilliant (and totally lovely!) songwriting team, Barry Anderson and Mark Petty, who composed Santa, You’re Still My Friend, originally asked us to sing together in a Christmas Concert they had arranged at The St. James Studio in aid of TheatreMAD (Make A Difference Trust). Following this concert, which had included lots of phenomenal performances from leading West End and TV stars, Barry and Mark thought it would be a great idea to make an album featuring performers from that special night, as well as many Broadway stars too, as Barry lives and works in the US. This time our performances would be in aid of a charity more local to Barry than to Mark, and it was decided that the net proceeds from any sales would benefit the New York City charity Housing Works. So Wish: The Anderson and Petty Holiday Album was underway! I have to say that it was a truly incredible experience laying down our track in the studio. I felt so honoured to have been asked to work with such wonderful people, not least Jaime and Ilan, who are both fantastically talented, as well as our amazing musical director, Simon Beck.
Do you have any current roles either filming or booked you are able to tell us about?
Yes… and no…! I currently have two filming projects booked in the diary over the next couple of months. The second of these projects is a lead role, and will see me working again with one of my favourite directors! I have also only recently finished on a major feature film, which will be released at the end of this year. I’m afraid I cannot say more about any of these projects at this stage, except that I am very excited about them all! Of course, I also cannot wait for Radioactive to hit the big screens, which, it is anticipated, will be within the coming year!