Summer Jenkins has played the role of Bella across all three series of Apple Tree House on CBeebies, which saw the show be nominated at the BAFTAs and win Best Preschool Show at the Broadcast Awards 2018. Only this week, she found out the show has received two nominations for this year’s BAFTAs following the completion of their third series. With To Kill a Mockingbird due to go on a UK Tour in 2019, Summer was cast as Scout before the production was cancelled late into rehearsals. Speaking with us, Summer answers our questions about being a main character in Apple Tree House, having To Kill a Mockingbird cancelled and her career so far.
How did you feel when booking the role of Bella in Apple Tree House?
I was only seven, so I was quite young, and I didn’t really understand how amazing it was. There were five auditions, but I didn’t quite get that each time I was closer to the role. I just thought I had to keep going back for more auditions and my mum and dad played it down quite a lot as they didn’t want me to worry. I was at school when Mummy told me and I was like, “cool!!”.
Can you say what the series is about?
The series is aimed at four to eight year olds, and it’s a CBeebies series. It’s about three young kids, Sam, Mali and Bella (I played Bella), and they solve problems in 15-minute episodes. It’s a very diverse show, which was one of the main aims for Apple Tree House. We have our own animation characters as well, which was very cool, and we have this thing called a blurb, which means, if someone said something like “it’s raining cats and dogs”, a speech cloud would appear in the character’s head, and your character would then go into animation. It was quite literal at times, so in the animation it might show the child actually thinking that cats and dogs were falling from the sky. Each episode usually has the main three characters in and there would be like a moral to each episode. In Series 2 and 3, more characters were added to the show and we did in total 86 episodes!!! It is all about being kind, different cultures and solving problems!!
What is Bella like to portray and how would you describe her?
She is a very girly character, she wears an orange dress, and she has her hair in pigtails. She loves art and all typical girly stuff and doesn’t really like sport. I thought I was like her in quite a few ways. She knocks over stuff and loses things, which, unfortunately, I do sometimes, and it drives my mother mad! Bella hates football though as it’s not really her kind of thing, but I actually love football and am quite sporty, so that would be where we are different. She loves her friends but they have usual kid fallouts at times. She is fun.
How was it having the show win a Broadcast Award in 2018?
I actually didn’t even know we’d been nominated for it. We’d just been nominated for a BAFTA, and then I realised we had won this Broadcast Award and was like, “woohoo!”.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go to the Broadcast Awards because it was just for adults, but we were lucky enough to go to the BAFTAs. I bought a new, pretty dress for the occasion and had my hair done as well! I wasn’t too upset that that we didn’t win because I was just happy to go to the BAFTA Children’s Awards! It was amazing, and the food was incredible. I was really happy that I got to meet the Swashbucklers pirates from the CBeebies show and I also met someone from The X Factor. The whole ceremony was laid out beautifully, we stayed quite late and danced with some of the other actors. I also got to hold the BAFTA because the lady from Our Family, who won it, let us hold it.
How often does filming take place and what’s it like on set?
It was filmed once a year for eight weeks, and then the third year was only six weeks. We filmed at Bromley by Bow and Wimbledon. I think the thing I most enjoyed about it was the people. It was amazing on set because in between takes we would play UNO, and we had very big UNO battles! Everyone from the director to the prop manager to my chaperone was so amazing. I had the same chaperone every year (Julie) and the same driver (Steve) and we always played games in the car. I also had an amazing on-set mum and dad (Rachel and Paul) and, of course, Aamir (Tai) and Miranda (Sarfo Peprah), who played Mali and Sam, were brilliant fun. We had a great time each year at the wrap parties and also visited the CBeebies house together. I also got on really well with Lenny (Rush) who played Eli in the second and third series, and of course, the amazing Grandma Zainab, played by Shaheen Kahn. We had long days filming and I would often get home late and then have to learn scripts for the next day, but I always wanted to go and loved every second. Sometimes we filmed on a set, or outside, or in the rain, and once I filmed on a canal boat. It was so hot last year and we got ice creams sometimes on set.
How was it being cast in To Kill a Mockingbird and how did you feel when the tour got cancelled?
I remember there were six of us in the second recall, and I got asked to stay in the last three, and then they said we’d find out on Monday. I remember being at school that day thinking about whether I was going to get it and crossing my fingers. I’ve actually got a video of me finding out, and I’m screaming and jumping – it was one of the best days of my life! I had a McDonald’s on the same day, to celebrate with my friends which was amazing! The rehearsals were so much better than I ever thought they would be. All the cast became really close and we all loved the story and the characters. It was so special and the set was amazing. There was a tree and a tyre, it was very simple, but perfect. We travelled in every day together and we were allowed two Krispy Kreme doughnuts a week on the tube if we worked hard.
When it got cancelled, it was 5:30 on a Monday, and it was so depressing. I cried a lot and it was two weeks before our first performance, and before then, I never thought anything like that could happen. It was the most devastating thing, and I am still gutted that I didn’t get to perform as Scout as she is such an inspirational character, but on the bright side, I made such great friends, and just had a sleepover with two of them. We have all gone to support each other in different performances we have been cast in since, and I think we’ll all be friends for life. If I had a wish, it would be for us to be able to perform it together.
What was it like filming Informer and who was your character Lori?
I would say my character Lori is very different to Bella. She was very into football, and there’s one scene where she actually plays a football match. She’s very confused by her father who is an undercover policeman, but because he doesn’t wear the normal police clothes, she doesn’t understand. He can’t really tell her any information due to her age. I filmed for about three weeks for this series. Lori is quite inquisitive.
How was it working with the rest of the cast and meeting your on-screen family?
It was amazing. Paddy Considine from Peaky Blinders was my dad and I remember, in particular, Jessica Raine who was my mum, she was so lovely, she was like a Barbie doll. They were a nice on-screen family and I played on the swings with Paddy, and I had my chaperone from Apple Tree with me, which was nice.
How did you find your time in Hansel and Gretel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre?
It was actually my first professional role on stage because of the cancellation of To Kill a Mockingbird. It was the most amazing time ever. The theatre is so much better than you could ever imagine! We were very lucky because it was in front of 1000 people and set outside with the most beautiful setting.
What were the auditions and rehearsals like?
There was only one audition, which lasted about an hour. We had to sing a song, and there was a lot of movement and choreography! We found out the next day. The rehearsals were amazing, there was a gingerbread house on the stage, and I was like, “ooh, I’m in a room with a gingerbread house!”. We also got to eat sweets on stage and go to the press night!! I loved the clothes we wore and had fun with the other kids.
We understand you performed in My Son Pinocchio at Southwark Playhouse, can you say about it?
That was a very special show because it was with The British Theatre Academy and it was produced in about eight days. We were cast on the Monday and worked really hard, had a couple of dress rehearsals, and then produced an amazing show. It was very different to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, it was very small, and the audience were really close to us and we had lots of props to move throughout the show. I played a few different characters and got to wear light up shoes.
Can you tell us about the commercial you filmed for UNICEF Cricket World Cup?
That was really amazing as it was kind of like my dream role because I got to be a presenter and ask questions and have banter with the other actors. I worked with a boy called Edward that I remember seeing in a couple of auditions, and he was amazing. The interview was with Eoin Morgan and Nasser Hussain, and they were such lovely blokes! One of the questions we asked was – ‘If you win the World Cup, can we keep it for a day?’ – and Eoin Morgan said we could keep it for as long as we wanted! They’ve won it now, so it’s like, “YOU OWE ME THE WORLD CUP!!”.
What were the Kaufland commercials like to film?
They were super fun because I got to go abroad. The first one was for ten days in Poland. I think, in general, adverts are so much fun. The story was about a girl recreating Christmas for her family in the way she thinks it would be, I got to eat chocolate which was fun in the advert! I had my on-screen family and my mum with me, and we all hung out every evening and still are in touch now. I did a lot of filming for this and worked hard, but it was awesome as it was in a house in the woods and we stayed in a hotel.
Then there was the second Kaufland advert in Barcelona, which was only for a few days, but such fun too. I also did photoshoots for both, and there were huge posters of me up in the supermarkets in Germany, which was quite funny!
How and when did you get into acting?
I got into acting when I was about five because my mum noticed that I was very confident and always dancing at home, so she signed me up at a dancing place called Sylvia Young. I did dancing, singing and drama there for about six months and the singing teacher thought I should go for the agency attached to it. I sang One Short Day from Wicked for my audition, in an American accent, but obviously, I didn’t realise I was doing an American accent as I was only five, as I’d just copied it from the soundtrack! I found out the next day that I got into the agency, which was amazing. I remember one thing that made me want to get into acting when I was young, was seeing an advert where a girl was on a bike miming the words to We Built This City. I wanted to do that, so I used to copy it and also, I made up my own Vanish Gold advert!! I then moved agencies after six months with Sylvia Young and moved to CS Management for three years with a lovely lady called Linda, but I then moved Top Talent Agency (TTA), who are great.
How do you find working as an actress whilst still at school?
I missed three weeks of school each for Apple Tree House series, but I still had a tutor. It’s quite hard sometimes because you do miss things that are quite key. I missed things like Sports Day and the End of Year Party, but in reality, would I rather be doing sports and getting sweaty, or would I rather be filming an amazing TV show?! It’s pretty obvious! I did miss quite a bit of school for Informer, Mockingbird, Hansel and Gretel and the adverts, but I want to do well at school, so I always work hard.
What are your upcoming acting plans?
I have just performed Junior Annie with the British Theatre Acadamy at the Stockwell Playhouse, and this week I am filming a TV advert for Jaguar Landrover in London. I would really love to get a part in something stagey or in the West End because I love performing. I would really love to be in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical in the ensemble, but I need to work hard on my singing voice, and there is a lot of competition out there. Obviously, I would LOVE to be in a film and play a really gritty character… someone different to Bella. I am very excited for the future!
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