This year, Vanessa Vanderpuye joined the cast of Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters’ popular Sky TV show Bulletproof, where she will be playing Arjana, the wife of Ashley’s character Ronnie Pike in the upcoming second series. Previous screen work for Vanessa has included Venus vs Mars and Dreaming Whilst Black, and along with acting, also has a modelling career, with one of her latest jobs being for the Squarespace commercial filming in Slovenia. Meeting up with Vanessa, she talks about playing the role of Arjana in Bulletproof, her time in Venus vs Mars and her recent commercial work.
How and where did your acting career start?
While dealing with the loss of my dad, my counsellor suggested I start acting classes. This is something I’d always been shy about, but I realised it was an amazing way to take me out of my reality and be anybody in the world apart from myself – it was very therapeutic in a way. Over the following years, I then started doing short films which then led to pursuing a career as an actress after university.
Can you tell us about your time in Venus vs Mars as Shakira?
I was having conversations with my friend Baby Isako (Writer and Creator of Venus vs Mars) about relationships and situationships – it inspired her to write a theatre show (Love Is A Losing Game) before creating Venus vs Mars as a TV series. She asked if I would like to play Shakira as it was an emphasised version of a younger me; naïve and submissive in a relationship. The show received some great feedback and it was a dream come true when Sky picked it up. That was my first taste of being in a prime-time TV show and people still recognise me from it now which is crazy!
What was it like filming the comedy series Dreaming Whilst Black?
I didn’t realise it was a comedy until I finished filming because my scenes were so serious! The whole element of the show highlights racial and discriminatory issues that take place at work, in relationships and amongst friends. Adjani Salmon, who wrote and directed the show, was amazing to work with as my on-screen boyfriend. I worked well together with Adjani and the crew at 4Quarter films – I felt empowered having input into discussions about the direction of my character. It is currently ranked No.1 web series in the world with thirty award wins so far, I am so proud to be a part of this.
How was it being nominated for an award for the web series?
After all the hardwork I have put in over the years, it was nice to be recognised for my craft.
How did it feel booking your role in Bulletproof?
As I’ve watched all of Noel Clarke’s productions, I knew of Lashana Lynch (Arjana in Series 1) from watching her in Fast Girls and Adulthood. When I met Noel last summer, I mentioned that it would be great to see roles like this on Spotlight instead of just going directly to top casting directors/agents. It is already hard for ethnic minorities to be seen so putting castings on Spotlight gives all agencies a chance to put their talent forward.
He said he liked my attitude and gave me his card. I sent him my Spotlight CV and new headshots and kept in touch every couple of months. I’d given up on acting in the UK and set my sights on America because I felt like I was being overlooked. There weren’t many roles for me here. Six months later, I got a call from Noel who said he’d love me to read for the part I’d been talking about last summer. I couldn’t believe it – I did the audition, four days later, I got the part! It was all so surreal.
Had you worked with any of the cast previously, and what was it like on your first day on set?
I have never worked with any of them before. Everyone was very attentive, welcoming and they would let me know they were happy to have me on board which was reassuring. It was nice to talk to the Directors, Ashley and Noel if I had any concerns with the script. We would discuss the dialogue before every scene, just to make sure everyone was comfortable. It was nice that any concerns I had were taken into consideration, this really made me feel like part of the team.
How different was it on set of Bulletproof to other productions you’ve filmed?
I’ve never been attended to so much in my life! One day I was sick, I told one person and by the time I got on set, everyone from the Assistant Director to the sound technician knew I was ill. It was nice to know everyone genuinely cared about each other. We all got along and that carried through for the entire six months.
What are you looking forward to for the series to air on TV?
I think I’m just looking forward to how people perceive me, as the new mum. I’ve always joked with my friends about how it would be an Aunt Viv situation from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Randomly, a new mum comes in, completely different actress with a different temperament, but everyone loved her just as much. I’m anxious about the audience accepting me, I hope they do!
How long were you filming and what did you enjoy most about the role?
We were filming for six months. I enjoyed having my own trailer, as I’ve never experienced that before. It was nice to have a structured schedule, know when I was going on and how much time I had to wait in between filming scenes. I really enjoyed seeing and acting alongside everybody I’d watched on TV for years – I took a picture with Lyndsey Coulson (Bianca’s mum in Eastenders) and showed it to my mum! It’s a dream come true having this as my first real job.
What’s it like doing commercial work?
What I like about commercial modelling is that they don’t look at your size, it’s all about you and your personality. Having a great smile and being relatable is more important than whether you’re a size zero – I think that’s why I appreciate it. I started off doing fashion modelling and I hated it. Sometimes they’d hire me, I wouldn’t fit in the clothes and would walk away feeling horrible about myself.
Commercial work can involve long hours and be really strenuous. I recently came back from shooting a Squarespace commercial in Slovenia where I was on set for sixteen hours. It was challenging as you can’t look tired on screen even at 11pm, but it was really cool! I came out smiling and now I can’t wait to see it and show my family when it comes out. Commercial work is so different to acting but I love it. I’ve met so many people and I’ve made some great friends.
We’ve heard you’ve previously worked in theatre can you say more about it?
I studied at Identity Drama School however, eight years ago, it wasn’t recognised on Spotlight. We were all budding actors so participated in the theatre show Love is a Losing Game to invite agents down to showcase our talents.
We received funding from The Prince’s Trust and travelled around different theatres in the UK which was a great experience.
It was a fun comedy-drama in which I played the complete polar opposite to myself. My character was very promiscuous and in the end, she gave her boyfriend an STD. A lot of people didn’t like me for that character, but it shows that I played it well! I like playing characters like that, for me, it’s more challenging.
Theatre was definitely a different realm but I really enjoyed it. I’m not a great singer, but I’d love to do straight theatre again.
If you weren’t acting, what do you think you’d be doing?
If I wasn’t acting, I’d own a chain of hair salons. That’s always been my hobby and something I aspire to achieve in the future. I love doing hair and creating new styles. I have three younger sisters, and they’ve always been my little dolls to practice on.
What are your career plans for the next few months?
I just finished filming my first feature film A Song From the Dark, in which I am the lead actress! It was a very intense and physical role so I’m looking forward to the audience seeing a different side of me. It will be released early next year.
For the next few months, I’m perfecting my American accent, and attending more classes, just to help me be the best actor I can be. I have a few auditions lined up so praying to God for my next major role!
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