After finishing her run in Hobson’s Choice at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester last year, Shalini Peiris began her time at the Almeida Theatre in The Duchess of Malfi in the role of Julia, until the show ended its run in January. Shalini appears in TV series Danny and Mick on CBBC as regular character Naomi, and had her first television experience in ITV drama Vera in 2018. Shalini spoke to us about working on Danny and Mick, playing Julia in The Duchess of Malfi and performing at Royal Exchange Theatre in Hobson’s Choice.
You’ve just finished your run at the Almeida Theatre as Julia in The Duchess of Malfi, what was this production like to be part of?
I’d long wanted to work at the Almeida and with Rebecca Frecknall (I first auditioned for her a few years ago for another project). So to be able to tick both off my actor’s bucket list in a single job was a real gift and treat! It’s an intense beast of a classical play but one that feels so relevant to where we are today in our world.
How was it playing the role of Julia?
Julia is one of the hardest characters to take on as she’s not a central player but at the same time, she has a real impact on how the story unfolds. So, each of her scenes are like a short, sharp “what the hell just happened?!” burst! I was really intimidated by the part at first but then came to feel really protective over Julia and women like her, misunderstood and underestimated.
Were you familiar with the show before being cast and how did you prepare for the role?
Not at all! I knew of the play but not in any detail. Separate to the work we did in the rehearsal room, I built up my own character book which was packed with general research around the world of the play and then specific to my character. Costume is a big key in for me so I’d rehearse with as much of her costume (or pieces like it) as I could. I also made my own Spotify playlist for Julia which I’d listen to while getting ready for the show each night.
Can you tell us about your time in Hobson’s Choice at Royal Exchange?
Magic, I freaking love that theatre and also Manchester itself! I moved up there for the full three-month rehearsal/run so we really created a little family and our own bubble!
What was Durga like to play?
Durga (Maggie in the original) was my first lead role on stage so it felt like a baptism of sorts, and will always mean a lot to me. She’s a powerhouse, uncompromising but also very caring, and it was a big learning curve for me to play a character who drives the action of the play from beginning to end.
You’ve performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in Lions and Tigers, what was this venue like to perform in?
The energy of that theatre is like no other. We were in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which is kind of like performing inside the most beautiful jewellery box!
What is comedy series Danny and Mick like to work on?
A lot of fun! Shooting comedy demands a different kind of energy, and the show is also very physical and slapstick… so there was a lot of laughter!
Who is your character Naomi?
Naomi is the sweet sidekick and friend of Danny and Mick, she’s always helping them out of some kind of trouble! She’s also Manager of the Pottsfield Cafe and is super into healthy eating but her experimental recipes don’t always work!
You’ve filmed for TV series including Vera and Doctors, what were these like to do?
Vera was actually my first TV job and I had the loveliest time working on it. Doctors was a quick day-shoot but a lot of fun, and I got to cuddle a little newborn as well! The cast and crew on both jobs were really warm and generous.
How was it filming as Olivia in Twelfth Night?
I loved that experience… putting Shakespeare on film is surreal in itself! We got the best of both worlds though as our Director Adam Smethurst gave us a full four-week rehearsal period at the Park Theatre before we started filming on location. And Olivia is such a brilliant character, so totally hopeful and fearless for love!
What was it like on set of Justice League?
I was seriously trying to stop my fangirl impulses the entire time! The scale of pretty much everything on a set like that is massive.
What advice would you give someone wanting a career in both stage and screen?
I’d say that this is an ‘all or nothing’ kind of career, you can’t half do it, you have to be all in. Work hard, do it consistently, take care of YOU, be brave with your ambition and have an almost delusional level of faith in yourself! Decide what you want and then go get it!
Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I’m actually starting filming soon on Series Three of Danny and Mick!
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