Having joined the cast of Hetty Feather Series Three at just five years old, Tabitha Byron has continued starring as Constance Calendar in the show, and has filmed for many future screen roles including TV mini-series The Third Day and Small Axe. Tabitha made her West End debut in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre and has interviewed actors such as Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana from Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for both Disney Channel and Marvel. Ahead of the final series of Hetty Feather airing later this month on CBBC, we spoke with Tabitha about appearing as Constance in the show, her West End debut in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and her upcoming screen roles.
Do you remember how you felt on your first day on set of Hetty Feather as Constance Calendar?
My first day on set I was only five and I’m ten this year! I still remember so much of it though! I watched the programme before so it was amazing to see the set. Everyone was very nice and people treated me like I was a lot older and I liked that. I remember there were lots of scripts to learn for the audition. I couldn’t even read back then! Before the final audition, I’ll always remember the casting director, Sonia Allam, came out and chatted with me before I went in. She is one of the nicest people I’ve ever auditioned for. She made me laugh and feel really happy and I think that helped me to feel confident before the final audition started. It’s been a massive part of my life filming away from home over so many years. I’m really grateful and have loved playing Constance Calendar.
How would you describe Constance?
Constance can definitely be a brat sometimes. She’s never learnt to listen and respect her elders so she’s super sassy, cheeky and bossy. I think Constance is a bit misunderstood. She sees all the girls and boys working around her house as friends and she cares about them a lot. That comes naturally to her and her family don’t understand why she talks to them. In the next series I get to show a much softer side to her. Life is really unfair to her this series and I had lots of crying to do! I was really lucky that the writers trusted me with a big storyline for the final series.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time on set?
I remember when I had my seventh birthday on set and the chaperones filled my trailer with balloons! Hugo Cracknell (Edwin), India Brown (Lizzie) and I went swimming together a lot and that was super fun. India and I used to sing Ariana Grande in the trailer and we would give each other the giggles all the time! Polly Allen (Sheila) was also super-duper nice. You can tell she’s a good actress because her character is mean and she’s not at all! She gave me high fives and hugs. Being the youngest person on set it was really cool that all the older kids included me.
How was it filming Hetty Feather – A Christmas Musical Adventure?
The dance rehearsals were super fun. Afterwards, they sent us all practice videos so we could feel confident on set. The dancing was all very similar to what I do in my Street Jazz class so I felt very at ease and comfortable. Fortunately, I had already sang on the show in an episode before so I felt fine about it. My favourite part was singing with Hugo (Edwin) at the window. The screening for that was amazing as people who watched the show could get tickets to come and see it. Afterwards, they came to have photos with Jacqueline Wilson and all the cast.
We understand there was a Series Six screening earlier this year, how was it meeting up with the rest of the cast?
Everyone was definitely sad it was ending. It was the last time we would all be together. It was exciting and happy at the same time though! There was a photo booth and we all took so many photos! As it was the last one, lots of the producers, directors, crew and chaperones were there. It was the perfect way to finish off the series.
Can you tell us about your experience performing in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof alongside Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell for your West End debut?
I was six, and at the same time as doing the play, I was also filming Hetty Feather Series Four. I would be in Kent filming, and twice a week I would get the train down to the West End to perform! I guess I never felt tired as I was having so much fun. The costumes were very gold and we got to hold sparklers on stage in Act Two, which felt so exciting! At the first audition we played really fun games and at the recall we learnt a fun song which we then sang in the show. I’ve always grown up with friends in shows. I do my acting classes at NLPAC and we always go to see each other in shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Mary Poppins and School of Rock. I remember while I was performing in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, my friend from class was in a play at the theatre next door, someone else was in Les Misérables on the same road, and another friend was in Matilda around the corner! I guess it felt normal but still something I always wanted to do.
We understand you’ve been an interviewer for both Disney Channel and Marvel, what was this like to do?
So fun! I remember I spent the day at a press junket for Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 and had to ask each of the main characters questions and they asked me questions too. I love superheroes and had obviously seen the first film so it was amazing meeting all of them. I never thought I would get to meet people like Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana – she said she wanted to keep me! I met the writer and director of GOTG2 in one of the interviews and, looking back, that was a very cool experience.
What can you tell us about filming for The Third Day?
This was a really cool job to do because one of the scriptwriters was Dennis Kelly. At the audition I was pretty determined to get it because of all the great people working on it. At the rehearsals, the director (Marc Munden) took a lot of time to work through our scenes and Jude Law worked with us to figure out how to do the scenes in a way that worked best for all of us. We filmed on an island and all the kids stayed together. We didn’t all film together so it was nice to chat to them in the house. On my first night of filming, they had a big cast and crew party and a karaoke night. We played glow-in-the-dark frisbee, ate dinner around a campfire and had a really memorable night!
How different did you find being on set of this production to Hetty Feather?
With Hetty Feather, nearly all of us were kids so it was a bit like going to a really fun school every day. When we filmed, we tried out lots of different things as we hadn’t had rehearsals. With The Third Day, we had already done rehearsals so we knew exactly what to expect when we got to set. The island we filmed on was amazing!
What are you looking forward to for the release of Small Axe?
I’m especially excited to see one scene on the old school bus. The director, Steve McQueen, shouted action and just let us all improvise! Even though it was super early in the morning, we were all so hyper! Laughing and throwing things while Steve is shouting “Great! Keep going!”. The costumes are 60s – the materials were a little itchy and I had on a lot of layers! But I really loved the shoes, coat and school bag. The costume people were really fun and let me choose some of the outfits. I always picked the ones that were completely different to what I would usually wear. I think the costumes will look really good on screen!
How did it feel being offered the role of Dayna in feature film Sweetheart?
I was so excited! It’s about a family of five that go away to a holiday park. It was fun to find out I would be playing my character, Dayna, as she is completely different to me. I wore big glasses, bright outfits and had to act a little bit geeky. We filmed in Dorset for a while and all stayed at a real holiday park. We were allowed to improvise all the time and a lot of the cast were hilarious. After one of my scenes, as soon as they shouted cut, we all burst out laughing. I’m really excited to see it when it’s finished! It was nothing like anything I’d done before. In the evenings, we all had dinner together and played football on the beach. We did a big cast and crew barbecue one weekend and I went in the sea for the first time! I felt very lucky especially when it was sunny!
How did your acting career come about?
The first ever audition I got was a Heathrow advert when I was five. I had to pretend I was a sassy business lady around the airport. That same week I got Hetty Feather and an advert for Arby’s. It all happened pretty fast! I just remember really liking everyone on all three jobs and I wanted to keep on working. My sister grew up acting so she always helps me feel prepared and confident. She’s much older so she takes me to my auditions. Each audition is always a lot of fun so it’s never felt too daunting or scary.
Do you remember the first theatre show you attended and have you seen any recently?
I’m not sure what the first show I saw was but I remember watching the original cast of Into The Woods online and falling in love with the whole thing when I was four or five. From there, I watched Sweeney Todd and became a big Stephen Sondheim fan. I recently saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and thought it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
What upcoming plans do you have for the next few months?
I was going to be filming next week but it was cancelled and all the schools have now closed! The final episodes for Hetty Feather are about to start on CBBC. The Third Day (HBO/Sky Atlantic) and Small Axe (BBC) should be coming out soon. I think the feature film Sweetheart (BFI/BBC) has its screening soon too. I’m not really sure of all the dates! For the future, as long as I can keep on learning fun scripts and meeting fun people along the way, then I’m happy.
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