After being introduced as new character Katy in the last two episodes of Series Seven of The Dumping Ground last year, Anya Cooke can now be seen as a regular character with the second part of the current Series Eight scheduled to air later this year on CBBC. With experience in voiceover work, Anya recorded the role of Sweetie across a couple of series of Paw Patrol, with the children’s animation being shown in both the UK and America. Anya made her West End debut in 2018 when she joined the cast of School of Rock at the Gillian Lynne Theatre as Katie the Bassist, which saw her perform on The Late Late Show with James Corden, and she returned to the musical earlier this year for their final performance in the West End in March. Speaking with Anya, she tells us about joining The Dumping Ground as Katy, performing in School of Rock in the West End and her ongoing training.
How has it been joining The Dumping Ground as Katy and seeing the fans’ reaction to the show?
It has been brilliant joining The Dumping Ground as a series regular, Katy. The cast and crew were hugely welcoming to me and helped me to settle in quickly. All the reactions I have seen so far seem to be really positive. It is an amazing show to be part of.
Can you tell us about your character?
We don’t know too much about Katy and her background as her storyline hasn’t been well developed yet on air. She has settled in well to the DG and made really good friends with Taz. She is generally pretty happy and seems to get along with everyone. Although she does seem to like getting involved with the pranks and mischief at Ashdene Ridge!
How was it meeting the cast for the first time and returning to film Series Eight after joining at the end of the previous series?
It was really exciting to meet all the cast for the first time. I was only filming for three weeks at the end of Series Seven, so unfortunately, I only got to work with Connor Byrne for his last two episodes – but they were pretty special episodes for my first ones. Once I knew I was going back to film Series Eight, I couldn’t wait to see all the cast again so I could get to know everyone better.
How familiar were you with the show before auditioning?
I had watched The Dumping Ground quite a lot over the years before I had the chance to audition. It was great to be able to join the cast of a show that I already knew.
What’s it like working on a hugely popular CBBC show?
When we are filming the show, you don’t really think of it like that. We are just a group of people working hard whilst doing a job that we all love. It is, of course, amazing to be part of such a popular CBBC show and we appreciate all the people who tune in to watch!
During the show, there are animated versions of the characters, how was it seeing your character for the first time?
I had been really looking forward to seeing my character animation and the first time I actually saw it was when it aired at the start of Series Eight. I am amazed at how much it really looks like Katy! It would be fun to do some voiceover work for my animated character!
While filming for a series of The Dumping Ground, how do the cast spend their time away from set together?
So, when I am not on set, I have to do as much schoolwork as possible in a day, which I do in a school room near set. We have a tutor who comes in to help us keep up to date with our studies. Usually we finish between 5pm and 7pm and so there isn’t a whole lot of time to do much in the evenings. Sometimes we squeeze in a game of laser tag, we have been to the Hoppings fair and we go out for dinner or have games evenings in the girls’ house.
How did it feel when your first episode was aired and you made your debut as a series regular on screen for the first time in your career?
Being cast as a series regular in such a popular show as my first screen job was fantastic. I had literally finished in School of Rock in the West End three weeks before I was offered the role of Katy. So it was exciting to be starting on a new adventure so soon.
I was watching my first episodes at home with my family. It was really good to finally see them as I had filmed them fourteen months ago and it had been a long wait!
You were in the cast of School of Rock in the West End, how was it being part of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical?
From about six years old, I had decided that I wanted to be on stage in the West End. Because I don’t live near London, it is quite hard to be cast as there aren’t many opportunities available, so I was thrilled to be cast as Katie in 2018. It was an amazing opportunity to be part of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in London’s West End and I learned so much about the professional world of acting from the adults in the show.
It was, at times, difficult, as I was living away from home at ten years old and spending a great deal of time with a group of children of a similar age. As you can imagine there were times when relationships were tricky – but it helped me to grow in strength and I have become a more confident person because of the experiences.
While in the cast, you filmed for The Late Late Show with James Corden, can you tell us about this?
Crosswalk the Musical is a pretty iconic part of The Late Late Show and so it was great to be asked to take part especially as it has only filmed in London twice now, I think. My team from School of Rock had to perform part of Stick it to the Man whilst James Corden and Andrew Lloyd Webber watched on. We had several rehearsals and then filmed outside Somerset House. Both James and Andrew came and spoke to us which was nice of them. My friend Heather and I then went to watch the rest of the Crosswalk being filmed. We were really surprised to see that it actually does take place on a busy road and so all the reactions are completely genuine! It was a lot of fun.
You returned for the final performance earlier this year, what was this like to do?
It was really emotional to go back to School of Rock for the last performance. Nearly every child who had ever been in the West End cast was there, and we all took part in a grand finale after the main show. It felt like the whole School of Rock family was there to celebrate this amazing show. Luckily, it is heading out on tour next year so there are plenty more opportunities for people to see it and a chance for a whole new lot of Horace Green pupils!
You voiced the role of Sweetie in Paw Patrol, what’s it like working on an animation?
Animation is really good fun! Sweetie was really my first professional role that I started voicing when I was just eight years old. It taught me a lot about taking direction as you often have to repeat the lines in several different ways, so the animators have a choice. It’s fun knowing my voice is in an animation that is shown all over the world!
Can you tell us about your training?
I train with Dominique Moore at DMA London. I have been training with her for nearly four years now and she has helped me to develop as an actor. She is an amazing mentor and is always there when I need her advice and support. https://dmalondon.com/
My agent Sarah MacDonnell also runs masterclasses through Ardent and Co. which explore different areas of the industry. https://www.ardenttalent.co.uk/ardent-co
I am also taking singing lessons with Fran Fenech. She is a fantastic MD, vocal coach and performer herself and especially loves musicals like I do!
Was there anything that led to your interest in acting and musical theatre?
I enjoyed the opportunities I had at primary school to perform which led me to asking if I could take lessons. I started off at a local triple threat drama school which continued to inspire me. Also, my mum has always had an interest in theatre and took me to lots of shows, particularly musicals, from a young age.
What are some of your favourite musicals and TV shows?
Beetlejuice… Beetlejuice… Beetlejuice!!! This is my absolute favourite musical at the moment. I was very lucky to see it on Broadway at the end of December. Lydia is my dream stage role.
I’m desperate for Season Four of Stranger Things and currently I’m watching Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist with Jane Levy and Alex Newell. I also recently binge-watched the fantastic Get Even with ex TDG cast member Mia McKenna-Bruce and my friend Emily Carey.
Do you have any advice you can give to a young actor auditioning for a show like The Dumping Ground?
You just need to keep working hard at your training and persevere. As Dominique says to me, ‘nothing that’s meant for you will pass you by’… You have to understand that you may not be perfect for every role out there, but you need to learn something from every audition or self-tape that you do. If you are lucky enough to be offered an audition, you must read the brief carefully, do lots of research and prep work and try to be as natural as possible.
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