Before theatres closed for the foreseeable future in March, Holly Freeman was in the cast of The Visit at the National Theatre with performances originally scheduled to continue until earlier this month. Holly plays the new regular role of Head Teacher Miss Wrigley in award-winning series 4 O’Clock Club on CBBC and has also had guest-roles in Casualty and Call the Midwife. Speaking with us, Holly talks about making her National Theatre debut with The Visit, joining the cast of 4 O’Clock Club and training at Italia Conti.
You play Miss Wrigley in 4 O’Clock Club on CBBC, what is she like to play?
Miss Wrigley is incredibly fun to play! She tiptoes between being insanely competitive, whilst struggling to maintain the impossibly high standards she creates for herself and panicking at each hurdle she faces, which has created this brilliant dynamic between her and Mr Bell. It’s been fantastic playing someone in such a high position at such a young age – we need to see more young women in powerful jobs on our screens. And she owns some excellent suits, which is always a positive.
How would you describe the character and what was your first day of filming like?
I would describe Wrigley as ruthless, fearsome, sharp and as absurd as she is anxious, so no two moments are the same for her. She really is trying to figure out the job as Deputy Head, and ultimately Head Teacher as she goes along, and we see her tackle some very wacky situations that keep her on her feet.
My first day of filming felt like I had been there for years, it was that comfortable – I was very fortunate that the first scene I shot as Wrigley was with the wonderful Layton Blake, who plays Isaac, as he is so brilliant to play opposite, and has become one of my dearest friends throughout filming. I also shot one of the raps from the series on my first day, which certainly felt daunting at the time, but was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had on set!
What’s it like being part of the cast and what have been some of your favourite scenes to film?
It is a joy to be a part of the cast of 4OCC – the cast and crew are the kindest and funniest group of people, it didn’t feel like working at all! Coming into such a well-established show as a new regular can seem a little scary at first, but I was welcomed with open arms and I never stopped laughing!
My favourite scenes to film were usually with the incredibly witty and talented Dan Wright, who plays Mr Nunn – Dan is so detailed in his work and most importantly, knows how to have a laugh. The kids are also some of the most talented bunch I have ever met – they powered through long days with finesse and a smile on their faces, so scenes with them were always a joy. Every day was different on this job – I’d turn up to work and find myself dressed as a judge in court, or would have to rap whilst a leaf blower was on full blast in front of me, so it’s safe to say it was never boring!
How are you finding your time working on a CBBC show and having a younger audience?
I am really enjoying working on a CBBC show and having a younger audience, as it’s so different to anything I have done before! I hadn’t worked in comedy before, so I’ve loved getting to grips with the style of the show. There’s a real sense of abandonment of inhibition that you need to have when you’re playing a caricature-like character, such as Wrigley, and I hope that our audiences have found her mishaps as entertaining as I have!
What was Leah like to play in Casualty and how was it filming for the role?
Leah was a really down to earth, strong-willed and nurturing character to play – I found a lot of parallels to Leah, as she’s extremely protective of her mum. I think my favourite scene was where Amy, Leah’s mum, comes out to her after being subjected to a horrific homophobic attack, and Leah reassures her that whilst she had already guessed, it didn’t bother her in the slightest – as long as she was happy, that’s what matters. I think it’s so poignant as creatives that we play out those crucial moments in people’s lives with sensitivity, which is exactly what the wonderful team at Casualty do so well.
How long were you filming and what was the show like to be part of?
I actually filmed for a period of four days, which was an incredibly short time, but I loved every moment. The cast and crew were so welcoming, and I had to jump straight in but felt so supported throughout! Fiona Walton, our director, was a joy to work with.
Can you tell us about playing Lois Parry in Call the Midwife?
Lois is an incredibly special character for me – her journey and story is so powerful, especially for the time in which it is set. Lois discovers that she is intersex, which causes her to question everything she has ever known, and affects her ability to have children – something which she had planned for with her fiancé, Paul, so her world is turned upside down overnight. She is extremely fragile during the period of her diagnosis, and we see her battle something that she feels is so much bigger than her, but actually is the part of her that makes her incredibly special and powerful. I was shattered by her story when I received the script when auditioning to play her, and she crept into my little actor brain and started to grow there, so getting to play her was an honour that I will always be so grateful for.
What was it like on set of the show and getting into character?
The set is one of the most intricate and beautiful places I have worked on – every detail created by the incredible art department on the show is spectacular. The cast, particularly the lovely Helen George, Laura Main and Georgie Glen, were so welcoming and genuinely wonderful to play alongside. I was still at drama school when we started filming, and it was my first professional role, so they really took me under their wing and gave me the best experience possible.
Getting into character for Lois was a tricky one – she has some real rock bottom moments, and it was emotionally exhausting at times, but music was a real help with unlocking what that was for her. I listened to a lot of Brenda Lee in my trailer! Her costumes were an incredible part of that process too, so just being in her clothes enabled me to find how to hold my posture and move as her. One of my favourite details was that Lois played with her buttons on her clothing, or her engagement ring whenever she was nervous, so that was a great way into unlocking her psyche.
Before theatres closed, you were in the cast of The Visit at National Theatre, can you tell us about your time in the show?
I absolutely adored my time on this show – the company was made up of over fifty of us and was this wonderful, wacky, moving and very relevant piece. Tony Kushner has this unique ability to create a world that consumes you as a reader and audience member. It was the first ensemble experience I’ve had outside of drama school, so I really got to play and enjoy it. Getting to paint a picture as a company of actors is incredibly valuable.
How were you finding the experience working with National Theatre?
It was an absolute dream getting to be on the Olivier Stage each evening – it’s something I held dear to me, as I grew up a walk away from the building and it’s in every actor’s bucket list, so even getting to be a very small part of something there was pure magic. Everyone in that building loves what they do and puts so much passion into it, and every department contributes to it maintaining its reputation as one of our most coveted theatres.
How was it booking the role and can you say about rehearsing for the show?
Booking the job was slightly mental – I think I found out the day after the audition, which saved me from doing the classic refreshing your emails for weeks on end! We were chucked in fairly late in the game for rehearsals, and it was a very collaborative process so it was ever-changing, right up until press night. We had to run with everything that was thrown at us and created by the amazing team of Jeremy Herrin, Aletta Collins and Eva Sampson, but it was a real lesson in just trying things, and seeing what worked and what didn’t, and being comfortable with that.
You previously performed in shows with Italia Conti, can you say more about some you were involved with?
I did indeed – I graduated from the BA Acting course in 2018. My favourite productions from my time there were Flare Path by Terence Rattigan and The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman. The Laramie Project was particularly special as we took it to Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, and was a piece of theatre that I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of as it got people talking about things we still shy away from today – that’s what all theatre should do.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Italia Conti?
Getting to be creative in an unlimited capacity, something I think that is quite easy to take for granted whilst you’re training, and how much of an emphasis was placed on creating your own work. For our dissertations, we had to write, produce, direct and tech a practical piece of theatre or film ourselves, which really teaches you valuable lessons about the other sides of the craft, and can open doors that you didn’t even know you had access to.
Had you always wanted to get into acting and what was your first experience of the industry?
I actually started as a dancer, after breaking into my sister’s ballet lessons aged three, so they did have to start charging my mum for both of us! It wasn’t until I was doing my GCSEs and my drama teacher suggested that I audition for the Young Company at the Shakespeare’s Globe that I even considered acting as an option. I was really fortunate to be accepted into the company and did that until I was sixteen, before training at The BRIT School, so I guess that was my first experience! Getting to play and learn on the Globe stage as a teenager was the most fun I had ever had – I wasn’t the most confident young woman, so that really pushed me to pursue it further.
How do you like spending your time away from acting?
I like to spend my time away from acting by doing a lot of yoga, cooking, painting and spending as much time as possible with my family and friends – something I know we are all missing right now. What this lockdown has taught me is that sometimes we all need a break from the thing we love so much, especially if it’s our job, to teach us to not take it for granted, but to also create a well-rounded life with lots of other lovely things alongside it.
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