Starting her acting career as Young Nala in the West End production of The Lion King, Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness has since gone on to have a screen career, including making her debut in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie playing Lola, the granddaughter of Edina played by Jennifer Saunders, and attended the red carpet premiere in New York. Indeyarna has played Jody McGory in both series of award-winning and BAFTA-nominated Save Me, playing the missing daughter of Lennie James’ character Nelly, and with the release of Deep Water ITV mini-series last year, she played the role of Lucinda Riverty across all six episodes. Taking time to answer our questions, Indeyarna talks about playing Jody in Save Me, working on Deep Water and making her screen debut in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.
Can you tell us about your character Jody McGory in Save Me, and for those that haven’t seen the show, can you say more about the series?
Jody is the type of person that is full of energy and excitement and looks for any chance to show off and have fun. This part of her is established quite a bit in her friendship with Dylan, you can easily imagine her being the loud and outgoing one and him the quiet one that goes along with everything she says. She is a sweet, happy and naive fourteen year old who lost out on a connection with her father from the age of about three. When she starts getting messages from who she thinks is her father, she is extremely excited about the prospect of meeting him only to find when she gets there that she wasn’t talking to her father at all and is then kidnapped. Her father Nelly then sets out to find her, and you see the area he is from, the type of man he is and relationships formed by those who know her separated parents as they try to help him. This series highlights a lot of the depths of sex trafficking rings and how most of them operate in plain sight yet still go unnoticed.
What’s it like being part of the cast and how did you feel finding out you’d booked the role?
The Save Me series was my second job ever for screen, so finding out that I had booked the role made me feel really proud and gave me a belief that I could really make it in the TV and film industry. Working alongside actors like Lennie James, Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng and Suranne Jones was an eye-opening experience because not only are they all incredibly nice people, but it was also such a privilege to see them in action and watch how each of them approached their roles. Over time, the Save Me cast have become a second family for me and having Nicholas Croucher and Olive Gray be some of the only people similar to my age, it helped me click with them a lot in particular. Knowing that the show is doing incredibly well and that I am a part of that process is wonderful and I am so happy that I’ve got to be involved with a cast of such great and talented people.
What was it like on set of the production?
A lot of my sets were not the same as others, playing a trafficked victim, my locations were a lot darker and more sinister, so I couldn’t really joke around as much because I had to be in such a specific headspace, especially in Series 2. But my favourite location out of all of them was Claire’s house with the beautiful pool and decor! The second I got the chance for even a tiny break I would be off exploring and I was so happy to return to that house again in Series 2. Though it was definitely weird having so many pictures of myself all over the place, I never really got used to that! The crew were so lovely on both Series 1 and 2, and working with a different director each time was really interesting because they all had a different way of working and shooting and how they envisioned the characters, so I learnt a lot under each of their wings. The pub scenes that I was in were great because I got to hang about with all of the extras and make friends with them too, and because it was always really hot in there because it was so small, it would get quite cosy and we could laugh and joke about because it was a bit more light-hearted.
How did it feel returning to film Series 2 and seeing more of Jody’s journey?
Being missing, I spent a lot of time off-camera but returning to film the second series, I got to see just how much being trafficked has impacted Jody’s life and the way that she functioned as a person. There was a great contrast in the Jody that was seen in the first series to the one in the second series, it was as though all of her energy and life had been taken out of her and she had been reduced to a vulnerable, silent shell. It was quite saddening to know what Jody had been subjected to and, having seen Jody as an extension of myself from the first series, it was quite challenging at times to become as dead inside as she was. It also helped me to understand the process of a trafficked victim from readjusting to regular life to medical examinations which, while harrowing, was very interesting and I think was an eye-opening lesson for me.
How was it having the show win Best Drama Series and Best Writer at the RTS Television Awards and having it nominated at the 2019 BAFTAs?
Hearing the news of all of these awards and nominations was so surreal! I couldn’t believe that I had been in a project that had moved people so much that it was nominated and won awards. Though I, unfortunately, didn’t get to attend any of the award ceremonies (which I reallyyy hope to do one day in the future!!!), it was really rewarding and heart-warming to know that all of the hard work of the cast, crew and everyone else involved was being noticed and praised. It made me realise just how much I want to do this job because I want to continue to move people and evoke strong emotions and create connections with people that I haven’t even met before.
You played Lucinda Riverty in Deep Water for ITV last year, what was this character like to play?
Lucinda was a feisty and manipulative character that was quite a stretch from those I had played before. In my career so far, I have been able to think of the characters that I play as an extension of myself, they all tend to have similar personality traits to my own. However, playing Lucinda, I got the chance to be demanding and devious towards people which is something I would never normally do. Going missing again was quite funny as it seems to be something I do a lot, but I am happy that it was only for a few episodes so I got the chance to have some screen time and play around with that character.
How would you describe Lucinda and what drew you to the role?
Alongside feisty and manipulative, Lucinda is quite an attention seeker, a trait I presume she inherited from her mother Kate Riverty and from the neglect of her father Guy Riverty. What drew me to the role was that I not only would be playing a character that was new to me and slightly challenging, I would also get the chance to work in Windermere which gave me my first opportunity to work away from home on my own. I have always been drawn to the travelling aspect of acting, and getting to see lots of different places while doing what I love is a big dream of mine, so working in Windermere and really getting that experience of independence was an amazing first step and something I was very excited about doing. Even though it was challenging for me at times, it helped me grow a lot and has increased my enthusiasm for taking my work to other countries.
What was it like working on a new ITV drama?
I have been very fortunate in my career to have worked on quite high profile projects, and seeing that I was going to be working for ITV was extraordinary because I have grown up with that channel all my life and still watch it. It was also quite strange because I know how huge ITV is in Britain, so I knew I was going to be seen by so many people which was quite nerve-racking, but I was also very excited for the exposure and the opportunity that many actors would love to have so early on in my acting journey.
How was it getting into character as Lola in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie and what was she like to play?
Lola was my first ever on-screen role so I was completely new to the whole experience of acting for camera. I didn’t really know how to prepare for a character then but I learnt my lines and went over them repeatedly to make sure I didn’t mess anything up on set. I had never seen the TV series before shooting the movie so my parents helped me with the backstory and informed me of Lola’s journey prior to the events of the movie, which helped influence the way I reacted to certain characters Lola came into contact with and establish her relationships correctly. She was such a fun character to play because we are very alike so the acting came effortlessly which helped make the experience of my first movie so easy and relaxed. I got to do a lot with her like travelling to Canne and staying on the promenade, pretend driving and working with astounding actors and actresses like the main five (Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Jane Horrocks, Julia Sawalha and June Whitfield – to name a few!!) alongside many other celebrities, but my favourite part about it all was the fact that I didn’t know just how famous the people I was working with were so I felt a lot more comfortable around them while my mother and aunty (who were chaperoning and tutoring me during the film) were starstruck.
What was it like filming alongside the rest of the cast?
Everyone in the cast was so lovely and really helped me feel welcomed and relaxed during my first experience. Getting to see them all work and feed off of each other and improvise was so wonderful and funny and I felt privileged to have had that experience. As I didn’t see the series, I didn’t really know everyone which was great because I got to know them as people as opposed to being astounded by the work that they had done (though the only thing I knew Jennifer Saunders from was Shrek 2 as the Fairy Godmother and that was enough for me to be in awe for a little while!!). I was a bit worried at the beginning that I wasn’t going to be very welcomed because they were such a tight unit in the series, but thankfully they were so welcoming and kind to me and made me feel at home! Because of the certain relationships that my character had with others, I was able to connect with Joanna and Jennifer more so than Julia, June or Jane but my experiences with each and every one of them were so special and memorable and I am so thankful that I was able to have them!
You attended the film premiere in New York, how was the experience?
Attending the New York premiere was a dream come true for me and I never thought in a million years that I would be walking the red carpet in NYC at sixteen! It was the day after my sixteenth birthday and sweet sixteens are huge in America, so at the after-party, everyone was wishing me a happy birthday and I will never forget when I was called up to the front of the room by the DJ and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me and my cake was given to me by drag queens. It was hands down one of the best days of my life! Being on the actual carpet was a bit nerve-racking because I’m not used to so many people calling my name and flashing cameras at me or signing autographs and taking part in interviews but I wish I could do it all over again. I felt like the celebrity I always dreamed of being as a child!
What do you remember from making your professional stage debut as Young Nala in The Lion King?
The Lion King was my first professional job and what kick-started my career, and I made so many friends working with the other Young Nalas and Simbas. I remember everything from Cub School where they auditioned and trained you for the show through workshops so it didn’t feel pressurising, to rehearsals and finding out that I got into the show and trying not to freak out on the bus with my mum and not believing that they actually chose me, to then finally walking out onto the stage for the first time and coming face-to-face with 2000 people. As well as the incredible set design, makeup and costume departments and our different directors, the rest of the cast and so much more! I was so scared that I was going to forget everything that I had learnt but when I got onto the stage it was like everything was embedded into my body and the performance just came out. Hearing that applause at the end and watching people stand up in appreciation of everyone’s hard work and taking my bow on my first and last show, was so exhilarating and rewarding and that isn’t a feeling you ever forget.
Was there anything that inspired your acting career and how did you get into it?
I learned from a very young age that performing was what I wanted to do. Singing and dancing around the house was my speciality from a toddler! I started in musical theatre which gave me the opportunity to sing and dance as well as act but it wasn’t until later when I would watch things at the cinema and really take them in that I knew I wanted to be on screen. I still love to sing and dance, that has never left me, but there was something about watching a film or a television show and walking away feeling amazing or sad or angry all as a result of what I saw on screen. I want to make people feel all of those emotions due to my work and I want to be able to tell stories both real and fiction and have others feel the way I did. I got into acting through my ballet teacher, she put me forward for The Lion King and that kick-started the musical theatre process. My first film was Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie and I got that through my modelling agency, they would occasionally get casting calls for feature films and commercials and I was doing work experience at the agency and one came through and I suggested I’d do it, they agreed and the rest is history really! I didn’t think I would get it because I wasn’t trained or anything and I had taken a few acting classes, but other than that and regular school, I had nothing else under my belt, but finding out I got the part after that was amazing because it gave me a real belief in myself and made me realise that my dream wasn’t actually as out of my reach as I once thought!
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
Aside from acting, I, of course, love to sing and dance! Dance especially gives me such a great feeling of expression and elation and allows me to be big and dramatic, unlike screen. But I also enjoy writing, I have always had a thing for English and took English Literature as an A-Level so going into detail about a story and creating characters and a storyline with depth and meaning for myself is so exciting. Fashion is also one of my favourite things on the planet so I love to experiment with looks and take pictures, trying different angles and outfits to create something artistic and allow me to show another side of my personality through my fashion sense. There are many other things that I would like to try like travel and learning a new language (I have been doing BSL for a few years now but that has stopped a while – I need to take that up again!) but it’s just about finding the time to try it all!
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