With Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers book series being adapted for screen, it released earlier this year in the UK on CBBC and Natasha Raphael was cast as Irene Edwards across all thirteen episodes, which marked her first major screen role. Natasha’s acting career started in theatre, making her stage debut as Duffy in the UK Tour of Annie, followed by playing Marcy in the West End production of School of Rock, and before booking her role of Irene in Malory Towers, she was part of the UK premiere of stage production A Little Princess. Speaking with Natasha, she tells us about booking her first screen role in Malory Towers, what the show was like to film and playing Irene Edwards.
How did you feel booking the role of Irene in Malory Towers?
It was a dream come true really!! I wanted the part so badly, and the audition process was very long, so it was super exciting and rewarding to get the role. My mum met me outside school when she was still on the phone with my agent, so we were literally dancing down the road!
What was it like meeting the cast for the first time and reading the script?
Meeting the girls was so amazing. We had a table-read before we left to film so we got to know each other and read a few episodes! The girls instantly bonded as a group so all being together for the first time felt so special. One of our directors, Bex, actually found a photo we took that day and it was so funny, we all look so young!
Can you tell us about your character and how much did you know about her before filming?
I play Irene Edwards, she is totally music-mad, funny but always loyal to her friends, which I love. She gets into some very crazy situations as she is usually quite “away with the fairies”! I hadn’t read the books before being cast so I didn’t know very much about her, but as soon as I saw the casting brief, I loved the character and she is so much fun to play.
Did you read the Enid Blyton books after booking the role and how did you prepare to play Irene?
I knew of the story, but once I got the role, I started to read them! They’re so great, so I took a lot of inspiration from Enid Blyton’s character and the books when preparing. It’s really special that fans of the books will get to see the stories they love with a few new twists!
How was the experience on set and how long were you on location?
Our set was amazing! We shot the interiors in Toronto, Canada for two months and the outdoor locations in Cornwall for one. The sets are beautiful, and they were always such a wonderful place to be. The whole crew became a family away from our own at home, I miss them all so much!
What was a typical day filming?
We would usually be called to set quite early so we would either eat breakfast at home or wait until our drivers came to take us to set and eat there. We were our craft services and catering team’s biggest fans haha! Then we would go to our dressing rooms and put on our costumes before going over to hair and makeup! This was always my favourite part of the day, we had so much fun hanging out with the hair and makeup crew! Then we would head off to shoot our first scenes of the day before breaking for lunch. After that, we would hang out together and film any more scenes we had. We would film around five or six on a regular day, but with some scenes, we could spend the whole day to get it perfect which is pretty tiring but it turned out so well so the work was definitely worth it! Then we would get out of costume and drive back to the houses to chill! The girls and I actually all lived in houses together with a house parent, so we could learn our lines the night before which was very handy! Then we packed our bags for the next day before having some dinner and chilling out! We had the coolest little movie den in the basement of the house so watched A LOT of films and were obsessed with doing things like face masks!
The series is set in the 1940s, what was this like to get into character for?
It was really cool! We learnt so much about the time period to make the show as realistic as we could, like how the girls would have walked and talked to each other. We did find it hard sometimes to avoid slang like words like “guys” and “OMG” so had replaced them with things like “Oh my giddy aunt”, which is not quite as cool but makes the show more authentic and helped us get into character!
What was it like seeing the show released in the UK and what was the response like to your character?
It was totally surreal! I grew up watching CBBC shows, so to see my face on screen was so cool! The response to the whole show was so amazing and we couldn’t believe how much love we received for the characters but I feel like they’re all very relatable so you can identify with something like their personality or something they’re going through, I feel very connected to Irene’s clumsy side! All the MT fans mean so much to us, I literally never could have imagined someone spending time drawing me or making amazing edits so I have so much love for all of them.
Do you have any standout moments from your time filming the series?
I always say, filming-wise, I loved filming things like the midnight feast, but really any scene with all the girls because we just have the most amazing chemistry on screen and off. When we weren’t filming, we had so many fun trips, like going to Niagara Falls, which was so incredible, but we loved just going shopping and exploring the city!
This is your first screen role, what is the show like to be part of and what do you feel you learnt from your time on set?
I was nervous to be on a TV set for the first time, but it was such a special experience and everyone made us feel so welcome! I couldn’t wish for a better show to be a part of, I’m so grateful for everything the experience has taught me.
What do you enjoy most about having a stage and screen career?
I love everything about it! You get so many opportunities and experiences but I would say you get to meet so many amazing people. The girls I met on Malory Towers, for instance, just became sisters to me and we just have such a rare bond that I never would have found without my career!
Can you tell us about your training?
I’ve trained in acting, singing and dance since I was very little! I think its so, so important when you’re in this industry to keep furthering your knowledge and skill, you can never stop learning! I’ve been able to train with some incredible people and I feel so lucky as I wouldn’t be where I am without them!
How do you like to spend your free time?
When I’m not working, I love to see friends. Over quarantine, I’ve become a bit of a fashion addict, so I’m always looking for new outfit inspiration and l obviously like to sing! I actually also love art so I find painting and drawing really therapeutic!
Have you watched any TV shows or films recently that you’d recommend?
I’m a massive fan of 90s and early 2000s movies and my all-time favourite is The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan, I actually remember on set we all loved the movie so much, we were always trying to remember the handshake they do! For TV, Friends is such a classic but I’m obsessed with Gossip Girl and Glee!
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