Cleo Demetriou has been playing Lily Hampton over all series of So Awkward on CBBC, and with the show now ended after the recent Series Six, she has been announced for the new spin-off Still So Awkward, which will follow her character at university. During her time as Lily, Cleo has made appearances on Saturday Mash-Up and has been a contestant on Top Class and Ultimate Brain, and her other screen experience has seen her film for Hallmark’s TV movie Christmas in Rome, which was released last year. On stage, Cleo joined the original West End cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical as the titled character, with her performance winning her Best Actress at the 2012 Olivier Awards. We spoke to Cleo about her role of Lily in So Awkward, appearing on Saturday Mash-Up and winning an Olivier Award for playing Matilda.
Since So Awkward started on CBBC you have been playing Lily Hampton, can you tell us about the character and what she is like to play?
Lily started off as a very fun-loving romantic girl and actually still is, however, in the later series she has become at bit more intense and easily irritated, maybe mirroring the teenage years?! Personally, I love playing Lily’s angrier side as I feel it adds to the comedic feel of the show and gives her more personality. I also love the contrast between her angry and sweeter moments as I believe this makes her character more emotional. Initially it was quite a hard role to crack as both Jas and Martha had such a distinct character. Lily’s was more subtle and therefore to depict the character was more challenging.
Do you remember what you were looking forward to most for starting the role and how is it going back to set for each series?
I initially auditioned for the pilot series so already had a good idea of what the show was going to be about and found the concept very exciting. Unfortunately, I didn’t get cast in the pilot, so was very excited when they offered me the role in the actual series. I was excited to bring the scenes that I had read in the auditions to life. I was also looking forward to filming up in Manchester and getting to know what being on set was like as although I had done a small amount of TV before, they had only been half-day shoots.
I look forward to seeing the cast every series as they feel like family to me. We have tended to have most of the same crew each year too which is great as we all know each other’s isms, so each year we all just get closer and closer. I also look forward to reading all the new scripts and seeing what dream sequences may be playing out each episode, they are always a lot of fun to film.
How do you think the character has changed over the years and what do you enjoy most about being part of the show?
As said previously, she has become more intense and easily irritated in the later series, however, she still remains fun-loving with a big heart and a hopeless sense of romance. There has always been a strong bond between the cast and crew, and most people have carried on in their jobs or roles for the six series we have filmed. I do love the fact that we have brought a comedy to CBBC which is not slapstick in nature, but hopefully one that transitions children’s comedy to adult programmes that are similar in nature, for example Friends.
What is it like seeing the fan response to the show and your character?
We (the main cast) seemed to have attracted a lot of social media attention which was not expected at all but is so rewarding for us as cast members to look at as each series airs. I would always hope that I appear as an inspiration to the fans but understand that we also have an older following which is fantastic. My character has received mostly positive responses, however, when Lily became slightly more irritable, you could see how the fans picked up on this and weren’t so keen at the beginning. I have been a bit saddened by some of the negative feedback when cast members have decided to move on from the show.
What is a typical filming day on set?
My call time is usually at 6:45am when a car will pick me up and take me to set. We get breakfast from the catering truck, but this is often interrupted by makeup and hair calls. Costume is next and then we usually start shooting at 8am. Filming takes a long time with a lot of waiting around for cameras and other things to be moved around. When you see a scene that has a duration of one minute, just know that that scene will have taken maybe three hours or more to film. The reasons for this are the director wishing to change little bits, but mainly because they will shoot the same scene from four or more different angles. Even if you manage to do a scene in one take, it will always be done again at least four more times for the camera angles. Lunch is normally an hour, but some days we have something called a continuous day which means we only get a short lunch, but this means we can finish earlier. We wrap shooting for the day at around 7:30pm. They are long days, and then we have the journey back to our apartments. It is then that we are given the sides (scenes) for the next day which we go through before bed. Episodes are not normally shot in sequence; it is usually shot by location which means the scenes are very mixed up and can be from any episode. It also means a lot of costume changes.
Can you say about appearing on Saturday Mash-Up?
It was great fun being asked to appear on Saturday Mash-Up. I was nervous about it as it is filmed live, so there is no room for mistakes or the wrong word to slip out and although I had done some small live links before, this was on a different level. I had seen people getting gunged and was nervous that I might be chosen for this. As it happens, I was chosen, but actually it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined apart from being very cold. Having a live audience was fun too, and in between the bits we were filming there is lots of dashing about trying to set things up ready for the next link whilst a cartoon or programme is being shown.
How was the experience being a contestant on Top Class and Ultimate Brain?
Top Class was great fun as it was a mix of actors from different CBBC shows, so I got to meet a load of people who I had never met before. I didn’t think it was going to be as competitive as it was, but it was great fun, and filmed in Glasgow so my mum and I had a great trip away. Ultimate Brain was our first ever appearance, but hysterically it was filmed before So Awkward had even come out on TV, so no one knew who we were! I am sure the kids that were the other contestants were really disappointed when it wasn’t one of their favourite CBBC stars. It was really great fun watching our experiment for Guinea Pig to be put into practice and for him to undertake the stunt for real.
You’ve filmed for Christmas in Rome as Betty, how was this and can you tell us about the character?
Filming for Christmas in Rome was an amazing experience. It was an American Hallmark Production. Betty was a character who caused Angela, in a roundabout way, to lose her job as a tour guide.
How different was this to film than So Awkward and what was it like filming on location?
As it was an expensive shoot, things were controlled like a finely-tuned machine. Time is money on a shoot like that, and filming in Rome cannot be cheap, especially at all the main tourist sites. As there were only a handful of named roles and I was one of them, I was treated so well. I had my own trailer in Romania and I was really looked after. Filming in Rome was something else. It was such a magical place and to be filming a scene on the Spanish Steps was incredible. We were there in our winter outfits (Christmas in Rome) and it was 38 degrees with everyone else around us in their summer shorts and T-shirts. All the tourists were there watching us film, there must have been around 500 people in the area. The area was not cleared of tourists to film as that was not allowed, so we just filmed in between everyone. Ernie Barbarash, the director, was so kind and so lovely. Our dressing room in Rome was a room in the most beautiful hotel situated right on the Spanish Steps. It really was luxurious. So, that would be the difference between filming Christmas in Rome and So Awkward; the process was the same but So Awkward is filmed in a disused school and is quite run down. Our dressing rooms are in old classrooms.
What is Amelia like to record as in the BBC Radio 4 drama House Rules?
Recording radio was totally new to me but was fascinating. You generally sit round a table reading your lines and make noises according to what you may be doing. There is a staircase in the room that has three different flooring types, so if you need to walk up the stairs with carpet, you choose this area on the staircase. Amelia was a lovely role to play as she was assertive and loved to question things and have a debate. The other cast members were great to work alongside and I learnt a lot from them as some of them were seasoned actors.
You have previously played Matilda in the original West End cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, how did you find your time in the production and winning the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2012?
Playing Matilda was a bit of a dream. I had initially started workshopping the ideas with Tim Minchin and the creative cast when I was eight years old. As I was performing in another production at the time, I wasn’t able to be as involved as the other girl who was also workshopping the role of Matilda. When it came to casting the original Stratford cast, sadly I missed out on getting cast. However, they asked me back to audition for the original West End cast and after a very long audition process I secured the role alongside three other girls. I absolutely loved playing Matilda, she was a strong girl and I loved her steely determination. I can’t deny that I felt so sick with nerves before my first performance. Although I had already appeared in three other West End productions before this, the role of Matilda was huge and with four long monologues throughout the show it was certainly a daunting role at the age of nine. Singing the songs was my favourite part, especially the song Quiet.
When we were told we were nominated for an Olivier Award we were so excited. I was actually at the theatre as understudy to Matilda on that particular day so, when the show had finished, we were whizzed to the Royal Opera House and taken backstage ready for our performance of Naughty. The only thing we sadly missed out on was walking the red carpet. After our performance we were then brought out to our parents in the auditorium where we watched the awards being given out. We honestly had no idea we were going to win until they actually announced us. It was an experience I will never ever forget. Larry sits proudly in my bedroom. As I have got older it is really only now that I realise what an honour it is to have an Olivier Award.
The cast got together virtually during lockdown to perform When I Grow Up for the NHS, what was this like to be part of?
I was so proud to be a part of When I Grow Up for the NHS. It was such a privilege. It has been a strange time during lockdown, and with no performing or acting going on, to be able to take part in something like this and to help raise money for such a worthy cause was very special.
How did your acting career come about and is it something you always wanted to do?
Funny story, I first appeared in an advert in Cyprus when I was three where I was supposed to ride a tricycle, but when I got there my feet didn’t reach the pedals so they popped me into a pushchair instead. When I moved to England, my yaya (Greek for Grandmother) was a puppeteer in children’s programmes. They needed more children and so my yaya got me an audition for the show. I was six years old. I got a small part where I filmed for half a day and had great fun. From here, my mum asked if I wanted to do more acting and I said I did. So, my agency who I am still with today, took me on and I started working from there. I have been really lucky and have worked since I was six years old, with the only break being around a year after Matilda and before So Awkward. I have also been so lucky as I have covered so many genres. I started in TV, went to West End musicals, I have done a radio drama, a short film, panto and film. I have also done some voiceovers for advertising So Awkward, so all in all I have been really lucky. I haven’t ever trained as such. I did a short spell at the Gielgud Academy in Sussex which was great, but I can’t deny, I had more fun hiding in the lockers during lessons than attending the lessons as, believe it or not, I was really, really shy during my younger teenage years and didn’t like performing in front of my classmates.
Do you have any favourite theatre/TV shows or films to watch?
I absolutely love musicals and would love to go back to the West End at some point and appear in a musical. My favourite musicals are Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Mean Girls and Waitress. My favourite films are About Time, Monsters, Inc. and Drop Dead Fred and TV includes Gossip Girl, Jane the Virgin and Dead to Me.
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