In 2017, Matilda Freeman started her first regular screen role when she joined the cast of the ITV series Coronation Street playing Summer Spellman, with her portrayal of the character leading her to be nominated for Best Young Actor, and she stayed in the role before deciding to leave the soap last year. Other roles for Matilda have included playing Lilly for her first feature film, The Last Boy, playing Chantelle Briggs in an episode of Doctors as well as appearing in a number of short films. At the end of last year, Matilda spent time abroad filming in South Africa for her new upcoming project. We spoke to Matilda about her experience playing Summer Spellman in Coronation Street, how it felt to be nominated for Best Young Actor and how her acting career came about.
How did you feel booking your first regular role of Summer Spellman in Coronation Street?
It was very exciting. Coronation Street was not a show I had watched, however I was very aware of the importance it had in a lot of people’s lives. My nan loved the show and so did a couple of my friends at school, so I was really thrilled to tell them when I got the role. Also, just the thought that I was going to be a part of a show that is so iconic in British television history was something that really excited me. I remember being happy about working with my TV dad Dan Brocklebank after meeting him at the screen test the week before.
What was it like being a part of the cast and working on set?
The majority of the cast and crew at Coronation Street were so incredibly sweet and kind that it just made it feel like family. I was especially close with one of the other kids, Alex Bain, who plays Simon, and who is nothing like his character. We had a lot of fun times together and he is still my very close friend to this day.
Working at Corrie was very different to the other projects I had worked on. On most filming jobs there is a lot more time. It will generally take all day to film just one or two scenes, due to rehearsal, all the different camera angles and a heavy reliance on location, and weather if it’s an outdoor scene. However, at Corrie, the turnaround was incredibly quick, particularly when it went to six episodes a week. You work mainly at pre-built sets and sometimes there are even weather machines! You do a read-through then film with several cameras on each scene.
How did you find the experience attending events like The Inside Soap Awards and The British Soap Awards and how was it being nominated for Best Young Actor?
In all honesty, it was actually terrifying! Hahaha. In real life I tend to be quite shy and I almost never went out to parties or anything before Corrie. So, being introduced to this whole new world where I had to dress up super fancy and be treated like a “celebrity” was strange but also a great new experience for me to be more confident and meet more people. The BSAs were insane! It was so nice to see everyone looking so gorgeous all dressed up. Although the award ceremony itself was exciting, it was really fun to be able to meet all the kids from other soaps who were also up for Best Young Actor. Two of those people being Ela-May Demircan from Hollyoaks and Maisie Smith from EastEnders who are honestly so, so lovely, and I’m still in contact with both of them which is nice.
What do you feel you’ve learnt from your time on the soap?
Apart from working on a tight schedule, mainly I learnt that as an actor on a soap you have to keep a hold of your character and speak up. The scripts are written in blocks of four episodes by different writers so it’s important to own your character and to try and have some input into how you feel the character would behave or it can become disjointed. One episode may say Summer loved a certain sport but in the previous block she hated it and viewers notice that kind of thing. Some of the most experienced actors were really good at this but it was more difficult to get heard as a young actor. You also don’t get told where the storyline is going as a kid which makes it more difficult to act but I suppose a little more like real life in some ways. I learnt a lot from working with Connor McIntyre who was amazing in the way he approached Pat Phelan as two different people – Pat and Phelan.
Is there anything you’ll miss the most about playing Summer?
I think it’s more the entire Coronation Street experience and the people I got to work with that I miss the most. Getting to play Summer was so great but I’m a very restless person and want to play lots of different characters, hence why I chose to leave the show. So, I’ll never forget playing her, but I don’t feel any sense of remorse, if you will, for moving on, I can’t say I’ll miss it, but I’m happy with how it was.
Can you tell us about your character Lilly in The Last Boy?
Aww, Lilly was such a soft and pure character. Her mother had passed away when she was young and her father had recently gone missing, which is why she joins the character of Sira on his journey to a place that grants wishes in the film. She wants to wish to see her father again. Throughout the story, Lilly develops quite a lot of trust issues with adults, as she is let down by quite a lot of them at the beginning of the film. She is also incredibly sweet, resourceful and open-minded, which I really liked about her.
What was the film like to work on and how was it having it as your first feature film?
The Last Boy was an absolute dream to work on! We filmed the majority of it in West Sussex which was awesome because that meant that I got to live in Brighton for a month, and I absolutely adore Brighton! The filming days were very long but the entire cast and crew were so lovely that it didn’t even feel like work. I remember having a secret handshake with one of the prop guys and our continuity lady, and constantly talking about Harry Potter with the sound guys. I used to tell them when the coffee was ready via my mic. Flynn (Allen) and I, who I nicknamed Chummy haha, would have competitions to see how many crackers we could stuff in our mouths in one minute. It was a really great film to be a part of and one of my favourite projects.
You played Chantelle Briggs in Doctors in 2017, how was this?
We filmed my scenes in a warehouse in Birmingham in early February so it was very, very cold! But I had such a great time doing it all that I barely thought about how cold it was. Dido Miles, who played Emma, was really funny and really kind and I also got to reunite with her at the BSAs in 2018 which was so lovely. Nikita (Mehta) played Amy, and we had all of our scenes together so I spent a lot of time with her and she was super sweet. We got through a lot of hand warmers and ice fingers. I remember one of the runners kept bringing me and Nikita deliveries from Greggs during our breaks off set which was just the best thing ever. He was pretty awesome; I have a lot of respect for him, hahaha.
Can you tell us about the short films you’ve worked on – The Chime of Youth, Strain and Lifeline?
So, both The Chime of Youth and Lifeline were films made with the assistance of the British Film Institute which was amazing as they’re incredible and were both cast by Jane Frisby. Lifeline was an awesome experience as it is set in a futuristic dystopian world and in the film I had to kill someone! So I got to do a training day at a fight school run by the BFI in London to prepare for that scene and the other stunts in the film, which was utterly amazing! The Chime of Youth also had a fantasy element, Simeon John-Wake, who played the wooden man, works as a movement director so he was really interesting to learn from.
Strain is about a single mother who struggles to provide for her two children but when her son starts stealing she has to make some difficult decisions. I filmed Strain for a couple days in London when I was eleven but I was playing a nine year old as I’m very small for my age, haha. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed having a film family.
What are some of your favourite memories from your acting career so far?
Ooh that’s a hard one! A lot of my best memories are to do with the people I’ve met. I absolutely adored filming The Last Boy as it was my first film, all the locations were so rural and beautiful and getting to work with Luke Goss, Anna Wilson-Jones and Peter Guinness was so amazing! I was also in a comedy show on ITV2 called Dropperz which was so much fun to do! All the guys in it were so funny and my character had a pet rabbit in the show so I got to cuddle all the bunnies playing the role when I was on breaks, which was the best because I adore animals! My favourite memory is probably around the project I’ve just done that I can’t talk about as the director is so brilliant.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
I actually fell into acting by accident because of Chester Zoo which is a little strange, haha! When I was nine, an open audition came through my school for a BBC drama called Our Zoo cast by Nina Gold and I wasn’t going to audition as I had never done any acting and just assumed I couldn’t act. But after a couple of girls in my class teased me saying I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway because I was so shy, I decided to audition, haha! I didn’t think I would get anywhere with it but I actually got all the way down to the final five out of 1600 girls seen for the part which was crazy! I’ve since been told I was pencilled in for the role but ended up not getting it due to my lack of experience, which kind of sucks, but I’m still glad that it happened as it was the reason my acting career started. After that, I joined The Television Workshop and my second audition was recalls for Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, which is how I first met Kate Bone, who is lovely and cast my most recent job for Nina Gold. Around the same time, I did a class with Kerrie Mailey who sent a tape of me to Carol Wilson (LSI Talent), my manager, and I’ve been with her since. At that point, my mum, dad and I realised acting just might be my thing. So it all grew from there, and people being really supportive.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
Ooh I really love period dramas! My absolute favourite film is Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women as it’s my favourite book and I adore Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan. I also really like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, since I’m a huge ABBA fan and am in love with the seventies! I tend to obsess with certain films and currently it’s Hocus Pocus. It’s just so funny and I’ve watched it over forty times, haha. Some of my favourite TV shows are Outnumbered, Derry Girls and Friday Night Dinner.
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
Well, I live on an old farm so I really enjoy playing with my dog and gardening with my mum. I’m also a really big ocean lover so I absolutely adore surfing and before COVID broke out, it was so much fun to go out and do it with my friends. And I also really like writing, painting, rock climbing and scrapbooking. I also still love to visit Chester Zoo, although, sadly, it’s shut at the moment.
Are you able to say what’s next for your acting career?
Well, in November last year, I flew out to South Africa with my mum to film for a really exciting new TV series! I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement so I’m not allowed to say what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming out this year which is really awesome! In the future I’d like to do a period drama and horror, as they’re two of my favourites.
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