For her first lead role in a series, Ellie Duckles was cast as Amber in The A List on BBC iPlayer, with Series 1 now available on Netflix, who have since announced that they have picked up the show for a second series, with a release date not yet confirmed. Ellie’s first screen role was playing Young Rachel in Harlan Coben’s Safe and she went on to play Hanna Babakowski across multiple episodes of the ITV crime drama The Bay. We recently spoke with Ellie, who answers our questions about playing Amber in The A List, her time as Hanna Babakowski in The Bay and her first screen role in Harlan Coben’s Safe.
What is Amber like to play in The A List and can you tell us about the character?
Amber is a great character to play, she has a lot of different layers to her and a fascinating backstory. Because she is supernatural (in a sense), she is different from her fellow campmates and in turn, has supernatural powers that she doesn’t use for good… You learn that she is taking revenge on Mia because of past traumas and things that had happened before Amber was even born! This is great for me, as an actor, because there is a lot of tension and head to heads with Mia (played by Lisa Ambalavanar) which are always exciting to play!
How have you found the experience having Amber as your first lead role in a series?
It’s been a pleasure playing Amber as my first lead role. She’s a complex, sad, fierce character that had a big ol’ journey in both Series 1 and 2. Working with Patrick Harkins and Dan Berlinka was integral to the characterisation of Amber, we all discussed in detail how she would move, talk, sit, sleep – everything! Because she isn’t completely human, we wanted to give her an edge not only in what she said but how she acted. It was also important that she was clearly different to the rest of the cast. We had so much fun with it. Patrick and I even coined an “Amber head flick” that appears in most of Series 1!
Who do you think The A List will appeal to and what’s it like being part of the cast?
The A List is for anyone (above the age of twelve/thirteen) but mainly young teenagers. It’s a family-friendly show so it can be enjoyed by kids and adults together. We’ve loved the response from Series 1 and all the fans of the show are just the best fans ever!!
I feel so grateful to be part of this cast, we have all developed such close relationships and filming together is always a laugh. Despite the gap between filming Series 1 and 2, going back to shoot Series 2 was like getting back together with friends I’d seen yesterday.
What did you enjoy most about developing the character during Series 1?
There was so many things but I really loved when I got to be mean. Like really mean. In Series 1 I had scenes with every cast member and got to mind-wipe each one, one at a time. Each time I did these scenes, I found I got meaner and meaner but it was working and the scenes were looking great.
How is it on set of the show and what’s it like to film?
The atmosphere on set in Series 1 was… loud. We were always laughing, chatting, singing, probably being a pain to the crew but, of course, got down to it and worked hard as well. Series 2 was different because we filmed during a pandemic so there were safety measures in place which meant less socialising on set. Unfortunately, that did make it harder to keep up the morale but because we are all so close, we supported each other and still made light of challenging days.
How was it seeing the response to the series finale?
Amazing! I get so excited when I see the fans’ responses. It was a LITERAL cliffhanger so I think they are keen to know what happens next…
Netflix announced they would be releasing Series 2, what are you most looking forward to for the release?
I’m looking forward to the fans finding out what happens!! They’re going to love it and I’m so glad we got to do this for them.
What was it like filming as Hanna Babakowski for your episodes of The Bay?
Filming on The Bay was a delight. I loved being on this job. It was the first job where I played a character my own age and I also got to learn how to speak in a Lithuanian accent! Very fun. Filming with Morven Christie was brilliant, she’s so talented, kind and supportive.
How long were you on set and was there anything that drew you to the script?
I can’t remember exactly how many days I was on set but I’d say probably six days in total. What I loved about this script was that the lead was female. Morven’s character was the boss but she was also facing real life struggles which I find refreshing when women are portrayed in a realistic and emotive way. Hanna’s story was interesting as she had gotten herself into a situation that she was definitely too clever and switched on to be in. She was capable of a lot more and she knew that which made her story quite sad.
You played Young Rachel in Safe, how was this?
Safe was my first ever screen acting job! I was terrified!! I shot for one day and spent a few other days taking photos and doing fittings. The day we shot was amazing, I had so much adrenaline in my body and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I remember thinking, wow there’s a lot of waiting around? And I thought it was really weird that there were people on set to get you tea or snacks or whatever you needed. The cast I worked with were also fairly new so we were all very excited to be on set.
Had you always wanted to be an actor and how did you start?
Well, I have learnt recently that in fact, I did! Acting is something I’ve always loved but for a long time I thought it was unattainable as a career (lack of self-belief is a dream killer). However, I found all my old diaries the other day and since I was thirteen I’ve said I want to be an actor, so there we go.
Is there anything you enjoy most about having an acting career?
There are lots of ups to an acting career but I’d say the people you meet along the way and the stories you get to tell to audiences is the thing I enjoy the most. On set there is a sense of community and you become a big family of people from all over and that is really special.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
I’m a Friends fan through and through but recently I have been obsessed with Bridgerton and New Girl. When I chill out, I only want to watch comedy so I generally stick to light hearted tele. I really miss the theatres though!
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
I’m training to be a doula as I’ve always loved babies and pregnancy and everything else surrounding it! In my downtime, I love hanging out with my friends. That is all I want to do right now. So, once this pandemic is put to bed, I will run to my friends and hug them so hard until their eyeballs pop out of their head.
Ellie Duckles is represented by Kristin Tarry at TCG Artist Management Ltd
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