On screen, Beccy Henderson plays Aisling across both series of Derry Girls on Channel 4 and she has been announced to play Heather Pearce in the upcoming release of TV series Dalgliesh as well as Elmear in Black Medicine and Jill in short film Kettle, which is currently showing at film festivals. As a puppeteer, Beccy performs as her main character Deet in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance along with performing as Naia, Maudra Seethi and Juni, and is also assistant puppeteer for the Skeksis characters, and the series won a Primetime Emmy Award last year. Amongst Beccy’s other puppeteering work, she has performed on Secret Life of Boys for CBBC and is the assistant puppeteer on Wildwoods. During lockdown, Beccy started uploading her drawings online which led to her releasing a colouring book which sold out in less than a week. Chatting to us recently, Beccy talks about performing in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, being a puppeteer and playing Aisling in Derry Girls.
You’ve been announced to play Heather Pearce in Dalgliesh, how did it feel booking the role and working with the rest of the cast?
I was so pleased when I booked the role; we were seven months into lockdown at that point and I hadn’t been able to work, so add that relief on top of the usual delight from securing a job. And it got even better when I actually started working on it with the rest of the cast because they are all such amazing actors! I was so honoured to be among them.
They also happen to be the loveliest people! We really got on and bonded very quickly – which was so welcome after a year of lockdown and isolation.
Can you tell us about your puppeteer roles in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and how was it having the show win a Primetime Emmy Award?
My main character is Deet; she’s one of the three heroes – a gentle Gelfling who is thrust into this epic journey to save the planet. And then I also perform Naia – a fierce warrior, Maudra Seethi – a wise clan leader and Juni – a peppy teen. So, a lovely mixed bag! And I also did assistant puppeteering for all of the Skeksis characters at different points and performed background characters and creatures – there was always something to do.
As for the Emmy… I am so grateful that the artistry and work put into the show was recognised. I never ever imagined I would be a part of an Emmy Award-winning show – let alone an Emmy Award-winning PUPPET show. I have the certificate in my house and I still don’t have it framed because nothing seems worthy of it!
What did you enjoy most about working on set of the series and how was it seeing the release on Netflix?
Puppetry is quite a niche obsession, and I was suddenly in a work environment with eleven other people who shared my interest and thought like me – that was really special. Working together with them to make characters come alive was so rewarding, it was like actual magic… I’d say that has to be the most enjoyable part of it. I grew a lot as a performer learning from them.
When it was released on Netflix, we got together to binge watch it over a weekend and it was like a little festival. We played games and the Jim Henson Company had sent prizes and a crate of this Dark Crystal beer they got made for the premiere. We had put so much of our souls into these characters – it felt quite vulnerable having them finally out there. But I’m really proud of it.
What was a typical day for you filming the show and do you have any favourite memories from your time in the cast?
A typical day for us was to start shooting at 7am with our beautiful yet insanely heavy puppets, and we’d run into a few problems because we are moving and filming these creatures in ways that had never been done before whilst also trying to deliver emotional, high drama performances. We’d solve said problems, we’d get very sweaty, muscles are being strained, heads are being bumped, vocal skills are being tested, sometimes there’s giggles because puppets are silly, sometime there’s tears because puppets are challenging, and there’s no down time because it’s normally three puppeteers per character – so even if your character isn’t in the scene, you’re assisting another character by being their right hand etc… Then, after about ten hours of that, we go home and soak in the bath and try to repair our broken bodies for the next day… and we did that for eleven months!
It’s the most challenging and most rewarding job I’ll ever do.
One of my favourite memories is from right at the beginning of rehearsals with the cast; the producers wanted us to film small rehearsal sections so they could see the puppets in action. One was supposed to be a simple scene of Brea (performed by Alice Dinnean) dropping a book. And they had planned that CGI pages would come flying out around the room. But the rest of us wanted to be involved in this rehearsal tape so we ran around and stuck A4 pages to rods and we puppeteered the paper flying out from the book and swirling around Brea. We were in fits of giggles and just did it for the fun of it, but the producers loved the tape and decided to actually shoot it that way instead of CGI!
You play Aisling in Derry Girls, what is she like to play and how would you describe her?
I have so much fun playing Aisling. In the script she was described as a “bespectacled creature” and I really loved that, and I try to lean into that weirdness and geekiness. She doesn’t even say much – which is even more fun to play when you only have your face to work with.
How was it seeing the response to Series 1 and returning to set to film the second series?
The response to Series 1 was so much bigger than I expected. I knew from reading the script that I loved it – but I had no idea it would be so big worldwide. I think people respond to the honesty of it. How even in times of conflict people are still self-obsessed. The troubles were just a backdrop to people’s lives, it didn’t rule them.
I was so grateful to get to return for the second series! It was really nice to go in with that familiarity already there with the cast and crew. It builds up a sense of family and I felt really comfortable. We had also seen the results of Series 1 by then so we knew exactly what we were making.
What are some of your highlights from playing Aisling?
On my first day of playing Aisling, I filmed two scenes… and that was supposed to be my only two scenes in the show. They then came to me at the end of the day and said they thought I was really funny and wanted to write me into more of the series. So that is one pretty big highlight!
I also loved filming the Prom, it was really fun to see everyone in dresses and suits when we’re normally in school uniform.
How was it working on Secret Life of Boys and can you say more about it?
I worked on Series 2, so the show was an established and well-oiled machine when I joined and that was quite a nice environment to walk onto. And the cast and crew were extremely welcoming and quickly made me feel included. It’s a really playful and light-hearted show so that energy was definitely instilled in people. I puppeteered this robot bin called the Rubbisher – an experimental build by one of the lead boys – and of course things go a little haywire. It was really fun! And again, it was supposed to only be one episode, but I then got a little cameo in every following episode within that series.
You were an assistant puppeteer on Wildwoods, what was this like?
Being an assistant puppeteer is great! It’s like dancing; you lock into the lead puppeteer’s performance and follow them and match it. One of the two characters in the show is a Sugar Glider called Poppy (Performed by Andy Heath) and I was her permanent assist so I always did the right handing (the lead performer does the head and left hand) or she had a pet snail I performed a lot. It was all filmed outdoors in the forest which was both gorgeous and awful when you’re a slave to the elements. There was a lot of mud and bug bites!
Where does your love of puppeteering and acting come from and how did you start in each?
I’d always wanted to be an actor, even watching films as a kid, I never wanted to be the princess, I wanted to be the person playing the princess. So, I’ve just always been working towards that. My high school careers department told me I couldn’t be an actor but I’m glad I didn’t take that on board. I joined a Saturday drama school and was always writing to casting directors and being very proactive in hunting for auditions.
Puppetry was very different; it was an artform I was fascinated with – but without ever realising that I could do that. I wrote to a TV company that made Puppet Shows and asked if I could work for them in some way – I just wanted to be around that world. And instead, they invited me to a puppetry workshop being led by a Jim Henson puppeteer (Victor Yerrid) who scouted me from it and I started working as his assistant puppeteer the next week.
Have you seen any TV shows or films recently that you would recommend?
Locke & Key on Netlfix! It’s a fantasy series about a house filled with magical keys, I’ve watched it twice now and I’m so excited for the next season. Also, Love and Monsters is a really good film. It’s post-apocalyptic and there are creatures in it, so it’s right up my street.
And I’ve just started watching Shadow and Bone, I’m only a few episodes in but it’s really intriguing so far.
How have you been keeping busy during the pandemic and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Near the beginning of quarantine, I did a drawing every day for two months and I would share them on my Instagram Stories. I then turned thirty of those drawings into a little colouring book and I put them on Etsy – and they sold out in four days! I had to order more. It was a really random but lovely thing to come out of it. The drawings were a source of happiness and motivation for me during some of the toughest points of that first lockdown. I hope they can bring other people joy when they colour them in!
I’ve also done loads of DIY to my apartment; the best of which was building a little Voiceover booth in my wardrobe. I even spent two days pinning tiny fairy lights all over it because I had all of this time that I didn’t know what to do with.
Apart from Dalgliesh, what other upcoming roles can viewers see you in?
I play a small role in Black Medicine (dir. Colum Eastwood), which will be out on July 12th. It’s an Irish thriller feature film about a black-market medic and I play a young girl called Eimear.
And I’m the protagonist in a short form thriller called Kettle (dir. Dominic Curran) which is currently in its festival run and will be released online over the next year. It’s about a new homeowner Jill, who is violently burgled and we follow her dealing with the resulting paranoia. So, with that and Dalgliesh, there’s a real crime/thriller theme for the next year.
Follow Beccy on: