Currently, one of Anna Acton’s short films Smudged Smile is playing at film festivals, in which she plays Laura – the mother of a teenager (Zoe, played by Mia McKenna-Bruce) who is struggling with her mental health. Anna has appeared a number of times in Doctors, most recently last year as Vicki, and she was involved in Jane Hazelgrove’s character Dixie’s departure in Casualty, playing the role of Nikki Chisom. In the BAFTA-winning pre-school TV series Topsy and Tim, Anna played their mother Joy over the three years of the show airing. As part of the Who Killed Lucy storyline in EastEnders, Anna played DC Emma Summerhayes, and for her first major TV role, she was cast as Geri Evans in Family Affairs. On stage, Anna most recently performed in The Permanent Way at The Vaults in 2019 and, for her return to theatre after ten years, she was in the European premiere of the two-hander play The Gulf opposite Louisa Lytton. Also being a voice actor, Anna narrates audiobooks alongside many other projects including with the app Calm. We chatted to Anna about the short film Smudged Smile, recording sleep stories for Calm and being in the cast of The Permanent Way.
What are you able to tell us about the short film Smudged Smile and about your character Laura?
I play Laura, Zoe’s mum in this wonderful short film about a teenager struggling with her mental health. Laura is a supportive mum who is trying her best to help her daughter as she navigates her daily challenges.
Was there anything that drew you to the project and how was it reading the script for the first time?
I loved the script, and am always interested in anything that highlights mental health struggles. As a mother of two girls, I felt this was an important film and was thrilled to be asked to be a part of it. I was also very impressed by the team behind it. Ella Greenwood is a young director who is currently blazing a trail through the film industry and, at 20, has already made a stellar name for herself! The production company Candid Broads is a group of dynamic, inspirational young women and I really wanted to work with them!
How was it filming with the rest of the cast and why would you recommend watching Smudged Smile when it’s released?
It was a joy to film, it was one of my first projects back after the COVID hiatus and film sets are very different places in the world of COVID, but you have to adapt and just get things done, which is what we did. It was lovely meeting and working with Mia McKenna-Bruce, who played Zoe – my daughter, and it was really great to meet and work with Elliot Levy, they are both actors whose work I have seen before and admired. It is currently doing the rounds at festivals and is doing incredibly well.
Last year, you appeared in an episode of Doctors playing Vicki, can you say about your episode and, having worked on the show previously in a number of other roles, what do you enjoy most about working on set of Doctors?
I always love working on Doctors, it’s such a well-oiled machine, full of the loveliest people! Vicki was my sixth different character! It was a real treat to play her as I got to have fun with the very talented and funny Ian Midlane! It was directed by Steve Kelly, who I filmed some adverts with about 15 years ago when we travelled to Mexico, Austria and Thailand for the filming, so we had a lot to catch up on and reminisce over!
What was Mrs. Roberts like to play in the short film Shapes?
She was great fun! Mrs. Roberts was a proper character part and the director, Ethan McDowell, was very open to plenty of mischief with her which is always fun. It’s great getting older as you can let go of any vanity and just throw yourself into character parts!
How is it filming guest roles on shows such as Roadkill, Brassic and Casualty?
Roadkill and Brassic were very small parts but they were great, I felt so lucky to be involved in such successful shows! It was very surreal to work with the legend that is Hugh Laurie! And just wonderful to see close up how he worked; utterly professional. it’s a fortunate position to be able to learn from these great actors!
It is a very different experience on a filming job when you come in for just a few days rather than the whole project, but being on a set in any capacity is my happy place so I’ll take whatever time I can get!
Casualty was different as I had several episodes and an ongoing storyline rather than a single episode, but much like Doctors, as an ongoing drama it’s a very slick operation and you jump on and enjoy the ride! I was part of the lovely Jane Hazelgrove’s exit storyline which was an honour!
Can you tell us about playing Joy in Topsy and Tim?
This is one of my favourite jobs. I have the fondest memories. When I was offered the part my daughters were both under three years old, so CBeebies was a very big part of our world at that time, I was delighted to be able to be make something that they could watch! It’s the only children’s TV I have done. It’s such a lovely, gentle show and the production company Darrall Macqueen and the crew made a fantastic team! One of my favourite parts of this job is being part of a team and going to work everyday and feeling part of something! As an actor, when you aren’t working you can feel quite isolated and out of the loop so it’s always lovely to be part of the team! We filmed 70 episodes and it was brilliant!
How was the experience playing DC Emma Summerhayes in EastEnders and do you have any stand-out highlights from your time playing her?
I’ll never forget the day I walked onto the set of Albert Square, I had to pinch myself, it was such a huge moment. And then again in my first scene in the Queen Vic! It’s such an iconic TV show and I couldn’t believe I actually was there. It was great being involved in the huge ‘Who Killed Lucy’ storyline, it really gripped the nation! Again, being part of a team and working on something for a long period of time was wonderful, you get to fully inhabit a character and form strong bonds with people and have storyline arcs.
For your first regular character, you played Geri Evans in Family Affairs, what are some of your favourite memories from being in the cast?
This has to be my favourite job of all. It was my first proper big TV job and I absolutely loved playing Geri! It was like an apprenticeship into the work of TV. I had done a three-year BA Hons acting degree but only two weeks of the whole course were spent on acting for camera. I learnt so much there, not just acting-wise, but also about how sets work and what job everyone does and how it all fits together. It was my first experience of being part of a team. People were incredibly patient with me! I also met my husband Ben Hull there and my best friend Dominic Treadwell-Collins. It was a very special time in my life not just professionally but personally too.
In 2019, you were in the cast of The Permanent Way at The Vaults, how was this?
This was an incredible experience! David Hare came to one of our rehearsals which was a definite highlight in my career, he was so inspiring! I was part of a cast of nine and the other actors were really talented, brilliant people and I learnt so much from them. It was an ensemble piece where we all played various characters and we all supported each other while telling the harrowing stories of these real people describing the tragedies in their lives related to various rail disasters. We did extensive research which was fascinating but also deeply upsetting. It’s one of my favourite parts of this job, that you get to investigate and research deeply into subjects you wouldn’t normally even think about!
You played Betty in the European premiere of the two-hander The Gulf alongside Louisa Lytton who played Kendra, can you tell us about it?
This was the first play I had done in ten years and I was absolutely terrified! It was a huge challenge. It was a two-hander with Louisa in a Southern US accent. I didn’t think I’d be able to learn all the lines, let alone master the accent. I figured it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, which is exactly what I did! It was an exhilarating experience and reignited my love of performing in the theatre again. I hadn’t done theatre for ten years because I didn’t want to miss my daughters’ bedtimes, but they were both at ages where I could explain where I was and what I was doing so it was time, and I am so glad I did! I had really missed being on stage!
What films, TV and theatre shows do you enjoy watching?
I love a good drama TV series! Sucession and Dopesick and are my current favourites, and I am very excited about the new series of Toast of London! I also enjoy documentaries. I always love going to the theatre, just the experience of live theatre feels like a treat!
We understand you narrate audiobooks, what are these like to do?
I love reading and getting paid to do that is a dream come true! I have a lot of fun casting the characters’ voices in my prep, deciding what I think each person would sound like, but also keeping that within my remit of accents!! The recording sessions can be full on and you need a lot of concentration!
Can you say about working with Calm?
Narrating sleep stories is almost the opposite of an audiobook as you are trying not to engage the listener too much, as you don’t want to jar them out of falling asleep! I love working with Calm, I think it is such an important app and has helped so many people with their mental health.
Throughout your extensive acting and voiceover career so far, what are some of your favourite highlights?
Honestly, any time I get a job is highlight, I never take any of it for granted. I feel so lucky that I have had the opportunity to work on such incredible productions and with so many amazing people!
Had you always wanted a career in acting and how did you start?
I used to go to a little drama group run by a local lady in the town I grew up in and we would put on plays in her back garden and do our LAMDA exams. I would help out at a local all-boys school to play the female parts in their school plays. Then when I was a teenager I joined the Wycombe Swan youth theatre and did my A-Levels, including performing arts and English literature and then went to University for a BA Hons degree in acting. It’s just always what I’ve wanted to do, and I’ve always found every opportunity I could do it from a very young age.
Do you have any upcoming plans you can tell us about?
I’ve got some exciting meetings coming up and delivered a few self tapes before Christmas, so who knows, it’s the life of an actor, you never know what’s around the corner, and that’s what is so incredibly exciting about it!
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