For her first major screen role, Ellie Henry played Freya Calder across numerous episodes of Hollyoaks last year, which saw her work on the minibus storyline alongside other regular characters including Mason Chen-Williams, played by Frank Kauer. Ellie has also been involved with a number of other acting projects over her career so far, such as EastEnders as a supporting artist, theatre shows, and commercials for Aktion Mensch and Frontline (which was her first job in the industry). Talking with us, Ellie answered our questions about having Hollyoaks as her first major screen project, playing Freya Calder in the soap and her work as an actor so far.
Can you tell us about your character Freya Calder in Hollyoaks and how did it feel booking the role?
Hollyoaks has been my biggest job to date, so booking that felt incredible. I had only entered the industry a year prior to being cast so it felt lovely to be entrusted with telling Freya’s story. Freya is someone who enjoys life and finds meaning in the bonds that she builds. To now find herself as a wheelchair user, alongside having her trust broken by her ‘favourite’ teacher; there’s a lot she has to come to terms with.
How was it working on the minibus storyline and filming your scenes?
Filming the minibus story was the most fun I’ve had at work. I never imagined coming into a soap and being thrown straight into a stunt so that was exciting.
Additionally, I was supported by the psychologist as Freya’s story does have some crossover into my own, especially being in the hospital, so I felt very safe and looked after by everyone on set while we filmed those scenes.
Do you have a favourite aspect of being part of the Hollyoaks cast?
My favourite thing about being part of Hollyoaks is the other cast members. Being surrounded every day by like-minded creatives is so enriching for the soul.
What have you enjoyed most about playing Freya?
I think I may be the only person to say this, but I’ve enjoyed going back to school! I haven’t worn school uniform in years so it was funny to put that on for the first time. Both Frank Kauer (who plays Mason) and I found ourselves in a similar position in that we are adults playing school children and I think we both just have fun on set with that. I have loved going through school from someone else’s perspective.
How much did you know about Hollyoaks before auditioning and what is it like on set?
As a child, Hollyoaks came on after The Simpsons on E4 so I’ve always been aware of it, but I’d never expected to be on it! On set it’s a fun and creative environment. If you put lots of creative personalities in one place, there’s always an idea to explore or a point of view you haven’t heard before. The days can be long and there is a lot of work to be done, but we always find time to have some fun on set.
Having previously worked on EastEnders, can you tell us what this was like to do?
Working as a supporting artist on EastEnders really helped set me up for my role on Hollyoaks, as I trained mainly in theatre. I found it a great help to be in and around the actors shooting and just became comfortable being around the hustle and bustle from a distance; which transferred perfectly to a main part in Hollyoaks.
What are commercials like to film and can you tell us about some you’ve appeared in?
Commercials are a lot of work in a short space of time! I filmed a Christmas advert for Aktion Mensch in Latvia and we worked 14 hours most days. You tend to bond with the people you film with and then meet up at other stages of your careers on other projects, which is lovely.
My first job was an advert for Frontline, which is a pet product company and I got to work with a dog which, as a dog person, couldn’t have worked out better for me! The dog was helping me unload a washing machine and it was so fascinating to see this dog’s level of training and what she was able to do!
We understand you have stage experience, what do you enjoy most about working in theatre?
There is no buzz quite like live theatre. Being able to see the audience and follow the story of your character through in chronological order is a lovely feeling as an actor and is the complete opposite to TV. You really get into that journey and I find that it flows naturally within your body once you become connected to the text. I think I will always love theatre and really want to explore that more in the future!
Where does your love of performing come from and how did you start in the industry?
As a child, my parents couldn’t watch Saturday night TV shows because I’d be singing along or dancing in front of the screen, so when I was old enough, they put me in Theatre Train, which is a class on a Saturday and I did that every weekend for just under ten years! I think I was always going to do something creative but I still had a lot of academic interests. If I had followed them, I would’ve most likely gone into a medical field. It wasn’t until I found myself in hospital being told that I may never walk again, that I decided I’d seen enough of hospitals and was going to follow performing as a career.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Away from acting, I have just become a dog mum and he is the light of my life. It’s amazing the bond I have formed with this little scruffy, golden thing who eats my trainers, but I wouldn’t be without him now! So most of my time is spent going on adventures with him to the beach or the park, we are always outdoors.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I’m a comfort show kind of person and I always go back to Stath Lets Flats on Channel 4, which I’ve probably re-watched ten times.
I have recently finished watching The Last of Us, which is just an incredible piece of telly. The performances from both Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie, and Pedro Pascal, who plays Joel, are incredible and their chemistry really reads through the screen.
My favourite musical is Billy Elliot as my family are from the North East and my Nana introduced me to it growing up; so I have a very sentimental connection to the story. Similarly, I love Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and I think it’s also because of the Northern connection and it’s such an empowering story.
Have you been given any advice over your career so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a young actor starting out?
A piece of advice I would give is, ‘everyone is on their own journey’! It’s easy to see people who are similar to you or your age doing the jobs you would bite someone’s hand off for, but I am a believer in the fact that what’s meant for you won’t go by you and that your time will come!
Advice that multiple people have given me is, “you don’t have to do everything right now”. I’m someone who wants to be everywhere and do everything right now and I pretty much always have been, but people have helped me recognise that it’s an unsustainable way to live your life and that it sets you up to burn yourself out.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about and what are you hoping 2023 brings for you?
In 2023, I am looking to open my mind and try more creative things, whether that’s art sessions, or a more fashion-focused project, I want to fill up my creative bucket!
In terms of upcoming projects, I am currently having a great time filming something which will have me back on screen in the next few months…
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