Tara Webb is making her lead regular character debut playing Rani in the first series of Phoenix Rise, which was released earlier this year on BBC Three and iPlayer, where the drama series can still be watched. In March, Tara reunited with some of the cast for Phoenix Rise’s premiere event, and having filmed Series 2 alongside her fellow leads Lauren Corah as Summer, Alex Draper as Billy, Jayden Hanley as Darcy, Krish Bassi as Khaled and Imogen Baker as Leila, the show returns next month, with Series 3 and 4 also announced for a future release. We chatted to Tara about making her lead regular character debut in Phoenix Rise, playing Rani in the series and the upcoming release of Series 2.
You can currently be seen as Rani in Phoenix Rise for BBC, how are you finding the experience having the character as your first lead regular role on screen?
It’s been great! I feel like I’m getting a bit more into the swing of things now we’re heading into our third season, but at the start, every single thing was really new and exciting. There were a lot of things I hadn’t even thought about, like wearing a mic or putting carpet on the floor so our squeaky shoes didn’t ruin the scene! But I’m really loving it and very excited to see where the next couple of seasons take us.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and how was it meeting the rest of the cast for the first time?
I was ecstatic! It felt like a big relief, like I’d finally got my foot in the door because this had been something I’d wanted and been trying to do for sooo long. I remember getting the email right as me and my best friend had finished school for the day and I waited until we’d left to make her read it to me. When we found out I’d got Rani we both just started screaming, we must have looked ridiculous!
I honestly don’t really remember meeting everyone for the first time! I’m lucky because we all get along so well that it just feels like we’ve known each other forever. What I do remember is just being glad that everyone was so nice and welcoming – for most of us, this was our first big project, so it was really lovely to have so many friends around me who were all in the same boat, there was always someone to talk to.
Can you tell us about Phoenix Rise and your character Rani?
Phoenix Rise is a coming of age drama series set in the Midlands about a group of teenagers joining mainstream school after being excluded. They all face their own problems but learn that the only way to get through them is by sticking together.
My character Rani has had a bit of a hard start in life, partly because of the discrimination she faces as her parents are both refugees from Iraq. She’s just trying to fit in and keep her head down as much as possible, which is really tricky because there are things like singing which she really enjoys but she’s so afraid of what other people might think that she’s too afraid to try. What’s really lovely is how much confidence she gains throughout the series through having such supportive friends and being a part of the boiler room gang, and learning that sometimes it’s okay to be different. She’s got a great arc and through the series we get to see her come into her own a bit more, and really stand up for what she believes in, which I love.
How did you prepare for taking on the role and how was it reading the scripts?
I did quite a lot of research in the audition stage – I wanted to give myself the best chance and make sure I was doing Rani justice because while there are so many parts of her that I do identify with (I always tell people she’s like the mirror image of me at 14), but she’s been through some things that I didn’t have experience of, like coming from a PRU and having two refugee parents.
I loved reading the scripts! We filmed Seasons 1 and 2 in three blocks, so we would get scripts for the first few episodes and then have a big chunk of time while we were filming those when we had no idea what was coming next. We would all get sooo excited about storylines for the next block, everyone was trying to squeeze information out of Matt Evans and Perrie Balthazar (the writers) and so many rumours would go flying around! I remember before we got our block 3 scripts, me and my friend Eloise Pennycott (who plays Daisy) spent a full evening writing down everything we had collectively been told in a Word document and using that to predict storylines for block 3 – we were actually right about a lot of them!
Do you have a favourite aspect of filming Phoenix Rise and being a lead in a new BBC drama?
I don’t think I really have a favourite aspect, because everything is pretty fun! It’s been great to be in a professional production and see how everything works – even just talking to some of the adults who have worked on lots of different jobs is really interesting. And, of course, it’s great to be doing it with a bunch of friends!
How was it attending the show’s premiere event in March?
It was really fun! I’d never been to anything like that so I didn’t know quite what to expect but it all felt very glamorous. Doing interviews on my first red carpet was quite cool! It was so nice to see everyone again and catch up as it had been a good few months since we wrapped and I hadn’t seen everyone altogether since then.
The best part was being able to take my sister with me, I got to introduce her to everyone and we went dress shopping together, it was great!
How did you feel seeing the series be released on BBC Three and iPlayer earlier this year and why would you recommend watching it?
It was such a weird experience seeing the series released for the first time because we’d been working on it for so long that when we finally got to watch it it felt like watching a home movie or getting deja vu. It was good fun watching it with my sister and every time something happened to one of the characters we’d start comparing it to experiences we’d each had at school. I’d say that’s probably the series’ biggest draw; most of the characters’ experiences are universal, and because it’s such a big ensemble cast, there’s bound to be at least one character you see yourself in! So I’d say that although it’s obviously great for kids, it’s also a really nostalgic heartwarming show for the whole family to watch together.
What are you looking forward to for the release of the upcoming Series 2 and for filming the recently announced third and fourth series?
I’m just really looking forward to everyone getting to see what happens to all the characters and how they develop. There’s some great storylines in Season 2, and everyone does such a great job of playing them out, it’s definitely my favourite season so far!
As for the next couple of seasons, we’re just about to start shooting Season 3 and I don’t think I’m allowed to say too much but I do think it’s going to be really interesting to see everything these characters go through as they grow up. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens to Rani in year 10!
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
I’ve always loved acting, even before I knew it was a profession – I was one of those kids who just constantly played make believe games and walked around singing to myself and getting told off for being too noisy! I asked my mum to go to a Saturday acting club when I was about four, which I really loved and it became a bit of a second home where everyone knew me and I could just be myself. I did lots of performances with them, which I really enjoyed, and through knowing people there I also got roles in a couple of small short films, which was really fun! I did musical theatre when I was a bit older and got the opportunity to audition for professional productions when they wanted local kids, and loved taking part in those too – especially getting to miss school!
I also went to Identity School of Acting for a couple of years when I was 16, which was an invaluable experience – it was just constant learning and getting to meet loads of really talented, interesting people from all over the world, I loved it. I also think the experience of having to get a job to pay for the training myself was really useful in solidifying how much I wanted to do this – I think people started taking me a bit more seriously.
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
I love pretty much everything! But my favourite films are almost always independent – they’re normally a bit more truthful and experimental, which I love. Most recently, I watched some of the films from the Zafar Arab Film Festival – I loved one called The Foragers, but my favourite was The Blue Kaftan – the acting in that was incredible. One of my favourite films ever is Phoebe in Wonderland with young Elle Fanning as the lead. I watched that for the first time when I was 10 and it was one of the first films where the acting and just the whole production consciously impressed and interested me. That really changed how I thought about film.
Having said all that, I do love a good network television show! Me and my sister have just finished the second season of From, which we are both OBSESSED with. I also love shows like Killing Eve and Maid, and if I’m feeling ill or a bit rubbish, it’s non-stop 80s/90s movies like Labyrinth or Spy Kids for me!
How do you like to spend your free time?
I’m always trying out some hobby or other! At the moment, I’m trying to re-learn how to play the piano and I’m getting a bit more into reading. But I always love going to the cinema, spending time with my sister and meeting up with friends, and walking my very lovely dog, Jake.
Have you been given any advice over your time as an actor so far that has stuck with you?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been given lots of advice by lots of different people. Actually, the other day, I was chatting to my best friend Mia (Tharia), who plays Polly in the show, and she said something really helpful which is that ‘your job doesn’t define you’. I think it can be very easy in this industry if you’re not booking loads of jobs, or feeling like every single person likes you, or like you’re not doing your very, very best every single day (no one does!), to feel like you’re doing something wrong. Which I think actually comes from a good place of loving the job so much that you don’t want to mess anything up. But it’s really important to remember that you’ve got a life and friends and a value outside of what you do, which is something I’ve heard before but it hits differently when it’s your friend telling you.
Is there anything you enjoy most about working as an actor?
I love getting good direction! I always think about a scene quite a lot beforehand, but the best bit is when a director gets you to try out something you hadn’t even considered and you just have to chuck it all out the window! I always feel most focused and switched on when I’m in a scene, which is a feeling I’ve never had as much from anything else.
What are you hoping the rest of the year brings for your career?
If I could choose, I’d love to be in an independent film or try playing someone a bit different, or both. But honestly, I’d be happy with anything! I just hope I can keep learning and getting opportunities to do what I love.
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