Imogen Baker plays Leila in Phoenix Rise, marking her first lead regular character on screen, working alongside a cast including Orla McDonagh as Rihanna. Series 2 of Phoenix Rise has recently been released on BBC Three and iPlayer, and Imogen attended the premiere event in March and is returning to the show for the announced Series 3. Phoenix Rise is based in a school with Imogen’s character Leila being one of six students (played by Lauren Corah, Alex Draper, Jayden Hanley, Krish Bassi and Tara Webb) returning to mainstream education and calling themselves the boiler room six. We spoke to Imogen about being in the cast of Phoenix Rise, having Leila as her first lead regular screen character and attending the show’s premiere earlier this year.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role of Leila in Phoenix Rise for your first lead regular character on screen, and was there anything that drew you to the show?
When I found out I got the role of Leila in Phoenix Rise, I was so excited! When my mum told me, I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock for the first few hours; it was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe I was going to get to play a role as good as Leila for my first TV role.
I was drawn to the show because of the storyline and the opportunity to bring Leila’s character to life. I felt like I had a lot in common with Leila when we were given the script. I loved the relationship between Leila and Bee as I have a big sister of a similar age, and I thought I could do a good job of bringing that relationship to life! And that, along with Leila’s relationship with her best friend Rhi, were the main things that drew me in and made me really want the part.
How would you describe Leila and what is she like to play?
Leila is funny, smart, sassy, bold, loyal, kind, confident, and sometimes a little bit rude, but she is an amazing friend and sister.
She’s a lot of fun to play. She has a strong personality and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which makes her exciting to play. She has lots of funny scenes, which I love!
Can you tell us about Phoenix Rise and what was it like seeing the response to the release of Series 1 on BBC Three and iPlayer?
Phoenix Rise is a fantastic show, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Seeing the response to the release of Series 1 on BBC Three and iPlayer made me feel proud of myself and everyone who worked on the show. It’s incredible to see people enjoying something you’ve worked so hard on, and I’m really happy with how the show has been received, especially by people my age.
How did you feel watching Phoenix Rise for the first time and attending the show’s premiere event in March?
Watching Phoenix Rise for the first time was an unforgettable experience. I felt a mix of emotions – proud, excited, and slightly nervous!
Attending the premiere event in March was a highlight for me. I loved doing the interviews and all of the excitement around the show. I had missed the cast and crew loads, as I had become used to seeing them every day. It was so much fun to get dressed up and see the cast and crew again and celebrate all of our hard work together!
What is it like on set of the series and how did you prepare for filming?
When I first stepped onto the set, I couldn’t believe how many people there were. I didn’t realise just how many people it takes to put a show together! But the atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was so excited about putting the show together. Because we had lots of team events to get to know each other before filming started, like bowling and read-throughs together, we already had a close bond and felt like we had known each other forever!
Orla (McDonagh), who plays Rihanna, and I are real-life besties, and the other cast members of the boiler room six are like my big brothers and sisters, so we all help and support each other a lot!
To prepare for filming, I spent a lot of time rehearsing my lines and getting into character; I would ask my mum and dad to go through the script with me and give me their feedback, which helped a lot. I also like to spend time with the other cast members to build chemistry and develop our characters’ relationships.
Who do you think will enjoy watching Phoenix Rise and why would you recommend watching it?
I think anyone who enjoys a good drama (and music, the music is sooo good) with relatable characters will enjoy watching Phoenix Rise. The series has some funny plot twists too!
I recommend watching it because it’s a great show with a very talented cast and crew. It’s a fun show to watch, but it also tells lots of important stories and brings awareness to real-life situations that young people are up against in school and life in general. For example, the fact that it shows the good and the bad impact teachers have on teens in school is brilliant, and the relationships between the children and the teachers in the school are realistic. I think so many teenagers and adults will find this refreshing and relatable.
How has it been returning to film Series 3, and what do you enjoy most about working with the rest of the cast?
Oh my gosh, returning to film Series 3 has been so much fun. We didn’t know if it was going to happen, and it felt like forever until we found out, so finding out it was actually going ahead and we were going to get to be together and do things all over again was just so amazing! It’s great to be back on set with the rest of the cast; as soon as we all saw each other, it was like we had never been apart.
The thing I enjoy about working with the cast is how close we all are and how much fun we all have together, both on set and off set. There have been so many scenes where we are filming, and I have laughed so much I can’t breathe!
I also love how supportive everyone is, and they have helped me to develop my skills as an actor and go for things! In Series 1, I had to do a solo singing scene, and Orla, who plays Rihanna, had my back the entire time. You couldn’t see it on the final edit, but she was actually stood in front of me, making me laugh and doing it with me, so I didn’t feel alone, and the rest of the cast and crew gave me a HUGE round of applause for this scene at the premiere, which meant the world to me!
What do you feel you’ve learnt from your time playing Leila so far?
From playing Leila, I’ve learned that it’s important to be confident and to love yourself but to consider others and not be rude. Sometimes, Leila is a little wrapped up in herself, and she can be rude to others. But Leila’s character is also funny, loyal and protective of her friends and family, which reminds me how important it is to treat others with kindness and to think about what other people are going through, not just yourself.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I have always wanted to be an actor. I got into it through my big sister who used to make me act or dance in little videos she would make. I also went to a dance school called Dance Affinity and did contemporary slow and freestyle dancing, which helped me to realise my love for acting as you had to put on an act to get the judges’ attention, which used to be my favourite part of the routines, I also used to love watching shows like The Dumping Ground and dream of being in them.
Can you tell us about your training with The Television Workshop?
My training with The Television Workshop has been fantastic. I’ve been attending since I was seven years old and have learned so much about acting and how to perform well in auditions. I love that The Television Workshop focuses on acting for the screen, as this is what I love!
I have had the opportunity to make friends and be trained by some lovely, talented people at The Television Workshop. The workshop has taught me to have the confidence to always be myself and not compare myself to others. It has helped me build confidence and develop my acting skills; I’m so grateful and proud to be part of The TV Workshop.
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
I love Ginny & Georgia, and my favourite film is Titanic.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
When I’m not acting, I love to go shopping and spend time with my friends, family and my little dog, Weasley. He’s an imperial Shih Tzu and the cutest dog in the world, haha.
Do you have a favourite aspect of working as an actor?
My favourite aspect of working as an actor is working with so many different people. I love meeting new people. When filming Phoenix Rise, I got the chance to spend quite a bit of time with Fleur East, which was amazing! She is a great role model for girls my age and talented at everything she does. She can sing, dance, and act, and she is a lovely, kind person. She is just goals, haha.
Another thing I love about working as an actor is bringing words on a script to life. It’s the best job in the world, and I hope to do it forever! I’m so grateful for the acting opportunities I’ve had so far. I am loving every minute of playing Leila on Phoenix Rise!
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