Actress Annes Elwy was the talk of Christmas TV after appearing in the BBC's raved-about, three-part adaptation of Little Women. Here Annes talks to Mandy News about her approach to auditioning, how actors can best deal with being out of work and what it was like shooting Little Women.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into acting.
I grew up in Penarth, South Wales. I guess I always did act, just in the family, putting on a show for Mum and Dad. That type of thing. When I was in high school, I was really shy for a while. I dreaded drama lessons. At GCSE, our drama teacher changed and we got the best teacher in the world. That changed everything. From that point onwards, I only really wanted to act. During A levels, I sort of wanted to do chemistry but then it clashed with drama, so I thought “Well, I’ll just be an actress.” So that’s what I did!
Are you still based in Wales at the moment?
I am at the moment. I split my time between London and home. London is where all of the auditions are.
How did the Little Women project come about? How did you find out about the role and get involved with it?
It came through from my agent, initially. It was a self-tape and I had a few to do that day, and even from that point, the Little Women audition was so much easier than the others. The role just fit in much easier within me. So we did the self-tape and it was fine. It was very easy, straightforward.
About three weeks later was the recall. I drank too much coffee and couldn’t really get my words out, but I had done my prep. I had a really, really good time, just doing all the scenes and discussing the character with the director and the producer. We just had a really fun audition. But then it was a month of waiting until the call came through to offer me the part. I was waitressing at the time. The call came through when I was at work. Everything stopped and we had champagne and celebrated. It was very nice.
Would you be able to talk us through a day of rehearsals or a day of prep for Little Women?
We were lucky enough to have two weeks rehearsal before we started filming. The director demanded that we had that time because we were a family so we had to know each other pretty well by the time we started filming. We’d do a mixture of things. We shared a lot of our own lives. We were constantly saying things to each other that we’d never told anybody else, so we got to the point where they know me much better than anybody I’ve ever met before.
We also did a lot of improvisations. We’d improvised a dance together to this song that Ness was hoping would be the opening song to the programme. We’d put that song on and then we’d start dancing and follow each other, and we’d each take turns to lead the dance. We’d do it in costume or without. It gave us that element of each others’ characters and personalities within us and helped us apply all those different traits to ourselves so that we became a rounder, fuller family.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your character in Little Women?
I play Beth, who is the shyer, quieter, more reserved sister. In general, the family is very ambitious and very outgoing and have all these aspirations; careers and moving away and education. But Beth, she just wants to stay home with her family and keep everybody close together. I think Beth is connected to the world on a very emotional level. I think she feels everyone’s pain. She carries it within her. I think, because of that, she can sometimes find the world quite an overwhelming, daunting place.
I think it’s from that that her connection to music comes. Music can give her the chance to express herself and release these emotions when she’s not so good at finding the words to do that. So we follow her journey and she tries to fight her battles, she tries to overcome her shyness and become a stronger version of herself. She wants the best for everybody, really.
You were saying that, during rehearsals, you became a real family. Was that something that really helped you once you were on set and filming?
Definitely. After we were finished filming it was like, "I wish we could do this for longer." We know each other so well. It just makes the whole thing easy, because you have those private jokes and glances between each other. It’s nice to film the scenes with things like that because there’s so much of that within a family.
So we bonded very well and we were all in a hotel together. We spent every single second of three months together in each other’s pockets.
What was a day’s shoot like for you guys? Could you take us through a typical day on set?
It’s hard to remember properly but I think usually we’d be picked up as the sun was rising. We’d wake up in the hotel and we’d see the sun rise. I guess that would have been around 6 o’clock, maybe earlier. Then you go to set and you have breakfast. It takes a long time to get your hair done and put all the costume layers on.
Then we film, and have lunch, and film again. And then go home, usually I’ll guess around 7 or 8pm. And then we’d all go for dinner together and go to someone’s room and write songs or paint or talk until we were ready to call it a day. Then start again the next day.
How long did you actually shoot for?
I guess the whole time was maybe three months, but it might have been slightly shorter. I can’t quite remember. In my head, I’ve made it three months.
You were talking about making music in the hotel room, is that something that you do?
We all brought very different things to the group, and that came from Jonah Hauer-King, who plays Laurie. He writes a lot of music, and he brought his guitar. Maya, who plays Jo, she writes music. We all sing, so as a group together, eventually we started playing around and seeing what came of things. It was a special time.
What’s next for you? What can we look forward to seeing you this year?
I can’t be sure. I did a film earlier in the year called Apostle for Netflix. I’m assuming that’s out this year but I’m not 100% sure. Now I’m back to auditioning and seeing what comes next.
Do you have any tips or advice for up-and-coming actors wanting to get into the business?
If an audition comes around, then it’s just really important to do as much preparation as you can, because then you can be relaxed and ready to answer questions and play with themes. I think that’s really important.
Between auditions, it’s probably even more important that you do things that keep you fulfilled and stimulated, whether that’s getting a job that you really enjoy between jobs, or keeping yourself creative. Just keep busy and happy between the jobs.
You were talking about preparation for auditions— is that something that you’ve improved yourself from trial and error?
Definitely. I’ve always been someone that wanted to prepare but sometimes you don’t know how to. When I first graduated from drama school, the way I needed to prepare was just to learn my lines. I’ve always gone in having been off book, and that sort of thing. It’s only now that I’m working out how I need to prepare.
That’s thinking more about the actual character’s life and things like that, so that I can discuss what this person might have gone through or what this person might be like, not just know my lines.
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