The actress, who came to fame as ill-fated but rather refined Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey, plays fiery Mary Yellan in the three-part drama, which premieres on Monday, April 21 and is shown over three consecutive nights.
The 1820s-set series, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, follows orphaned Mary as she comes to live at the rundown inn on the wild, windswept Cornish moors and soon becomes embroiled in the dark world of smuggling.
The drama was partly filmed in Cornwall and Jessica was keen from the outset to snub any beauty products for the role.
“Before we started filming, our Head of Hair and Makeup asked me how I felt about going minimal and I said that I hoped that I would need nothing at all because it really fits the story and it would be ridiculous if everyone looked perfect and was wearing makeup,” Jessica told TV & Satellite Week.
“If it’s cold and windy and rainy normally, there would be someone coming up and trying to make it look like you are not cold, but if we had a bright red nose and blotched cheeks and blue lips, that was fantastic because it looked how it would then. It just really adds to it if you are grubby.”
There was one incident however, during a break in filming, which made her have second thoughts about her appearance.
“I went to the chemist and they said, ‘Are you sure you pay for your prescriptions?’ I thought, ‘This is really weird, I am willing to pay.’ But then later I looked in the mirror and saw I had mud all over my face and a cut lip and I thought, ‘Yes, I understand why they asked’!” laughs Jessica, who also found that the abundance of mud and rain during filming enhanced her performance.
“It was incredibly muddy outside the inn and it really helped because it changes how you walk and hold yourself,” she says. “It is just a massive effort to walk in those long dresses that drink up the mud and rain. Whoever invented those dresses, I don’t know what they were thinking.”