Actress Laura Carmichael, who shot to fame playing Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey, talks about her new role in psychological thriller The Secrets She Keeps.....
Laura Carmichael is known to Downton Abbey fans as Lady Edith Crawley, but for new BBC1 thriller, The Secret She Keeps, she swaps aristocratic glamour for greasy hair and jeans to play heavily pregnant stalker, Agatha Fyfle who is hiding a very troubled past and an explosive secret.
Right from the start there’s something very Single White Female about Agatha, who lives in a dingy flat and works stacking shelves in a Sydney suburb. Desperate for a family of her own and following the breakdown of her marriage, she develops an unhealthy fascination with the glamorous life of pregnant Instagram influencer Meghan Shaughnessy (The Crown’s Jessica de Gouw).
When Agatha engineers a ‘chance’ meeting with Meghan the pair bond over their pregnancies but the six-part drama soon takes a very menacing turn as both women’s lives come crashing down thanks to one horrifying act…
Here we catch up with Laura, 33, to hear more about the tense psychological thriller, how she found filming in Sydney and why playing Agatha was such a liberating experience…
Writer Hannah Davies talks to Laura Carmichael about The Secrets She Keeps
Agatha couldn’t be more different from Lady Edith. What attracted you to the role?
Laura Carmichael: “Funnily enough, I’d just been in LA and I was chatting to people over there and they said, ‘What do you want to do next?’ And I was like, ‘I think I’d like to play a psychopath, I think that would be really fun!’ And then I swear by the time I got off the plane in London the script for this had arrived! In lots of ways Agatha is this dark character, but over the course of the series you learn more about trauma she’s had at various points in her childhood and what leads her to do what she does.”
What sparks Agatha’s obsession with Meghan?
LC: “Meghan has everything Agatha doesn’t and she makes life look so easy. She’s that kind of person who just drops the kids off at school looking like a model, so you can see where the envy comes in! We see Agatha sneaking into the bottom of Meghan’s garden without being noticed, but there’s a kind of hero worship there, too. Of course, Meghan’s life isn’t perfect, either, though – it all runs so deep.”
Agatha ends up doing some really terrible things, but do we feel sympathy for her, too?
LC: “Her desire to be a mother flips into something quite dangerous, but I think our sympathies move back and forth between the two women and, with Agatha, there are points where you want her to be happy and even moments where you will her to win. For me, playing her, I just had to go into tunnel vision of being in her shoes and trying to make sense of everything she does. You sort of become that character’s defence lawyer. There’s definitely a real sadness that leads to her darkness.”
Agatha compares herself to Meghan’s seemingly perfect life. Is that something you can relate to?
LC: “It’s that Instagram world that one hundred per cent I can relate to. I’m terrible at Instagram. I really only post things when I’m thanking make up artists, so I always imagine people must think I’m completely vain because it’s only press shots! Some people can do it really well and are very authentically themselves, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I just worry about the wording and the caption, I’m that sort of person – I just don’t want to offend anybody or get anything wrong!”
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Was it liberating taking on something so different from Downton?
LC: “Yes it did feel liberating and it’s such a world away from Downton. I was filming in Australia for about four months and it was amazing to go somewhere where you don’t really know anyone and to do something so challenging and different. It felt like a real adventure. I also loved the feeling of being in the make up chair for just ten minutes, greasing down my hair, putting on under eye make up, throwing on jeans and being ready to go. That was liberating for me – acting in jeans, it was a dream come true! Although in some ways Downton feels like a long time ago now, all the cast are still such good friends and we’re all still willing each other on!”
Tell us about your lockdown and what you’ve got coming up next…
LC: “I’ve been trying to garden! We [Laura and her boyfriend, Downton’s Michael C. Fox] have been with family since before lockdown, so a long time and I’ve just been trying to keep myself sane! I had a real urge to plant things so I’m growing tomatoes and a herb garden and I’m just frantically googling Monty Don! In terms of what’s next I really don’t know. I feel like it’s a very slow edging out of lockdown for our industry. But it was such a joy to do something so different for this series that I’m already fantasising about doing something different again!”
The Secrets She Keeps starts on BBC1 on Monday July 6, 9pm
Pictures: (C) Lingo Pictures – Photographer: John Platt