The new spice girls: Meet the five young actresses set to sizzle in the hottest new show on the box, Indian Summers
As period drama Indian Summers prepares to steam up our TV screens, Daphne Lockyer meets the young stars of the hottest new show on the box
From left: Aysha Kalawears DRESS, Fitriani; SHOES, Christian Louboutin. Jemima West wears DRESS, Shao Yen; SHOES, Christian Louboutin. Amber Rose Revah wears DRESS, Suzannah; EARRINGS, Kirsten Goss. Fiona Glascott wears DRESS, Suzannah; EARRINGS, Folli Follie; RING, Thomas Sabo. Olivia Grant wears DRESS, Fitriani; JEWELLERY, Percy Lau
Take five actresses – all of them beautiful, talented and roughly the same age – and cast them in a drama that is about to be all the Raj. Each of them will play a pivotal role in Indian Summers – a stunning new Channel 4 ten-parter that promises to transport viewers to the subcontinent in all its spice-fragranced, pink- and ochre-hued glory, during an era in which the Empire and modern India were involved in one final tug-of-war.
The year, then, is 1932 and the setting is Simla – a ‘little England’ at the foot of the Himalayas where, every summer, the British power-brokers are posted to govern. This summer, however, everything is set to change and while the privileged Brits dance and swig their gin cocktails at the Royal Club, the locals plan and plot for freedom. It’s a history lesson, of course, brought to life through epic human drama. There are illicit love affairs, sibling rivalries, marital rifts, life-and-death encounters and inspiring tales of those who’ll risk everything for love or freedom.
Julie Walters stars as doyenne Cynthia
There’s a vivid gallery of characters, too, on both sides of the ethnic divide. And the young cast is tempered by the addition of several veteran talents including Julie Walters as the manipulative widow Cynthia – doyenne of the Royal Club and meddler extraordinaire.
‘Working with her was a masterclass,’ says Olivia Grant, one of our five actresses. ‘Cynthia could just come across as a really horrible woman, but Julie portrayed her so playfully that you’re rooting for her, despite her terrible schemes. And she gets worse as the series goes on!’
Filmed for five months in Penang, Malaysia, written by Paul Rutman (whose previous credits include popular TV detective series Vera) and directed by Anand Tucker (who gave us Red Riding), it’s accessible period drama but with a cutting-edge Channel 4 feel.
Here the five actresses tell us why Indian Summers is about to spice up your winter viewing.
Olivia wears DRESS, Antonio Berardi
THE SOCIALITE: OLIVIA GRANT
British actress Olivia, 31, plays Madeleine Mathers, a sensual, free-spirited New York socialite who arrives in Simla with her ailing brother Eugene (Edward Hogg). More ‘modern’ than the English, stiff-upper-lip brigade, the young American pooh-poohs their social conventions and can’t see why she shouldn’t have exactly what she pleases – which in this case is Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the privileged, good-looking and coolly ambitious private secretary to the Viceroy of India. They embark on a steamy but rather loveless – on his part – affair. Don’t be fooled, however, by Madeleine’s liberated sexuality and self-assurance.
Madeleine is strong and sexually open. And I’ve played similar characters. Invariably someone – normally a man – will say, ‘God, she’s a hussy!’ But that’s not at all how I’d like the audience to see her. Deep down, she’s vulnerable.
She falls in love with Ralph. They click physically but, emotionally, something’s wrong. She can’t work out if it’s just his public-schoolboy coolness or if he’s genuinely indifferent. Either way, it hurts.
Henry was super-gentlemanly during our love scenes. Fortunately, they’re not too graphic, although we both spent quite a bit of time in modesty-preserving, flesh-coloured pants. I had the addition of matching nipple-stickers too, which is the opposite of sexy, isn’t it?
Olivia's character Madeleine sets her sights on Ralph (Henry Lloyd-Hughes)
I trained, until I was 14, with the Royal Ballet. And I loved the dancing scenes at the Royal Club. A coach trained us to do swing, the waltz and, in my case, a wild and abandoned Grizzly Bear routine that Madeleine does to sort of seduce Ralph in the second episode. I often play quite restrained British types, but Madeleine is, wonderfully, the opposite.
The cast became friends quickly. There was an instant rapport. Though we weren’t exactly The Wild Bunch. If you’re in Skins, I imagine you’re probably out partying till 7am. On a period drama, you’re all in bed by ten after a nice dinner.
The boys all put on weight. The girls lost it. I actually shed half a stone, despite the sensational food. Perhaps it was drinking more water and eating no dairy. Plus, the girls all did gym time together. I even bought a set of dumbbells and left them in Penang – just in case there’s another series!
I had a ‘scorpion encounter’. It was during the dessert course of a wonderful cast-and-crew dinner. I reached over for a piece of fruit and felt a massive sting in my hand. And there in the middle of the table was the offending scorpion! I was rushed to hospital through driving rain. I was in shock and doubly terrified when the nurse said, ‘Yes, can die!!’ I was kept in overnight in case of anaphylactic shock. But I was as right as rain by the morning.
My parents’ jobs might have influenced my career choice. Dad [Kenneth] is a judge – and there’s theatre in that – and Mum [Irene] was a costume designer for the BBC. I grew up with her filming and when we’d watch TV she’d say, ‘Oh, I’ve worked with him!’
I caught the acting bug at Oxford. I studied English at Brasenose College and narrowly missed a first probably because I spent so much time in student productions! But, on the plus side, I did find out there that acting is my thing and I haven’t looked back since.
I’m looking forward to seeing Indian Summers. Especially the scenes from the other side of the ethnic divide, which I wasn’t involved in. There are two worlds: one of wealth and privilege – all champagne and fabulous clothes – and the other centred on the colourful bazaar and the houses where the locals live. That’s a whole part of the story I haven’t seen yet. I can’t wait.
THE OUTSIDER: AMBER ROSE REVAH
Amber, 28, gets her stunning looks from a mixture of Polish and Kenyan-Asian genes, whereas her character Leena is Anglo-Indian: ‘I was sure that, being mixed race, I would really understand where Leena was coming from.’
Set against the social climate of 1930s India – in which those of mixed race were ostracised – Leena struggles for acceptance on both sides. But she’s also a strong, independent and quietly passionate woman who is committed to her work at the local mission school and is falling in love with her boss, the married Douglas (Craig Parkinson.)
Amber Rose plays Leena, who falls for her married boss Douglas (Craig Parkinson)
I rarely read for characters of mixed race. So few of them are written and it seemed pioneering that here was a drama telling a story that so many mixed-race people would find relevant. So I fought my way into the room for an audition.
I’m often too white or too brown for a character. But, this time, I think, my obvious passion for the role won through. They could see straight away how much I wanted it.
I’d love to do comedy, but I’m drawn to high drama. Strong females struggling with adversity are my stock in trade. I have a great role model. My parents are not together and my mum raised five of us on her own. She is an incredible, inspirational woman.
We all struggled with the heat – and I almost fainted twice during filming. Then again, I played Mary Magdalene a couple of years ago in the US series The Bible and we filmed that in temperatures of 52 degrees in Morocco’s Ouarzazate desert. Penang was cool in comparison.
Making so many close friendships during filming was a joy. We saw each other through the ups and downs including the homesickness that set in around the mid-point.
I’m in a relationship, with another actor. He’s also Indian, but don’t ask his name! It’s wonderful to be with someone who supports and understands your career, but when you’re both busy the separation can be hard. We’ve seen each other for just six days in the past six months!
I’m studying to be a personal trainer. I love exercise. I won’t take the credit for all of us working out in Penang, but it was certainly fun to go to the gym together. I also bought a fold-up bike and would cycle around the place every morning. I left it out there – so now they have to commission another series.
THE IDEALIST: AYSHA KALA
Anglo-Indian actress Aysha plays Sooni – an idealistic young woman who represents the future of modern India. At 24, Aysha is the youngest of our five actresses and used memories of ‘teenage angst’ to play a character who is impetuous and naive enough to risk all protesting against British rule. ‘Her journey’s all about learning to contain the political fire within and using it productively,’ she says.
Her scenes revolve around the colourful bazaar and the modest house where Sooni lives with her parents, younger sister and older brother Aafrin (Nikesh Patel) – a junior clerk in the Viceroy’s office who’s handsome, principled and the apple of his parents’ eye. ‘So much of what Sooni does is about either impressing or competing with him,’ says Aysha.
Sooni has so much passion for her country – and she doesn’t see why Brits should rule. But she is a hothead and risks the full weight of the law when she paints pro-independence graffiti on a monument. You both admire and worry about her.
Sooni and Aafrin’s relationship is so realistic. There is intense sibling rivalry going on. Aafrin is the golden boy – he’s a first-born male and that’s crucial culturally. Sooni minds the inequality and the fact that Aafrin works for the Brits. But she’d still lay down her life for him.
Aysha as Sooni, with her on-screen brother Aafrin (Nikesh Patel)
It’s the third time I’ve worked with Nikesh. The last time was at the Royal Court theatre, in The Djinns of Eidgah, and we auditioned for Indian Summers after the casting director saw us in it.
The cast has lots of gorgeous-looking men. But Nikesh remains my number one. He is just beautiful and the camera loves him.
The heat was stifling. You think, ‘Well, I’ve been to hot countries before…’ But that’s on holiday, when you can sit by the pool! There was a lot of dust to contend with, too. I’d go home every night covered in it!
It felt like India, even though we were in Penang. My father Salim is from Gujarat and I’ve visited several times, so I know how it’s meant to be. The scenes in the market felt especially authentic. There were hundreds of extras – the women in saris, the men in dhotis – plus chickens and goats running around and incense burning all the time too. It even smelt like India.
I loved wearing a sari. They are so beautiful and feminine and it helps so much to get into character. When the women are out they use the saris to cover their heads and at home, where it’s more relaxed, they wear it down. It’s a costume that takes you into a completely different cultural world.
My mum Coleen is from Newcastle, so I have two cultures in my upbringing. At home we celebrate the lot – from Christmas to the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha. When I was growing up I took it for granted. But now I’m older I think, ‘Wow, it’s incredible that I get to do a bit of everything.’
As a Muslim, my father might have opposed my career. But he has always been supportive. After I graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama I was cast as Sita in Shameless and I worried there would be sex scenes. I called him and said, ‘Brace yourself!’ He went quiet for a bit but then said, ‘Well, if it’s the job, you have to do it.’ Both my parents are proud of me; they watch everything I’m in. I still live with them at home in Essex.
My parents visited the set and so did my boyfriend. Alex is a trainee solicitor, so our worlds are different. But it was great for him to witness what I do at first hand.
Who knows if Indian Summers will make me rich or famous? But I didn’t become an actress for either. If I do ever make any serious money, though, I’ll be OK – my two brothers and my dad are accountants. Perfect!
THE MISFIT: FIONA GLASCOTT
Irish actress Fiona, 32, plays down both her beauty and her accent to perfectly capture the suburban Englishness of Sarah, the long-suffering wife of Douglas (who runs a missionary school). Not quite a member of the elite expat set that patronises the Royal Club, she’s something of an outsider, who is homesick and irritated by the heat and insects and the locals’ inability to make anything run smoothly. In the meantime, Douglas is emotionally absent and harbouring a secret passion for his assistant Leena. Sarah takes comfort in her young son. ‘But he can’t supply what’s missing in her marriage,’ the actress says.
Poor Sarah isn’t pleasant company. When she’s upset – which is often – it comes across as anger and brittleness. It turns people off – especially her husband. Unfortunately, these two can’t communicate. She doesn’t know how to talk to him and he won’t talk to her. Beneath Sarah’s uptight bitterness there’s a vulnerable woman.
Fiona portrays homesick Sarah
The ‘Simla set’ looks down on her. She doesn’t have the right pedigree and she’s a bit pious about things – the drinking and the sometimes risqué clothes. That element of disapproval was great fun for me to play. They don’t invite her to a lot of the dos at the Royal Club so she’s lonely and homesick. I can’t help feeling sorry for her.
The house they live in is so quaint. It has a little white picket fence and the kind of flowers you’d expect in an English country garden. Astonishingly, nothing needed to be done to it. It actually exists out there in Penang, exactly as it appears on screen.
I wouldn’t recommend the heat, humidity or the insects. The winged cockroaches were the worst. They are everywhere! I was lucky that most of my scenes were filmed up in Penang Hill where it was ten degrees cooler than the town. Fortunately, too, women were beyond the corsets stage in 1932, or we’d all have been fainting.
The upsides to the experiences were huge. You miss your loved ones, but you’re in a beautiful place with an extraordinary mix of cultures – Chinese, Malaysian and Indian. We lived in the same block of apartments and we’d go exploring, visit the movies and eat together every evening. We really did become like one big family.
The food in Penang is dangerously fabulous. Don’t go there if you’re on a diet! The best was from stalls on the side of the road or in the local market. They cook things up right in front of you and it is all delicious. I’m not surprised that Penang is a mecca for foodies from all over the world.
It’s not the first time I’ve played an angry wife. I am also a regular in the comedy series Episodes in which I play Diane – Matt LeBlanc’s long-suffering ‘ex’. The real Matt is a charming man – not the exaggerated version of himself he plays that no one in their right mind would marry.
I’m expecting much better from my marriage [to actor Tom Brooke]. I spent the months after filming Indian Summers planning a big white Christmas wedding. It was the perfect time of year, with everyone we love around, and a great way to end 2014.
You can’t help who you fall in love with. But I feel so lucky I met Tom. We want the best for each other and understand what the job involves in ways that, possibly, only another actor can. When I was in Penang, Tom was working too and couldn’t visit. Separation is an occupational hazard but it gives you some incredible stories to tell each other when you get home.
THE RISK-TAKER: JEMIMA WEST
Jemima, 27, plays Alice, who was born in India, then sent to boarding school in England. She married and had a child there but wasn’t happy, so she headed back to India with her baby. She’s staying with her brother, Ralph Whelan – and the two appear at times to be unnaturally close. ‘They adore each other, but Alice is going to discover that her brother has some deep flaws,’ says the actress. Alice is also going to shock Simla society, too, with a passionate, forbidden, mixed-race relationship.
Alice and Ralph are each other’s only family, so it’s an intense bond. The boundaries are pretty blurred and there’s an undeniable attraction that’s always on the brink. When I read the script I thought. ‘Have they? Will they!?’ It’s a fine line.
Jemima's character Alice connects with an Indian man she encounters
Alice is drawn to difficult relationships. And because mixed-race relationships are socially unacceptable, her instant connection with an Indian man she encounters by chance is impossibly hard. It’s also like a first love because the emotions are so raw and intense they overwhelm her. She almost forgets the risk she’s taking.
The love scenes weren’t too explicit. But, then, I was in a French drama about prostitutes called Maison Close – and nothing would seem challenging after that!
I wasn’t sure I wanted to work away from home for five months – until I read the script. Then, I thought, ‘I love this.’ I came to an audition in London from Paris, where I live, and thought, ‘If I don’t get this role, I’m really screwed.’ I wanted it so much. When I was finally cast I threw a big party.
I’m happy that filming brought so many new friends. You’re working in a different world, with snakes and bugs all over the place – including an acid beetle that can burn your skin! Often we were stuck inside because it was the middle of the monsoon, so we’d order a pizza, open a bottle of wine and play a game of Uno.
The English cast were banned from sunbathing. The parts required us to stay milk white. So no lying by the pool on days off!
My clothes in the show are amazing. Every stitch was created by costume designer Nic Ede and his team, from beautiful fabrics sourced in Malaysia.
I have a dual cultural identity. I was born in France, lived in the UK until I was five and then my mum and dad – a teacher and an interpreter – took me and my three younger siblings back to Paris. I’m bilingual, of course. I did a history of art degree at the Sorbonne, but at home we speak English.
My background has given me adaptability…and wanderlust. I visited Japan and Cambodia during breaks in filming. Next up is India!
Indian Summers will air on Channel 4 in February
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2931446/The-new-spice-girls-Meet-five-young-actresses-set-sizzle-hottest-new-box-Indian-Summers.html#ixzz43U3DVyTa
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