Joanne Froggatt may have made her name as Downton Abbey’s lady’s maid Anna, but she believes that every role should be different from the last. We caught up to chat about her latest thrilling television work and her plans for the future
Joanne Froggatt believes that television is in the middle of a renaissance. “It is in such a strong place; all the A-list movie stars are choosing to do it. The production values are so high that a six-episode series is kind of like doing a six-hour movie in terms of quality,” she explains. Which is one of the reasons she didn’t hesitate when she was approached about taking the lead role in Liar, the new thriller by the Williams brothers. That and the fact that the writers’ reputations go before them: “They are at a real high point in their careers, with the success of The Missing, it was just one of those things that I couldn’t say no to.”
In fact, Jack and Harry Williams currently have two series going head to head, with Liar showing in the Monday 9pm ITV slot, and Rellik at the same time on BBC One. Though the two six-parters are very different, and worlds apart in terms of tone and structure, the pair will no doubt be thankful that the “renaissance” includes a viewing public who increasingly watch things on demand, so that if they miss one, they won’t miss out.
Liar, which the Williams have described as most different from anything they have written before, stars Joanne as Laura, a teacher who is in the middle of a break-up as the series begins. “She is a strong and very complex character, which made it really interesting to play,” she explains. Ioan Gruffudd takes the male lead in the story which explores the devastating cost of deceit, after a seemingly innocent first date unravels into a complex web of lies. “The script was such a page turner, and I really didn’t know what to think by the end of the first episode. I met with the casting director and I begged him to tell me what happened,” Joanne says. “Anything that gets that reaction from me, I presume is going to get a similar response from an audience. I am really looking forward to seeing how people do react. It should be really good, I’m excited.”
Joanne can’t reveal much about the story, but explaining more about what attracted her to the role, says, “James Strong was our set up director and he had a very strong vision of how he wanted it to look, and he had this really cool concept for the lighting, and making the shots seem as though the audience were just peeking in, so that it has a really voyeuristic feel. It just feels really elevated from a normal TV drama.”
It is a very different role for Joanne, who made her name as lady’s maid Anna in Downton Abbey. “I tend to be drawn to things that are different from what I have just done. Or something that I feel I have not done before – I like the challenge of that,” she explains. “I had never done a thriller before, so that was something that interested me. And I hadn’t even realised that until I read the script.”
Downton was definitely a game changer for Joanne. She tells me that she originally accepted the role of Anna because she was keen to do more period drama. “Little did we know that it would become what it became. I am really pleased that it will always be a calling card for me, and I am very happy to have been a part of it,” she smiles. All the more so because of the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe she was awarded for series 4, which included a rape storyline. She says: “It was such an honour, and a huge, huge deal to have been nominated. I was so thrilled and over the moon, that I felt like I had already won anyway. So then to actually receive the award… It was one of those times you dream of when you first think that you want to be an actor I guess, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
As far as acting aspirations go, Joanne tells me she knew from an early age that the industry was for her. “It’s all I can remember wanting to do since I was tiny. I used to watch a lot of movies as a kid with my brother, and I just wanted to be a part of all the adventures we were watching on the telly.” She joined a drama group at the age of 11, then went to stage school at 13, and started working at around 16. “I was very lucky that I fell into it at such a young age, and was able to build a career around it and have always been able to support myself financially,” she says. But she also recognises how lucky she was to have a family who supported her ambitions, despite not working in the industry themselves. “My parents have been enormously supportive. They have done everything within their power to let me have the opportunities that I have had.”
In fact, Joanne credits her dad with giving her the best piece of advice she has ever been offered. “It’s a bit of a funny expression, it’s very Northern, it’s ‘you’ve got to chuck a brick and run after it’. Which basically means that you’ve got to have a go at things in life. If you fail, that’s all right, but if you don’t try, you will never know.” It has stuck with Joanne through the years, and even inspired her latest project. “I have just started up a production company and called it Run After It,” she grins.
It is early days for Run After It, but Joanne is excited about the opportunities the venture presents. “The dream is to be making my own stuff, and this gives me an avenue to be able to create roles, rather than just sitting waiting for the phone to ring,” she explains. “It just felt like a very natural progression, and it means that I always have a project on now. In particular, I have two projects in the very early stages of development with two other production companies in the UK,” she adds.
Aside from these very personal projects, Joanne has a supporting role in the film Mary Shelley with Elle Fanning, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month and is tipped for release in the UK next summer. “And then, I don’t know really – it’s a case of wait and see. It’s the first time I’ve said that in about eight years, so it is quite nice actually! There are some possibilities for next year, but nothing definite that I can speak of now.”
She quite fancies the idea of more stage work, in particular comedy: “I would love to do some comedy on stage… There is nothing like the buzz of gaining a laugh live when you get your timing right.” A regular run in the West End would mean that she could spend more time with friends and family, and stay at home, for once. “There’s nothing like being in your own bed. And in my line of work that is not always a given.” And then there are the advantages of spending time in London. “I love that it is absolutely a world city. There are all shapes and sizes, and people from all over the world, it is such a melting pot. I find that exciting and comforting. It just reminds me that ultimately we are all the same.” Though some of us, I can’t help reflecting, are more talented than others. Liar continues on ITV, Mondays at 9pm and you can catch up on episodes via the ITV Player.