Faye Marsay is the kind of girl you want to grab a pint with in the pub: a tiny-framed storm of self-effacing wit and easy Northern charm. When we meet at the 1883 shoot she’s all of these things even though she’s fighting off flu while the hair stylist persistently sprays her with water. It’s her first ever fashion shoot but Faye is used to being thrown in at the deep end; considering her first acting gig post drama school is a lead role in the BBC’s new lavish period drama, The White Queen.
“I thought I’d fucked it up. I thought it was the worst audition I’d ever done,” she says. Clearly the directors didn’t agree with her and the 26-year old was cast as Anne Neville, one of three starring female roles in the hotly anticipated adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s historical novel. This self-deprecation appears typical of Faye. After all, she won The Spotlight Prize - an acting showcase she competed in at the end of her studies at Bristol Old Vic - despite almost dropping out minutes before curtain up. “I remember calling my friend before I did it and being like, ‘I’m the weak link! I need to leave and run away!’” Luckily for Faye, she didn’t. Not only did she win but she caught the eye of the casting agent who secured her audition for The White Queen.
I tell her she couldn’t have asked for a better first job and she emphatically agrees, “It was such a big role. Every sort of emotional scene you can think of I had to do.” She had a hell of a lot thrown her way, not least of all was having to ride side saddle, no mean feat considering Faye is both highly allergic to, and terrified of, horses. “They can sense when you’re scared,” she says. “One day they put me on a horse that I wasn’t used to and it reared up. I was like, ‘Please get me off!’ I was so frightened.”
Portraying Anne Neville, a noblewoman caught up in the War of the Roses who becomes both Princess of Wales and Queen Consort as the eventual wife of Richard III, was replete with challenges. It fell to Faye to convey her extraordinary life from the ages of twelve to twenty-eight. Faye humbly attempts to give all the credit to her make-up artist Kate Starr; “She was an absolute ledge!” but concedes that the role was a true test of her acting abilities: “Dealing with loss, heartbreak, marital-rape, childbirth - they asked me to do a lot considering it was my first big job. I’m so glad they did.” Indeed, the experience allowed her to, as she says, “get a lot of things out of the way” like her first ever sex scenes. “Not sexy in the slightest. It was freezing when we did ours so we were just giggling our heads off. Who I did it with, Aneurin (Barnard, who plays Richard III), looked after me the whole way through.”
She says we can expect “mega drama” from The White Queen, a possible contender for BBC’s answer to Game of Thrones, but one which Marsay insists will not just be “another period drama”. “It’s very real” she stresses, “It’s quite bloody, quite sad…it’s also really classy. It just looks beautiful.” It looks like we can also expect big things from Faye herself. Her casting was an ingenious move, straying from what she had come to believe would be her niche in “working class Northern lass roles.” Already attracting a lot of buzz, The White Queen may sky-rocket her career. Indeed, just before we spoke she landed a part in the second series of ITV’s, The Bletchley Circle. But you won’t catch Faye taking any of this for granted. “For me, I just want to remember how lucky I am and just ride the wave, because all this stuff could end tomorrow and if you keep that in mind you can’t go wrong.” Remember, you saw her here first.
Words by Marie-Claire Chappet
photography NHUXUAN HUA
fashion JOANNA VALMAI WILLS make up CRYSTABEL RILEY @ STELLA CREATIVE ARTISTS USING CHANEL LES BEIGES AND S 2013 hair stylist TAKUYA BABA USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE fashion assistant ELIAS TIGGS photography Assistant CARA JOSEPH