It’s the crack of dawn, but Holliday Grainger is hardly fazed by the early start. Sat in the lounge of a decadent West London home, she is bright and bubbly, already enthralling the photo-shoot crew with her recent endeavors on set with The Borgias including that of the recent addition of a panther as a pet for her character Lucrezia Borgia.
Though perhaps currently best known for this role in the cult TV series - Holliday’s most recent selection of roles shall no doubt propel her into a whole new Hollywood league. This year, marking Dickens’ bicentenary, shall see the release of the hotly anticipated big screen adaptation of Great Expectations, with Holliday taking on the iconic role of Estella. In Bel Ami, she’s playing the eventual bride to Robert Pattinson’s scoundrel protagonist; while in Anna Karenina, Holliday is placed alongside a cast of veritable who’s who in British talent with an appearance as Baroness Shilton.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to play such great characters from literature having grown up reading a lot of these books. I guess it was just karma that the opportunity to play these fantastic roles all came at once,” smiles the 24 year old actress who can also add a sublime portrayal of Diana Rivers in last year’s Jane Eyre to her ever-expanding repertoire of classic characters.
With a beauty that harks back to old-school Hollywood starlets matched with an inviting charisma and a seemingly unwavering ambition; Holliday is indeed the perfect candidate for such roles. Having first cut her teeth immortalizing the manipulative minx that is Lucrezia Borgia; her depiction of Estella (the love interest yet emotional torturer to orphan Pip, played by War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine) has long since been touted as perfect casting.
When it comes to approaching these characters however, despite a wealth of material at her perusal; Holliday admits though she devours it all, it is necessary for her to carve out her own interpretation of each role she undertakes. “Like there’s so many different versions of Lucrezia going around-it was important for me to truly embody the right one the fits with the story,” she says, explaining how she likes to work closely with the director of each respective project she takes on.
At the time of interview, having just completed her stint in Anna Karenina, she speaks highly of Joe Wright who instantly made feel her at ease on set, working together as they honed her character to her final portrayal. “We played around with her quite a bit, to give her that extra edge to make her all the more memorable,” she recounts. “In the end, we decided she’d have a speech impediment.”
Having won such an abundance of roles in such a short space of time, Holliday’s grueling work ethic has seen her flitting from one country to the next assimilating to the various locations. In fact, while she may be a Manchester lass born and bred, she has come to call Budapest- the location for The Borgias as well as three other works to date- her second home. “We’ve got quite a bit of a community going on, as they’re filming quite a few things out there at the moment. We’re constantly seeing other actors out and about there,” she says. “I’ve also become quite close with everyone on set too- not just the other actors, but the crew as well. It’s nice because I’ve worked with many of them on other the things I’ve filmed out there too, so you get used to the seeing the same faces.”
Having previously expressed an interest to visit Italy, home of her Borgias’ alter ego, she admits it’s still on her wish list for the year ahead. “I really need to learn to speak Italian,” she says with a laugh. “So many of the crew on The Borgias are from Italy and the fact that I’m part Italian too- it’s about time I Iearned the language!”
Growing up in Manchester, Holliday first taste of acting came “by accident” aged 6 when her mother’s friend, who was a casting director, scouted her for a BBC TV series. From then on, she was hooked- appearing in multiple TV shows and independent films as a then child actor. “I guess I was about 12 when I realized- Yes, this is what I want to do. But I wouldn’t flat out admit it right away,” she says, explaining that despite her love of acting- academia was still a fundamental part of her life. “When it got to that point where I finished school, I was really at a crossroads. I wished I could split into three people: One to go to University, one to go to drama school and one to carrying on acting full-time.”
In the end, Holliday chose to pursue her studies. However, with her thirst for acting stronger than ever- she opted for an Open University Degree in English that not only allowed her to continue to work; but also made a rather fitting parallel to her on-screen adventures. It is a course that she shall complete this upcoming summer.
In the wake of her photo-shoot for 1883, Holliday was settling into a well earned break yet was still looking ahead to what the future may hold for her blossoming career. Speaking avidly about her work and peers within the industry, she seemed wholly excited though entirely grounded about what her career may bring. “I think I’d like to do more theatre,” she acknowledges. “I found it helped me so much doing plays in the past, as you can’t hide when you’re up there on stage. I’d developed little cheats working on film sets in the past, but being in theatre made me more conscious of what I was doing as actor.”
So what are her thoughts on movie roles in the future? Does she fear of being typecast? “ Well it does seem like I’ve been playing a lot of messed-up young girls in history these days,” she laughs, but admits it isn’t the industry that has restricted her to period drama; it’s more of a case that she truly loves this particular genre. “Of course it would be nice to explore a role that was completely different to anything I’ve done before and set in modern day. That definitely what I’d like continue with. In saying that, I do really enjoy the type films I’ve been doing right now. So who knows? I may not be throwing out the corset…just yet.”
Words By Aideen Shannon
Holliday Grainger is featured in issue four of 1883 magazine available to buy on line here