Jodie Turner-Smith shares joy at playing ‘fierce’ Anne Boleyn in Channel 5 drama

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If you’ve never heard of British actress Jodie Turner-Smith before, we can assure you that’s about to change.

The 34-year-old is the leading lady of new Channel 5 drama Anne Boleyn – a modern take on the story of Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife.

And even if historical dramas aren’t your usual bag, Jodie says this three-parter has plenty to get you onboard, because it’s told through the eyes of Anne and in the style of a psychological thriller as her life unravels.

Here, Jodie, who is married to Dawson’s Creek star Joshua Jackson, 42, talks about stepping into Anne’s shoes (and corsets) and why this show stands out from the crowd…

Hi Jodie. What attracted you to the role of Anne?

When I read the story, I was blown away by this take. The biggest thing was how this was a story about mothers – and how Anne was trying to manipulate her circumstances in order to protect her children, how her ability to provide an heir affected her own life and viability as a queen, and how she manipulated her rivals’ children to get what she needed. As a mother, there was so much about this that resonated with me and made me feel like I could understand this story.

As you said, this is quite a different take on her story, isn’t it?

There’s so much about Anne’s legend that people believe – whether it’s that she was a witch, she had six fingers, or that she had an incestuous relationship with her brother. For the most part, we’ve seen Anne’s story told through the lens of the other people around her. But this time we’re trying to tell a more human story about this figure who really was just a woman trying to survive in her time.

How would you describe Anne?

Fierce, passionate and opinionated, all characteristics that for a woman – especially in the British court – would have been very threatening to the men around her.

What’s her relationship with Henry like?

One thing that’s been written about Anne’s relationship with Henry is that they were famously known to be very close and had a great rapport. This is a woman who is in such a deep, intimate, close, very sexual relationship with her husband. It was supposedly this love that caused Henry to break from the Catholic Church, to put aside his previous wife and the child he had with that wife. Mark [Stanley], who played Henry, was just such a lovely human being and it was really important that their relationship felt alive in its passion, because I wanted people to not just be mourning what happened to this woman, but also mourning the fact that these were two people that could have been something so magnificent and spectacular, but his own ambition and his own desires became more important.

You wear some amazing costumes…

I loved the costumes, the hair – the whole thing. I think it’s Jack Nicholson who said, “Just let the wardrobe do the acting.” And, obviously, when you’re in a corset, you’re really sucked in tight, so you can at least embody some of that stiffness of the time! You filmed in Yorkshire in winter.

What was that like?

It was freezing! That was a challenge. I think back then they would have the fires burning 24/7. But it was cool because we did a lot of filming in Bolton Castle and there’s an energy to filming in places like that – especially when a building is historical and so many spirits have passed through it.

Did you enjoy working with the cast?

I didn’t know anybody before and this was my first all-UK production. The actors brought so much energy, love, sensitivity. I also thought it was brilliant it was a multi-racial cast. There’s something each actor brings to the table, in terms of individuality, that they inform these characters with. I think if you stay away from period dramas because they feel kind of stuffy, then this is the historical drama for you.

Anne Boleyn starts on Tuesday 1 June at 9pm on Channel 5

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