An interview with Adelaide Clemens who plays Valentine Wannop in Sir Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Parade's End on BBC Two.
Australian actress Adelaide Clemens was so dedicated to her research for the role of suffragette Valentine Wannop in Parade's End she spent hours in book shops and even plastered the walls of her London home with maps.
"Maps really help me," explains Adelaide. "The geography of a place is really important so I had maps all over my apartment. I did a lot of research for this part. Mainly, I wanted to get my head around the British because it is very politically based and there are a lot of war references and religious references. I researched from the mid 1800s through to the 1920s to discover what women had been through. This production was really hard to get onto because I am not British and I understand why because it is so very British. Although my father is English I was bought up in Australia. So, I went into Hatchfords and just sat there and read every single afternoon. I read about the Pankhursts, suffragettes, just got my hands on whatever I could about the period. Things like the music they would have listened to really influence me. And athletics, the kind of sports Valentine was doing. I'm an athlete but I run, I don't do the long jump and vaulting that Valentine does, although I did give that a go before I came out here – you certainly couldn't do that in a corset! You learn so much that you wouldn't do otherwise because you have that drive of wanting to understand someone completely."
Describing her character, Adelaide says: "Valentine is this forward thinking, vibrant, brilliant-minded and really free willed girl with an amazing amount of integrity. It's almost like she's developed her own set of morals which are not influenced by society at the time or her mother or father in any specific way, it's just what she considers right or wrong. I think that's where she gets that democratic drive for equal rights for woman and pacifisms and why she has so much conviction. At the base of it she wears her heart on her sleeve.
"I was drawn to her bold manner; she's so outspoken it's almost as though she doesn't have a filter between her mind and her mouth. She's really admirable to me and inspiring. Valentine has a million contradictions which reflect human nature. To be able to get into her skin has been amazing. I hadn't done a period drama before and it made an impression in a lot of ways. I have played a lot of modern, psychologically twisted characters so is nice to play someone I would align myself to.
"Women were completely repressed at that time, having just worn a corset for the filming of Parade's End I know that you can't get as much breath when you are restricted by the corset, you're not able to run, even picking up things is more of an effort. You are constrained in a way that men were not - they were allowed to grow and build their strength. The whole psychology of wearing it has been a real experience because I'm quite a physical person.
"This is the deepest I've ever got into a character and definitely the longest shoot I've ever done and I've learnt so much. I'm still reading Parade's End and finding more things to explore in Valentine. I feel really lucky with the material we've been given; what Ford Madox Ford began and Tom has just magnified and illuminated, these never ending, multi-faceted characters."
Adelaide explains Valentine's change of heart: "Valentine doesn't intend to fall for Christopher; it's the last thing on her mind at that time. Her drive from the start is really this need for equality in women's rights; she's politically active with a feminist streak and the idea of love or having to marry someone doesn't even enter her mind. I think before she falls in love thinks she could go through life without men but that's what is so beautiful about the story. She meets Christopher who is of the Tory mind, this older generation who sticks by the values of a handshake, the old ways, a simpler way of life and she is forward thinking, way ahead of her time and I love that these two sides have come together.
"They fall in love; it's as simple as that. You can't explain it and that's what so beautiful but they understand each other and are good for each other. Valentine is just thankful for having fallen in love and she is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Christopher is happy and if being in a proper relationship with him meant jeopardising his reputation or undermining him in any way she wouldn't do it. That's how great her love is, she would sacrifice having a marriage or a proper life and would be happy just with spending time with him and that’s what the war does… Getting your head around what the First World War did is such a feat. I can't imagine going from complete normality to this event on such a large scale like nothing the world had seen. It's just dismantling."
And how did Adelaide enjoy working with Benedict Cumberbatch?
"He is phenomenal. The amount of work that goes into his roles, he has a great work ethic and a genius mind, he is so inspiring. He really raised the bar for me and he had this integrity and genuineness. I feel really blessed to have worked with him. Plus he is so much fun, he's become a good friend."
And how did Adelaide adapt to living and working in the UK for many months?
"I was based in London during filming and I have totally fallen in love with it. It is such a wonderful city. The theatre scene is so energising, the fantastic galleries and museums. I would visit the National Gallery on my days off, or the V&A, the Natural History Museum – there is so much choice. And the parks are so beautiful. I love new cities and if I haven't travelled for a month the need to go somewhere starts to gets under my skin. But for the first time I've been in a place and thought 'I could have a long term life, not just career, here'.
"I live in LA and I do have wonderful friends; I moved there when I was 19 so I developed a close knit group of friends, none of whom are actors, none of which are Australian, but I couldn't do it long term. It is incredible the way everything is done with such imagination and beautiful pride in London. There is so much history here.
"And I loved filming in Rye, it is stunning. So many of the locations have been mind- blowing; beautiful beaches, amazing castles, impressive scenery. And Henley where I discovered my dad was born. We'd spent three weeks filming there when my mum came over to visit and casually mentioned 'you know dad was born here?' Such a weird fluke."
During the filming of Parade's End, Adelaide had two weeks off to film Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.
She says "It was outrageous! I went back to Australia to film and played Katherine, who is Tom's mistress, Myrtle's, sister, who is the polar opposite of Valentine with a sticky, red bob and a thick New Jersey accent. My lines were hilarious and gave me license to be cheeky, outrageous and wild. It was well timed as I needed to just let go for a bit – get that corset off.
"It really was quite an amazing experience to be doing these two projects at the same time and literally in sequence. Filming Parade's End with my ankles and wrists not showing and then going into the 1920s when suddenly women went from being told to speak when spoken to, to guzzling bottles of champagne, kicking up their heels, whipping off their corsets and wearing what would seem like a nightie to Valentine. There was a drastic change, again that’s what the war did, it was so powerful, people lashed out. There was a manic energy."