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Ripper Street's MyAnna Buring: 'Strong characters can be incredibly boring'

MyAnna Buring

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Playing Long Susan is a joy. Ripper Street’s creator Richard Warlow and its writers, in particular Toby Finlay, have an innate understanding of how to develop fully rounded characters with rich internal lives, which often sit in stark contrast to the external demands the world of Whitechapel places upon them.

All of Ripper Street’s characters start in one place and end up somewhere totally different. It’s these twists and turns that I feel not only make the show compelling for audiences but also makes the job for me as an actor so interesting. 

In Long Susan’s case, she goes from a fugitive hiding the secrets of her past to a woman who - once those secrets are exposed - finds the potential to live openly within her community and openly with her love, Jackson.

Season two sees those hopes threatened by debt. A debt that forces her from brothel madam to whore, let down by and at the mercy of the men around her. The irony is not lost on any one. 

In season three we find Susan having undergone a further transformation. Using her wit and resilience she has become an influential businesswoman and philanthropist, creating a financial empire with walls around it as thick as the ones she has built around her heart. 

The price for such walls is that once again she is forced to live with dark secrets. That was the most compelling aspect for me to explore while filming this season - to consider how extraordinarily lonely great power can be and to question what one might be willing to compromise in order to achieve a greater good. Can a dark deed ever be excused? Even if it means that many greater deeds are achieved because of it?

These are the character arcs you dream about playing as an actor. It is fun, it is challenging, it gives me food for thought - and for that I am very grateful.

So much about Susan also lies in what she doesn’t say  - there is always a huge tug between her inner and outer self, and I love that.

She’s often referred to as a ‘strong’ character and to an extent that is very true - she is, and admirably so. But if she were only strong she would be boring to play. 

Humans are a big mix of paradoxes really. We are strong, but we can be vulnerable as well. A character’s greatest strength can become their greatest weakness, and that’s what’s interesting – the light and shade, navigating the constant push and pull of opposing forces within oneself. A character lacking in such juxtapositions is never as satisfying to get one’s teeth into. Ripper Street has never failed to provide all of us with many layers to explore.

The language of Ripper Street’s scripts is extraordinary. Not only in that it very much establishes the world of Whitechapel, but it is rewarding to work with as an actor. The lines are so specific that we rarely change them and when spoken, the rhythms infect how you feel. That was a very new experience for me as an actor.

The family atmosphere and rapport on set is another reason I celebrate the continuation of the series. We have many cast, crew and production members who have now worked together for four years. The shorthand that has developed between all departments is palpable and the humour that abounds on set is infectious. It makes for a very happy workplace and one that we have all wanted to return to again and again. 

MyAnna Buring plays Long Susan in Ripper Street.

Ripper Street, series three continues on Friday, 7 August at 9pm on BBC One. Each episode will be available in BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast on TV.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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