Bill Gallagher’s glittering new BBC One drama series...
Joanna Vanderham plays Denise Lovett
What is Denise like as a character?
No person is one thing but Denise is very strong-willed, strong-minded and confident. Denise is ambitious, and I think in that era that wasn’t necessarily an attractive trait in a woman. It shocked people and they didn’t know how to react.
It’s so unexpected. People keep telling her to stay in her place and she’s fighting against that. Denise is incredibly determined and she’s intelligent, she has ideas for The Paradise.
Denise works hard and I’ve had to struggle to make sure that she’s likeable but that she’s more than just nice. I have to make sure that the audience go ‘come on, girl’ but at times I think they’ll get frustrated with her because she’s either pushing too hard or not listening because she’s so focused. Denise is only really out of her depth when she falls in love…
The story begins with Denise turning up at her Uncle’s shop, Lovett’s. Why has she come to work there?
Denis has been proposed to by a young man – they’ve been courting – but she realised that wasn’t the life she wanted.
I think that’s quite a modern thought process, to see that there is more to life. She leaves her job, breaks off her engagement and arrives at her Uncle’s asking for work and he says, ‘I can’t, there’s no work for you, I have no business’.
What’s it like when Moray first meets Denise?
It’s a kind of instantaneous attraction. Denise is in the store asking Miss Audrey for a job and Miss Audrey is asking her about her previous experience, using her position of power, and it just so happens that Moray is in the department at that time and he says, ‘You’re Edmund’s niece aren’t you’ and ‘of course I’d oblige a neighbour’.
Actually, he’s just seen something in her and she sees that in him. If he hadn’t been in the room she wouldn’t have secured the job, Miss Audrey instantly took a disliking to her and Moray thankfully took a liking to her.
Do her feelings for Moray develop throughout the series?
They definitely do, they meet and Denise thinks, ‘this man is a really ambitious businessman and I admire his success’… and actually she really fancies him too.
It has been well cast because Emun is beautiful, so it’s not hard to pretend!
Denise struggles to see how they can have a relationship because Moray’s going places and the people that he’s socialising with are not people that she is socialising with. She’s the shop girl. It’s only when he is available that she lets herself think this could actually happen.
At first she doesn’t let herself believe that she loves him. She’s convincing herself and working hard to make herself believe that it’s a work thing when actually, she adores him and would spend the rest of her life with him.
Do Denise and Katherine have any kind of relationship?
When Katherine comes to the store all she sees is a shop girl who’s very good at her job and she’s quite happy with that. Katherine even asks for Denise when she comes in, and Denise is not letting herself think that she’s in love with Moray, so it’s a very happy relationship.
Katherine’s a strong woman as well, so whatever happens she’s not going to let Denise just take her man...
Miss Audrey is Denise’s boss. What’s their relationship like?
Their relationship is very interesting because at the start Denise comes in and goes, ‘I’m here to learn’, and Miss Audrey states – quite rightly - ‘I’m the boss’. As time goes on Denise thinks to herself, I can do better, one night she sneaks in and changes the displays.
Miss Audrey then starts to see that and at first tries to squash it but gradually Miss Audrey realises that Denise is an asset to ladieswear and she starts to encourage her.
Their relationship develops when Denise reveals to Miss Audrey her true feelings for Moray and Miss Audrey gives her advice about what to do. Denise listens to her but ultimately her feelings for Moray are too strong which put Denise and Miss Audrey back to square one, which is quite sad really.
What has it been like working with Sarah Lancashire?
She’s an absolute dream. If ever you’ve got a down day, she’s the one that picks you up. I’m still learning my craft and if we’re on camera and I was to say to Sarah, ‘which side of the line do I need to be on?’ she would know and she’d tell me and she’d help me.
I’ve learned a lot from her in terms of making everyone’s job easier. If we’d rehearse a scene and it works out that there’s ten set ups needed Sarah would just do it in a different place where it would need two set ups, but it would still look as amazing.
Those are the sorts of things that I’ve learned from her. Being aware of what you can do to help everyone as a team. And she’s just really good fun. Her laugh is so contagious that if she’s laughing you want to know why and you want to be involved.
What was it like when you first saw the sets?
When I first walked in Mark Jobst, first director, was there. I was ushered on set straight through to where we were filming and Mark said, ‘it’s great isn’t it?’
I said, ‘but I haven’t seen anything! So he grabbed me by the hand and said, ‘this is where we’re going to play’, we ran around the set and showed me what, to him, was a kind of playground.
That was the welcome that I had and from then on it has felt like a playground. The set and the props department have been wonderful. You feel like you don’t have to work very hard to create the world that you’re acting in because it’s there for you. It looks amazing.
I hope that when people watch it they’ll see the beauty of it and they can kind of lose themselves in this world. Because that’s what the show is trying to do, it’s an escape for everyone to forget your worries and just enjoy this world. I think the set really adds to that.
What are Denise’s outfits like?
She arrives as a kind of country bumpkin; she’s in her cotton dress and she’s unfashionable, a bit outdated and when she gets the job at The Paradise and Miss Audrey gives her the silk dress she’ll wear in The Paradise, it is the most expensive thing that she’s ever owned.
For me, it’s impossible not to feel amazing in her work outfit because the look of them, the texture, the fact that you’ve got this corset on, you feel sexy. It’s a very interesting balance between feeling quite empowered by your look and also being quite hindered by the fact that you can’t lift your arms, you can’t bend down, you can’t really breathe, so you kind of think, how did women actually do anything? How did they achieve their daily life?
It’s really interesting how it makes you feel and the fight for – I want to feel like I’m a strong woman but actually when I’m inhibited by what I’m wearing, you can understand why it would’ve been so difficult for them in that era to fight against fainting. I don’t think the corsets helped, I think they were definitely the invention of a man! I’m used to them now.
I love the way the outfits look on camera. The different silks have been threaded so that they reflect the light from different angles and the East Indian concept that was a massive influence in style in those days – we have Moroccan bolero jackets that we wear – with Chinese silk, all of that together is so worldly and that was really of the time.
The Paradise is really taking over the street and affecting Denise’s uncle. Do you think there’s a modern resonance with this story?
Oh, entirely. In this day stores are really struggling to get the trade. What’s interesting though is that Denise wants to be a part of The Paradise. She doesn’t see it as a bad thing; she sees it as progress and the way of shopping in the future, successful commerce and consumerism.
Denise sees it as convenient because never before have they had everything in one store ready-made. I think the ease that it gave people was really forward-thinking. Denise sees that and thinks, I want to be a part of that. And you walk into The Paradise and it’s light, it’s full of texture and it’s rich.
Then you go into Lovett’s and it’s brown, wooden and dark. The life that’s in The Paradise and how busy it is with people she sees how successful it is. As much as I as an actress go, this is just like the super stores taking over, Denise sees it as the future. That’s an interesting balance for me.
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