New drama for BBC One starring Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg
Charlene McKenna plays Rose
Tell us about Ripper Street
Ripper Street is effectively a high action police drama, but I think in another sense what sets it apart is that the police force had only just come into existence. It was like 56 years or something new. It’s a developing police force and records what happened mixed in with the characters and their domestic settings.
Tell us a little about your character
I play Rose. I love her so much because she’s really feisty. She’s really ‘street.’ Do you know who I actually liken her to, in my head? A Victorian Adele - as in, she’s really just says it like it is. On another level she is very manipulative and incredibly savvy. There’s a romantic side to her too. She’s a dreamer and a fantasist, she has so many layers. She’s just so much fun to play with.
How do you get into character
The costumes, the hair, the make-up help me get myself into a Victorian girl’s headspace. But she’s not textbook... she’s not the classic... Tom, the director of the first block, and I decided that Rose is not a tart with a heart. She has one but it’s not like she’s going to come good. She’s ambitious. She’s going to escape. She’s going to see to it that she gets out. She’ll do everything she can to make her dream for herself come true. I love all that. I love it. She’s just different. She’s multi-layered.
What did you enjoy most about filming Ripper Street?
I loved coming in every morning to get my hair done. That’s when Rose really started to come together. And then when I got new clothes. All of my costumes have flowers or roses on them. Her hair always has flowers or roses in it.
Can you sum up Ripper Street?
It’s a period drama but it’s not stiff... It’s gritty and it’s raw and it’s dirty and it’s sweaty and it’s sexy - it’s all of these things. So it’s not a lovely mellow period drama like those so many people are used to. It’s quite edgy and, I suppose, more of a leftfield take on a Victorian period piece.
How was the dynamic between you and the other characters?
I worked a lot with Jerome Flynn who plays Drake, Adam Rothenberg who plays Jackson and Myanna Buring who plays Susan. I just loved coming to work. It’s one of those jobs. I loved working with all of them. We all bring totally different energies and we all get on really well. It makes the playing much more free. So I feel like we can all throw stuff round the room. The chemistry is great – everything just clicks.
Any stories you’d like to share?
We did have one really rough day where my character is getting horrifically treated in the show... and we ended up telling jokes, nearly all of that day. And Adam has a wonderfully filthy sense of humour. But it was great because we could get let it out and laugh and then get back into character.
We found the fun even during the darker moments of the drama. It can be quite heavy piece to play so it’s important to keep it balanced I think.
What’s Ripper Street’s appeal?
A lot of the stories were real, so there’s a lot of reality to it. But the flip side of that coin is there’s a lot of escapism because it’s... well, it is Victorian and it is period. And as you said earlier, the sets and the costumes and everything look so textured and luxurious to watch and I think that translates everywhere. The quality of the writing. The quality of the acting. The whole production. I think there’s always been a fascination with Jack The Ripper and with that time, universally. I don’t think it is specific only to England. I was intrigued by it when I was growing up in Ireland. And there’s romance in it. And there’s sex in it. And there’s, you know, there’s violence. And there are light moments, there’s humour. So I just, I think it’s quite multi-faceted and I think that appeals everywhere.
Who was Jack The Ripper?
Didn’t they say recently that they’ve just come out and said it was his wife? That’s been the latest thing. A lot a people think, definitely think Jack was a female. I don’t know. Who’s to say it was one person? Could be him, could be him and his wife, could be just a woman. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!
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