Essentials’ editor Jamie Durrant talks with Australian actress Georgia Blizzard on her new starring role in the BBC First/Foxtel Now Australia TV Series, The Singapore Grip.
Adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton from J.G. Farrell’s classic novel, The Singapore Grip is an ambitious and exotic family saga set in Singapore during World War Two.
Starring Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) and Luke Treadaway (Ordeal by Innocence), the 6-part EV series centres around a wealthy British family living in Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion. It’s a colourful and wildly depicted portrayal of British Colonial superiority, which is made ever more powerful by Tasmanian born, Australian actress Georgia’s Blizzard’s brilliant performance.
The Singapore Grip paints an entertaining and informative story of excess and entitlement: Rubber merchant Walter Blackett, his wife Sylvia, ruthless daughter Joan (Georgia Blizzard) and spoilt son Monty live a life of luxury, seemingly untouched by the troubles in Europe. With Walter’s business partner Mr Webb’s health failing, Walter needs to ensure that the future of their firm is secure.
He decides that Webb’s son Matthew is the perfect match for Joan, and Joan is happy to agree, but Matthew’s idealism upsets Colonial mores, and Walter becomes increasingly suspicious as Matthew falls under the spell of Vera Chiang, a mysterious Chinese refugee.
Filmed in Malaysia and Penang, exotic locations are key to its visual energy, each showcased in wonderfully crafted sets depicting 1940s Singapore. The carefully interwoven textures of richly layered props make the scenes in back streets, alley ways and markets, a thing of beauty. If you’re a camera and lighting buff, this one’s for you. And if you’re wondering who might be Australia’s next Nicole Kidman, we’re putting our money and our hearts on Georgia. We spoke to her recently in her new London home.
Georgia Blizzard Part One: Sealing the Deal
Congratulations on your amazing performances in the new series The Singapore Grip, it’s truly astonishing work.
‘Thank you, that’s really kind – I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it.’
You’ve moved to London?
‘I have! I moved to London at the end of February, interesting timing in hindsight. I grew up in Hobart and moved to Sydney following high school to study at NIDA for three years, I lived in Sydney for about five or six years.’
Did you have an interest in performing from an early age?
‘I guess I was always interested in performing, taking dance lessons from the age of four or five; my family is really musical – we all play music together, so I grew up singing and dancing and naturally found music theatre as a teenager. I didn’t do drama until I was 16 or 17, and … living in Tasmania I didn’t know any actors so I wasn’t aware that it was something you could actually pursue – but I was really lucky that I had some good teachers that were really encouraging – who pushed me to audition for drama school.’
‘What’s the learning environment like at NIDA?’
‘In the past ten years there’s been a lot of staff changes, so I think my experience now is quite outdated. … I had a really amazing time, I was the only person who’d come straight from high school and we had a generally older year group which was really beneficial for me – I was surrounded by people who helped to shape my view of the world.’
It appears that Singapore Grip represents a massive career breakthrough for you?
‘Yeah, definitely far and away the largest opportunity I’ve had so far – yeah, definitely.’
How did you land this wonderful gig?
‘That’s a fair question, I guess you look at the lineup and all of these British TV greats – and then there’s me! *laughs* So basically, there had already been an extensive UK casting search for an actress to play the part of Joan, but for whatever reason, they didn’t find that elusive something… so that opened up the search internationally, so I did an audition tape from my kitchen in Sydney, something you get very used to doing as an actor in Australia.’
So do they simply email you a script and ask you to film yourself?
‘Yeah, you shoot yourself on your iPhone, you try to find somewhere with good lighting. For actors in Australia this simple method has really opened up the world. I’ve secured screen jobs from self-shoots in my dad’s bathroom: so you can just audition virtually.’
‘It was a really long audition process. I did (iPhone) tape number one, a few weeks went by and I was asked to do a second tape, then another few passed and I did a Skype performance for Director Tom Vaughan. Then more weeks went by, I taped again. Then finally I was asked to audition for the part of Joan. That was in September 2018, so all of the auditioning was done from Australia. And in January (2019), during my Christmas break in Tassie, I found out that I was selected for the role and flew to London for a bit of preproduction in February and then straight on to Malaysia for filming.’
A ‘bit’ of preproduction? Can you explain the process?
‘It was really short, I arrived in London and almost had no time to get over the jet lag. And then the first thing was a 12 hour costume fitting, because Joan has upwards of 25 custom-made costumes in the show… so it was an incredible, but very long day.’
Joan’s outfits are so suave and sexy!
‘And so bright and and bold, that was an exciting part of it.’
‘Then the first time I met anyone, I was a having a read-through with the Director and all of the cast. We read the first three episodes around the table and then we were off to Malaysia for filming.’
Wow, that’s fast – the complete opposite to a Frances Ford Coppola production!
‘It’s funny, I think I expected to feel nervous, as this is a cast full of people that I’ve looked up to and admired for so long; really well established actors and a big role to play in Joan. So I was expecting to be nervous but there was something about the fact that you’re around so many people who are so on their game – I think you just rise to it. And I felt well taken care of. It was all so enjoyable that I didn’t have too much time to be nervous.’
‘We didn’t have a lot of time for rehearsal; … however we (the actors and Director) would have individual conversations. David (Morrissey) and I would talk a lot behind the scenes about how we wanted the father-daughter relationship to play out. And then also part of the joy, I think, is not knowing what other people are going to do, so you genuinely find yourself surprised in those moments when the camera is rolling.’
Walter Blackett (played by David Morrissey) and Joan (yourself) on screen have such a great natural connection – it feels so real. And speaking of on- screen relatives, Joan’s brother Monty – what a great character!
‘’What a character – yeah!’ *laughs* But, ‘… sadly we didn’t have many interactions with each other – I think because Joan just thinks he’s a bit of a ‘so-and-so’. *laughs*
‘With Walter and Joan, both David and I really saw these two characters as a meeting of minds, … and the fact that she is the right-hand person in business says a lot about how intelligent she is, how ruthless she is and how business-minded she is.’
‘ … David has a son who is my age, so maybe there’s a natural thing… I’m sure they have a very different relationship than Walter and Joan!’
The Singapore Grip
The Singapore Grip is available is streaming now on Foxtel Now Australia and on BBC First.