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.
Georgia Blizzard Part Two: World at Her Feet
Georgia’s performance throughout the series The Singapore Grip is powerful in its subtleties. In many instances her expressions and body language take charge, underlining her well- honed skills in the craft of acting. She’s perfect for the role of Joan.
You’ve certainly got a bright future ahead of you, you’re without a doubt following in the footsteps of Nicole Kidman.
‘Thank you Jamie – I’ve thus far only seen the first two episodes (completed), and it’s funny how you sort of roll your eyes. *laughs* I think when you’re in it [performing], you’re not necessarily conscious of what you’re doing, you’re just trying to sort of live in the moment, but yeah, Joan has some attitude! There’s some looks she throws!’
Did you have much time to read the scripts, or did you read ‘as you go’ during production?
‘We shot it totally out of sequence, which happens normally, but especially because we were going from being in the colonial houses to filming the last month in Penang, which is where we did anything that happens outdoors. So my first day of filming and then the last day of filming was the same episode. It was like a scene that led into each other, so they completely bookended each other.’
‘We were definitely continuing to read the scripts all of the time and I had this sort of mental map on my kitchen wall that probably looked like I was trying to solve a mystery – mapping out all of the scenes in different colours.’ So (for instance ) I could (be waking) up at four in the morning and say to myself: “okay, we’ve done that scene, cross that one off”… (I was) so trying to keep track of it all.’
Is that a normal working process for an actor?
‘I think again, it comes back to being privileged working with such seasoned actors, you’re observing them the whole time.’ ‘I was working with … all of these incredible greats who’ve been doing it for so long. You feel like you have to rise to it, because they’re definitely going to be at the top of their game.’
There must have been a nice energy working with such a great cast?
‘Yeah – it really was. And I think the fact that everyone was so far away from home, it wasn’t like I was coming to the UK to work on this production and they were all going back to their families. It was a very unique experience together that we all shared, which was living together for four months and exploring a new culture together on our days off. And I guess in a way everyone’s flying by the seat of their pants because they’re in a foreign land and exploring new sets and scenery.’
Speaking of sets, the construction and lighting and creative input is clearly a large part to the success and visual beauty of the series. Some of the sets such as the entertainment precinct appear intriguingly wildly extravagant in nature. What was it like working in that environment?
‘The sets were unbelievable. John Lee (Victoria, Bodyguard) was our DOP; he’s so talented as you’ve seen, and he was so generous. I quietly told him how I’d like to know more about what was going into his lighting and lens choices, and so he’d give me a different lesson every week and would be quizzing me on which equipment we should be using within a scene. There was one situation where they let me operate the camera, which was loads of fun.’
‘In terms of the sets, we shot three months in Kuala Lumpur, which includes all the scenes shot in the colonial houses, including the garden parties; and then the last month was filming in Penang. Penang still has all of the old colonial architecture which doubles really well for 1942 Singapore, and then our incredible sets team simply built around these city buildings.’
Were there any people or performances from any other actors that you’d thought about in order to deliver your performance of Joan?
‘I’m not sure that I did have anyone in mind. I really felt that when I read her on the page, she was like nothing else that I had read before. I felt that she was incredibly bold, even looking through a 2020 lens, let alone the 1940s. And after the first two episodes she just gets bolder and bolder. With some of the things she was doing I was almost scandalised, I suppose!’
‘I was so enthralled with her because I felt that I never knew what she was going to do next. She has this real bamboozling quality. So the challenge I set myself was to try and take that feeling that I had on the page and lift it onto the screen.’
‘Obviously she’s very far away from me as well, as a person, hopefully! *laughs* So there was a lot to dive into. Obviously there was the accent to work with and I had these extravagant costumes. That actually gave it a big sense of play, that was really fun for me. I’ve always really loved accent work and this was the first time I’ve been able to do it on screen.’
What are your thoughts on the time of the release of the series, considering the black lives matter protests worldwide. The 1940s English colonial snobbery displayed in the series could be considered a great time capsule of the era. How do you think viewers will respond to seeing that level of colonial pomposity?
‘It’s interesting. You are looking it as a sort of time capsule, but at the same time there are certainly characters in there that I see mirrored around us in the world today, still. I think the idea of people in power putting business, greed and financial gain above humanity is not that obscure a concept to the world we’re living in now. Hopefully it will spur a lot of interesting conversions in that respect.’
‘It’s also been interesting making a series here (in the Pacific region), obviously it hasn’t come out in the UK yet but in Australia, the fall of Singapore, that period is very significant in our history. It’s something I was taught in high school, I think a lot of Australians are; but it’s not well known in the UK, it’s a period of history that’s completely buried.’
‘I think we are having a lot of important conversations right now, and I think an important part of those conversations is acknowledging our past. The Singapore Grip showcases a very large part of British colonial history. Obviously the colonial period has caused a lot of damage and I think pretending it didn’t exist is quite senseless. It’s important to understand what happened in the past and to see how we can learn and grow from that.’
Back to 2020, how are you holding up in COVID-19 London?
‘Someone I know recently used the phrase: “we’re all in different boats, but weathering the same storm.” It’s quite a deflating time for the arts. And if I look around at my friends or my family – whether they’re teachers or nurses, or work in retail or hospitality, across all different sectors, everyone is feeling the impact of this in some way.’
‘And while it is a really uncertain time for the industry I’m in, I’m also feeling quite comforted, I suppose. It’s nice to look around and see how everyone is taking solace in the arts at this time.’
‘I think people are leaning on film and television, books and music – everything is on pause right now, but it will come back and I think there’s going to be a real hunger for stories and art, maybe in a way that I’ve not really experienced in my lifetime. Everything’s kind of stopped for now, but I think it will be really embraced when it comes back.’
The Singapore Grip
The Singapore Grip is available is streaming now on Foxtel Now Australia and on BBC First.