Charlotte Hope had her first series regular role as Catherine of Aragon in the Starz limited series “The Spanish Princess.” The actress is previously known for such films as “Allied,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Les Miserables.”
Hope recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Rob Licuria about taking on such a big historical figure, working with so many women on “The Spanish Princess” and how she relates to Catherine. Watch the exclusive web chat and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Charlotte, Catherine of Aragon is a seminal figure in European history. Were you at all apprehensive or nervous about playing her?
Charlotte Hope: It wasn’t apprehensive, I think mainly because I was so freaking excited. When you’re filming a TV show like that there’s not time to be afraid ‘cause it was so fast. I got cast and the next day I went to Bristol to do costume fittings and the next week I was learning lines and the week after that I was doing rehearsals, week after that I was filming. So there wasn’t really a moment for me to even get overwhelmed by it because I just had to do the work. I think probably now looking back on it, I’m like, “Oh, my god!” At the time, I just didn’t have time.
GD: Take us back to the beginning. How did you land this role?
CH: I was doing a play in New York. I’d loved all of the series so I remember these scripts coming through and being obsessed with them the moment I read it. I was doing a play so I was making self-tape after self-tape after self-tape and I did extra self-tapes in Spanish and that thing of being like, “I’m gonna do two extra scenes just to show how much I love it,” which usually people read as desperation. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but still, I think it worked. A ton of self-tapes and then I actually just got cast off the tapes. The first time I met everyone in the room was to do the chemistry tests for Prince Harry. At the point, I was really terrified they were gonna see me in real life and realize they’d made a huge mistake and recast me. Then it got about five minutes into doing these scenes and it was the first time I’d acted with someone else as Catherine. I’d been doing a lot of these tapes with whoever I could find in New York and then suddenly I was playing her with an actor playing Harry and it all became really real and exciting. I forgot all of my anxiety and just tried to enjoy it. There was a point on the way to that chemistry test where I was asking my agent, “Hang on, have we signed the contract? Are you sure they’ve got an audition for me?” And she was like, “Babe, it’s fine.” As soon as I got to start doing it, it was pretty magical.
GD: How familiar were you with Catherine of Aragon? She’s such a famous figure. I’m, as a history buff, quite familiar with her story. That’s why I was so excited to watch this show. What about you? How did you feel about her or did you have to learn when you started realizing this role was up for grabs?
CH: I’m a bit of a history buff so I knew a fair bit but to be honest, I mostly knew the second half of her life. I knew the dissolution of her marriage and I knew the version of Catherine that’s like, she wrote this love letter for Henry on her deathbed and signed it as Queen Catherine and refuses to ever acknowledge the annulment of her marriage. I knew that version of her. I didn’t know the version of her that was young and that was really interesting to me because it’s like a “before they were famous” story, like an origin story. That’s always fascinating as an actor to be like, “Okay, so I know where this person ends up but she must have gone on quite a journey in order to get there and what was the beginning of that journey?”
GD: That’s a really good way of putting it because we’ve so many iterations of this character, or I should say this historical figure, in so many different shows and movies and plays. For example, Maria Doyle Kennedy played her in “The Tudors” and we’ve seen her in a lot of adaptations of Henry VIII but it’s always towards the end of her life or when she is the queen but you were able to show us and the team where she came from. I’m wondering, was that what you were most attracted to when you took on the role?
CH: Yeah, and to be honest, the thing I was most attracted to was just getting to play a character that is this well-rounded and in it as much as she is. That’s a real dream for me. She’s not your typical princess. She’s very flawed and she’s very complicated and fiery and petulant and really working out how to be a monarch, really. That was really interesting to me and also, we had an amazing actress playing Isabella called Alicia Borrachero, and she and I talked a lot about how the perception of Catherine in Spain is that she’s this strong, determined woman and the other perception is just that she’s dowdy. It was really interesting to reassess the narrative and reassess what we think we know about this person. She does end up like a woman with very little agency and with very little power but she starts as someone who has a lot of power. It was really fascinating for me to get to explore the kind of unraveling of a woman, really. Well, the unraveling, re-raveling, unraveling, re-raveling.
GD: There is a lot of ravels. It is ever tempting, thinking that she’s such a famous figure in literature and film and TV, is it tempting to compare how other actors have played her or is it more important for you to draw inspiration from something new? How does that work when it’s something that’s been played before?
CH: I think it probably would be tempting even on a subconscious level if there had been a version of Catherine when she was young. But I’ve watched all of those shows. I’ve read pretty much all of those books. I was obsessed with the [Philippa] Gregory books when I was younger. I’d seen a lot of versions of older Catherine so probably subconsciously they were in my system but with the exception of “The Constant Princess,” I hadn’t really seen a version of young Catherine. Even if those performances got under my skin, I think that would probably be a useful thing because I know where she’s gonna end up. But it meant that I could really approach my version of Catherine in a very new way because it’s never really been done before. Our scripts were freakin’ amazing. Emma Frost and Matthew Graham wrote these incredible scripts so there was a whole bunch of material there. It is pretty exciting to discover a version of someone that you know the later version of them but not the beginning. I felt like I had a pretty free rein to do what I wanted.
GD: What I also really appreciate about this series, just like its predecessors, “The White Princess” and “The White Queen,” is that it’s fundamentally told from a female perspective, from a female point of view. There’s not a lot of TV out there that is told from that perspective. How refreshing is it to be part of a project told from a woman’s point of view?
CH: It’s amazing. I feel really, really passionately about it. I live in a house of actresses and I really think it’s so important for women to collaborate and this was doubly exciting because it’s being told from the women’s perspective, you take a version of Henry VIII’s story and you flip it and you go, “You know his story already. Let me show you the women around him and their story.” That, I think, is so exciting because I’ve seen Henry VIII over and over again but I haven’t seen the stories of those women and that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist and they weren’t valid. Women make up 50% of the population now and they did back then and just because their stories haven’t been written down in the history books doesn’t mean that they weren’t really, really interesting. From a storytelling perspective, I think it’s amazing and then also from the perspective of I got to work with a ton of amazing women on this show, it makes me really proud and inspired. I’m a real believer that women at the moment are at a stage where we’re really getting to collaborate and pull each other up. I spent a lot of time as an actress feeling like I was down in the mud fighting for roles and now we’re all pulling each other up out of the mud and that feels so exciting. Sorry, I’m on a rant because I really feel so passionately about this but our first director, this amazing Danish filmmaker called Birgitte Stærmose, she, I think, is just a complete artist and visionary and I am so grateful that I got to do those first few episodes with her. Now, I’m getting to work with her again. I’m doing a Netflix show called “The English Game” and it’s the first time in my career where I feel so supported by this amazing woman, by her. I think she’s incredible. Maja Zamojda, our DoP, we were holding each other through it and that created such a sense of sisterhood and this team. I think it’s so important that we all hold each other and carry each other and do it together. I’m so grateful that I got to do that on this show and that and getting to continue doing it.
GD: To your point, it’s really important that we embrace productions like this, especially for people who aren’t aware, most of the writers and directors on “The Spanish Princess” are women. It’s absolutely a women-driven project, both onscreen and behind the scenes. I wonder what did that mean for the production? Was it palpable, the difference on-set knowing that people generally in control, there was some men obviously, did you notice a difference?
CH: Yeah. I think most importantly, I was working with just a ton of really amazing filmmakers. Maja, our DoP, is an amazing woman but she’s also just an absolutely brilliant DoP, the same with Emma Frost, our showrunner. She’s an incredible woman but also just an amazing showrunner. Part of it is I just got to work with amazing people but I do think the fact that we were all girls meant that it really felt like we were in it together. Maja and I were in the trenches. We were tired on a Friday afternoon but we were doing it together. It was a huge opportunity for so many of us that maybe 15 years ago in this industry we might not have got. But the fact that we were being given that opportunity now meant that we ran with it. It was like, “Okay, if this is my time, let me go.” I wasn’t just running on my own. I was running with Maja and with Birgitte and Lisa [Clarke] and Daina [Reid] and this amazing cast of women. I feel really strongly about how amazing they all are. It was just a magical way to make a show because it felt like our time.
GD: It comes off onscreen, absolutely. Apart from that, the other thing that’s really noticeable, which is pretty obvious given it’s a period drama, is how visually stunning the show is, in particular, the costumes. For anyone who’s really into costume dramas, this is for you. I always wonder, how important is costuming and production and makeup and all that stuff and the aesthetics of that to get into a character? How important is that?
CH: I think it’s hugely important. The costumes on this are incredible. We had this amazing costume designer called Phoebe De Gaye and my mind is blown by the costumes but also the makeup. Our makeup designer is this amazing Swedish makeup designer called Linda Boije af Gennäs. Talking about being held by women, again, I did “Spanish Princess” with her and I’m doing “The English Game” with her. I’ve never felt more supported creatively and professionally. What I really loved about Linda’s makeup is that it never felt glossy or even trying to be pretty. She was really strict that we weren’t allowed any mascara. It was very, very minimal makeup. It was character makeup that made it feel real, that was respectful of Catherine and who she was and creating that character rather than trying to make me look fit. I’ve never thought of myself as playing a princess role. What was really amazing to me about Linda was it was about creating a look that was specific to Catherine and who she is and what she’s going through. When you combine that and these amazing costumes, I felt really like I was doing a character piece. It didn’t feel like a glossy period drama. I felt like I was Catherine.
GD: I think the way that you portrayed her, to me, there was an authenticity there. It wasn’t about the accent. It wasn’t about the costumes. It was about something that you were able to do that made us feel like she was an outsider trying to stake her claim in a world that sees her as an outsider. How much did that resonate with you personally when you were trying to bring life to this character?
CH: That’s a cool question. You know what, actually, I was an outsider. I’ve never played a lead. I’ve never even done a series regular before I did Catherine. So when Catherine’s coming to England and trying to pretend like she knows what she’s doing but also faltering but also with this deep steel, that’s pretty much what I was going through. I was trying to convince people that this is exactly where I should be, also aware that I’d been really hustling for a job like this for 10 years. So on some level, I really did think it’s where I should be but then also having these moments where I was like, “Ahh!” It was a jump that I felt like I’d been waiting a really really long time to do but that also was, at times, really intimidating. That’s a lot of what Catherine is going through. I think that’s what makes her interesting. If this were just a story about a really privileged princess it wouldn’t be that interesting but it’s really just a story of a girl grappling with who she is and what she wants and what she thinks she’s capable of and what’s insecure about. That’s what interesting women are. They’re all of the things. Catherine is both super confident and totally afraid at the same time. So am I as an actress all the time. So are most people. It’s not interesting to me to see, “She’s just strong,” or, “She’s just vulnerable,” which is, to be honest, often what you get as an actress. Catherine is all of the things all of the time and a lot of them are really contradictory. That was amazing to play but also easy to access.
GD: That’s the key. That’s what seems to resonate with all of us ‘cause we all have that no matter what you do in your profession. That’s really interesting to me. It’s authentic.
CH: Yeah. That’s why I was obsessed with “Fleabag” because I was like, “Oh, she’s all of the things” and it’s so complicated and contradictory but that’s what makes a portrayal of a woman in this time interesting, ‘cause it’s really complicated.
GD: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Charlotte, for your time. Good luck with all the awards and accolades and great reviews. You’ve got so much more to look forward to and “The English Game” which we will look forward to on Netflix soon. Thanks for your time, really appreciate it.
CH: Thank you so much.