Philippa Coulthard Interview: ‘Howards End’
“We definitely all felt that we had a lot to live up to,” reveals Philippa Coulthard in our exclusive webcam interview (watch the video above) about the BBC/Starz limited series “Howards End,” based on the acclaimed 1910 novel by E.M. Forster. “It’s a bit nerve-wracking to take on a role that has been done so brilliantly,” the actress admits about taking on a new spin on the novel and especially the Oscar-winning 1992 Merchant/Ivory film of the same name, acknowledging that “people cherish that adaptation.”
In this version adapted by Oscar champ Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”), Coulthard plays Helen Schlegel alongside Hayley Atwell who plays her sister Margaret, two independent-minded sisters navigating their way through turn-of-the-century England, whose lives become intertwined with the wealthy Wilcox family and the working-class Bast family. The Australian actress reprises the role originated on the big screen by Helena Bonham Carter, who was nominated for a BAFTA for her portrayal of the idealistic and passionate Helen.
Although Coulthard was understandably nervous about taking on the role, the actress relished the opportunity to make it her own and revisit the story from a different perspective. “I hadn’t seen the film and decided not to see it until we had finished filming, and I think that’s a good idea because they are the greats, and it would be so easy to compare yourself or try to emulate what they did, so I wanted to attack it with fresh eyes,” she reveals. “What is also nice is that they are so different. We have four hours to tell the story and we get to explore a lot of different things, with the luxury of having more time to do that.”
Coulthard was particularly fascinated with how relevant the story remains to modern audiences. “The idea of connecting with people outside of your typical ideological sphere,” surprised her the most, she says, noting that Helen Schlegel didn’t adhere to social norms of her time, always curious about forming bonds with people from different social classes. “Instead of shying away from people who have different beliefs to her own she really wants to understand and connect with people that she wouldn’t usually, which I think is especially relevant today, as it is so easy to be on social media in your own echo chamber and hear people that agree with you,” the actress explains. “That is something we realized that was really amazing about the Schlegels.”