At just 23, Holliday Grainger has already starred in the Showtime series The Borgias and two of this year’s most hotly tipped films: Jane Eyre [pictured] and Bel Ami, while simultaneously studying for an English Literature degree. The multi-tasking duchess tells IdeasMag about taking rejection, staying honest and why Manchester will always be home…
You’ve become very successful very young. What’s your secret?
I suppose the secret is persevere, keep your head up, don’t take rejection badly and don’t take it too seriously.
Have you ever regretted not going to Drama School?
Acting is a ridiculously hard profession to get into and drama school does give you a grounding. A lot of the time I meet great actors who all know each other because they went to drama school together; there’s a massive camaraderie.
I would have loved to go to drama school but I also really wanted to go to university and to carry on acting professionally.
How have you juggled studying for a degree and an acting career?
Well, I’m still studying, at the Open University. I got massively behind when I was doing The Borgias last year so I’ve just been at home for the last few months, living as a student in Manchester and catching up on essays and revision for exams.
Is it weird studying things like Jane Eyre and Great Expectations when you’re also starring in adaptations of them?
It’s not weird, it’s fantastic. It makes complete sense. I’ve just done a module in the 19th-century novel and last year I did both Jane Eyre and Bel Ami, so it seems to tie in ridiculously well.
Why do you think you are so often cast in period dramas?
I really have no idea. When I was younger I always wanted to do period dramas and I never even got an audition. Everyone viewed me as a contemporary northern girl. It must just be that I’ve done a couple recently – it sticks in people’s minds.
Also, there are a lot of fantastic roles for women in period dramas. I suppose young women were the main readership for those novels when they were published.
How do you prepare for a role like Lucrezia in The Borgias?
I read quite a few biographies of Lucrezia Borgia and her love letters. But to be honest I think that’s more for a sense of personal fulfillment. I don’t know how much my acting choices would have been any different if I hadn’t read those.
It does make you feel more prepared, which gives you the confidence to play around a little bit more with how you approach the character.
Do you approach your screen and stage work differently?
I’ve only done one stage play, but it is a completely different experience and style of acting. When working on television I would often mumble things to make them seem more natural. But if you just invest a bit more honesty and integrity into the line, it should come across as natural however loud you say it.
The most difficult thing I found about stage work was just standing in the middle of the stage, acting. When you’re doing film or TV you’re always in a naturalistic surrounding. If you’re sat on a bed then you’ll be playing with the duvet covers. If you’re sat on a bed on stage you might not have any of those everyday movements to rely on. You have to invest everything into the words that you’re saying.
You started working up in Manchester. Have you ever felt the pull to London?
I imagine I’ll always come down to London for work, but Manchester’s home. A lot of people seem to have the attitude that London is the centre of the universe. But, you know, it’s only two hours on the train.
Is there a single thing that you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out?
It’s always important to keep real. You’re only an actor – you’re not saving the world. Some people take it far too seriously.