Exclusive Interview: Chanel Cresswell

From skinhead addict to high-profile WAG, Chanel tells us about the roles that shaped her career, and how it felt to be awarded her BAFTA.

Photography by Silvia Draz | Styling by Lily Rimmer | Hair by Emma Small | Make Up by Justine Jenkins

“The last thing we wanted to do was to make these people into caricatures – what you see in the newspapers, that is not who these people are,” Chanel Cresswell tells me when we sit down to talk about the upcoming Channel 4 adaptation of the libel case between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy. Chanel plays Coleen in Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama, which also stars Michael Sheen and Natalia Tena and will be on screens this month – it is a remarkable turnaround when you consider that the court proceedings, the talk of social media this summer, only concluded at the end of July.

“It all happened really quickly,” Chanel agrees. “I remember getting a phone call originally asking me to do the audition, and thinking, oh my God, they’re actually going to make this into a story. I was quite surprised really, but obviously it had captured the nation’s interest. Literally within two weeks we were flying out to Budapest, to film. The speed with which production started was crazy – even if we did want to reach out to the people we were playing, we just didn’t have time. It all happened very quickly.”

The production uses the actual court transcripts, so the dialogue is completely true to life, but Chanel’s portrayal of Coleen’s characteristics required a little more thought. “When you play a character that nobody knows, it is your interpretation, and you are allowed that artistic licence to create the character you want. But with somebody like Coleen Rooney, everybody has their own interpretation of this person,” she tells me. “I have been seeing her on the cover of magazines since I was little, but I’ve never met her, and she doesn’t do much in the way of public interviews, so there’s not much material out there. I didn’t follow the trial at the time, and I am glad that I hadn’t, because I was coming in with an unbiased opinion.”

Chanel Cresswell Exclusive Interview

Chanel  Cresswell wears:  high neck sequin top (whistles.com) and silver hoop earrings, stylist’s own.

So, how did she go about preparing for the role? “You have to think, OK, let’s look at this person – what makes them tick, what characteristics can you play,” she explains. “The one thing that I thought was, don’t think about stereotypes, don’t think of her as a WAG – what is her family like? What is her background like? Where has she come from? What has she been through in her life? What struggles has she had? She is a very loyal, strong person, and that became apparent very quickly – loyalty is everything to her. She has a very strong family unit behind her, and friends. So, this court case was about more than somebody leaking her personal information, it meant more to her than that.”

No matter how much preparation went into the role, there was still so much guesswork involved that I wonder if Chanel is feeling nervous about how Coleen might perceive her portrayal. “Yes, massively,” she laughs. “I don’t know how to elaborate on that other than to say that I am definitely apprehensive.”

The perfectly groomed footballer’s wife is a far cry from Chanel’s first role, that of skinhead Kelly in This is England – a part that threw her into the spotlight at the age of just 15, in 2006. Revealing how the job came about, Chanel tells me: “I was in the Television Workshop, which was a workshop for kids who probably didn’t have the means or the resources to go to drama school. I had auditioned to get in when I was 11 and got a place. Then, a few years after that there was a director, Shane Meadows, who was very heavily linked to the workshop, and he came down because he was casting this film. We were all really excited, because we’d heard that he was a really big director. I remember walking down to the audition and there were just so many people that there weren’t even enough chairs for us all to sit down. I had to sit on my friend’s knee,” she recalls. “And I remember thinking, there is just no way on God’s earth that he is going to look over at me; there are just too many people here. So, I just sat back and kind of gave up on the idea, because there were so many kids there. And then at the end, somebody came up and told me that he really, really liked me and wanted to re-call me. And then, before I knew it, I had been offered the job. They said, ‘Yeah, you’ll probably have to shave all your hair off’. And I was like, ‘Yeah, course!’. Little did I know they weren’t kidding – a few weeks later I was in a hairdresser getting all of my hair shaved off,” she laughs.

Chanel Cresswell

Chanel Cresswell wears: satin feathered maxi dress by LAPOINTE (koibird.com); 22K gold plated bronze with crystal cubic zirconia earrings (@saadcollection); 18k gold plated 925 silver ring (mimanera.com) and Logan brown boots by Gedebe (koibird.com)

The film was so well received that a spin-off TV series, This is England ’86, was commissioned, and that was followed by two further sequels. “It paved the way for my career,” Chanel tells me. “I had no idea how big it was going to be. And I am kind of glad in a way; the naivety was probably a blessing in disguise.” Indeed, it meant that she walked onto the set on her first day armed with the bravado of the young and none of the nerves that come hand-in-hand with experience.

Recalling that day, she says: “Me and my best friend would watch Snatch on repeat on the DVD player. And I remember walking into the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham when they had got all of the final gang together, and Stephen Graham was there, and I remember ringing her up and going, ‘Oh my God, Tommy, The Tit’s here, Tommy, The Tit’s here out of Snatch!’ And she was like ‘No!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s in it, he plays Combo!’ I was just so excited to work with him.”

Though she has gone on to play a huge variety of roles since, Chanel tells me that Kelly will always hold a special place in her heart. “I have played so many different roles – I have been very lucky – and I have loved every role I have played, I really have,”  she tells me. “I look back on them and it’s like having loads of children. But the one character who I really do have a connection with is Kelly. I have always felt very protective of her. When we were doing This is England ’90 and there was speculation about how bad things were going to get for Kelly, and whether she  would actually survive, I remember Shane sitting me down and talking me through this awful path she was on. And I literally just broke down and I was like, ‘Oh my God, you can’t do this’. I was really heartbroken.”

Though heart wrenching, that particular storyline was responsible for Chanel winning a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress; it was an unforgettable time. “It was like I was in a bubble. I took my sister with me, and we had these great days together in London. I had my dress fitting on Bond Street in Escada – it was all just so surreal,” Chanel recalls. “I remember when I was on the red carpet before, and I was just feeling so lucky to be there, my dress broke. The back was done up with a little clip, and I wasn’t wearing a bra, so I really needed this dress to stay put. And it broke, and I just remember looking at my sister in horror. And I had Stephen Graham’s wife trying to safety pin me back in, and it kept pinging back open. And I remember saying, ‘If this is how tonight means to go on, we are screwed!’ But no, I ended up winning…”

Chanel Cresswell

Chanel Cresswell wears: satin feathered maxi dress by LAPOINTE (koibird.com); 22K gold plated bronze with crystal cubic zirconia earrings (@saadcollection); 18k gold plated 925 silver ring (mimanera.com) and Logan brown boots by Gedebe (koibird.com)

Despite the nomination, the award was a big surprise to Chanel. “Everyone in my family had been saying, ‘Chanel, remember that it’s just a bonus that you have even been nominated’,” she tells me. “And then on the night, I sat there with my sister, and I had Shane and Stephen behind me. I remember, my sister looked at me and she went, ‘Chanel, now, you might not win… but if they do read your name out, try to be cool’. I was like, ‘OK, same to you’. And she was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be cool, you be cool, we’ll both be cool’. The next minute, they read my name out! I was screaming, my sister was screaming. All of that completely went out of the window…” she laughs at the memory.

“It definitely is an achievement, and it is amazing to be able to say that you have won a BAFTA award, and I feel lucky every day that I get to say that I have one of those brass faces at home,” she tells me, though she admits that winning for a role like this can be something of a double-edged sword. “You do have to prove your abilities in other areas. You still have to keep working hard to persuade people that you have the ability to play all kinds of parts. I think it does take a few years for things to settle down. And then you almost have to start proving yourself within the industry again and proving what else you can do.”

On that note, I wonder whether there are any types of roles  that she hasn’t been offered yet that she would like to try her hand at. “I would like to do something in the supernatural world. Because I have always grown up believing in that sort of thing.  So, I would like to do something like that,” she says, after giving the question some thought. “And also, some really crazy character. I love Helena Bonham Carter; she gets all of those really fun, abstract roles, and I love that. That is how I started off at the workshop, playing all of these crazy characters. So, something  like that would be fun…”

Chanel tells me that she believes there should always be an element of choice when it comes to the parts an actor plays. “I do pick and choose what is right for me, because there has to be an element of truth in it somewhere,” she reveals. “When I do more serious dramas and things like that, something has to resonate with me. I want to be able to portray the part properly, to do justice to it. So, I do take those roles very, very seriously. If I don’t feel like something is right, or I don’t quite know what the script is trying to get at, and I don’t understand it, I tend to step away.”

Heart set on a part, there is nothing better than being told that she has been chosen to play it. “I don’t think there is one time when I haven’t cried after being told I have got a role. That is how much it means to me. It is incredible,” she admits. “I just take it very personally when somebody gives me an opportunity to play  a role that I really wanted. To me it is huge.”

That moment felt even more significant with her latest job offer. “I really, really wanted a role in this production – it was a director that I have loved since I was very young. My dad passed away in January, very suddenly, and I have this picture of him, and I hadn’t realised that I had hung this picture so that it looked through into my self-taping room… I walked past, and I said to the picture, please let me get a part in this… I ended up getting a phone call telling me I had got that part, and I just started crying. I was just so, so happy. It felt like my dad was there and that he had helped,” she reveals. “I don’t think that I can tell you anything about the role at the moment, but it is definitely a childhood, bucket-list moment ticking off! I am actually going down to London tomorrow for costume fittings and meeting the director. And I am just so excited about that.”

It sounds like there will be lots to look forward to in 2023, but aside from exciting work opportunities, I wonder if Chanel has any wishes for the year ahead. “If somebody actually did give me  a wish, it would probably be for 10 other wishes. So, then I had a  few, and if I made an error, I could correct it,” she laughs. “But I guess it would be for everybody to be healthy and happy, really. Because obviously I have lost one of my parents this year, so I think that is very important for me.”

Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama will be out later this month  on Channel 4