Georgia Tennant talks making Staged relevant in a post-pandemic world, the unnerving reality of discovering that people were copying her interior design choices, and staying true to herself while balancing parenthood and work.
Photography by Lesley Edith | Styling by Sarah-Rose Harrison | Hair by Sophie Sugarman | Make up by Andriani Vasiliou | Shot on location at The Milestone Hotel and Residences
The first Covid lockdown was not a great time to be an actor, or in fact anything in the creative arts. With theatres locked and productions shut down, people were forced to push their creativity further to come up with new ways to earn a living and deliver to their audience – from documentaries shot on smartphones to remotely directed mini-dramas. It was in these first confusing pandemic days that Staged was conceived. Created by Simon Evans and Phin Glynn and featuring David Tennant and Michael Sheen and their partners Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg, the ‘is it scripted, isn’t it?’ (answer: it is, mostly) comedy saw the actors play fictionalised versions of themselves as they tried to rehearse a play over Zoom calls during lockdown. It was so successful that a second series was released a year later, ironically just as the then prime minister was announcing another lockdown. And now the third and final series is about to launch on the BBC, having premiered on BritBox late last year. “
It has always felt like a three-parter, this whole experience,” Georgia tells me when we sit down to talk about how the new series moves beyond lockdown. “But I think we definitely weren’t going to do it if we couldn’t come up with a concept that worked as well, because what you don’t want to do is have two really successful seasons and then have a sort of damp squib for your end. We would much prefer to have not done it and gone out on a high. There was quite a lot of thought about what that could be, and various ideas were batted around, and then one day we just landed upon this idea. And at that point, everyone just went: ‘Oh, that’s it. That’s the thing we have to do’. So, this series is about coming out the other side of a traumatic experience and figuring out who you are now.”
Interestingly, the lack of ideas wasn’t the only thing standing in the way of this third and final outing for Staged. “The first part was very easy, because everyone was stuck in their houses,” Georgia explains. “So, availability was, you know, it was there on a plate. Season two was slightly more tricky, but still people weren’t working in the way that they had been working prior to the pandemic. So, it was still quite easy, but actually, by the time we did the third one, people had gone back to their lives and so trying to get people in the same place, even the core six of us, it was really difficult to do, and we only really had a period of about three weeks in which to film it.” The availability issue was felt more acutely this time around because for the first time, certain scenes required everybody to be together physically. Though this was a happy problem to have, Georgia insists. “It was lovely to actually spend time in the room with the people that you have spent so much time with for the last few years,” she tells me. “Because you get to know people very well, and yet you realise you don’t know them in 3D. Which is quite a weird concept!”
Georgia wears, suit by Jacquemus, shoes by Aquazzura, and rings and earrings by Kitty Joyas. Necklace, Georgia’s own
Times might have changed, but the latest series was largely shot and produced in the same way as the first two. “We’ve got a very small core creative crew and it’s still mostly on our iPhones and our computers,” Georgia explains. “We had two days where we got a man with an actual camera in, and that felt very weird because that’s not an experience we’ve ever had before. So, in order to make it comfortable, we got a friend of ours, who also happens to be a photographer and a cameraman, and so it still felt very in-house and very homemade, which I think is important.”
Though the storylines might be fictional, the sets have always been the couples’ own homes, I wonder how the Tennants felt about revealing theirs to viewers. “We tried not to show too much…” Georgia admits. “Michael and Anna were much more successful than us because they only ever showed a very small portion of their kitchen throughout the entire thing. I don’t know how they managed to do that; they were very clever. Maybe because we just have more people in the house [the couple live with their five children], and therefore we just had to use whatever room was available to us at that moment, we did end up showing more than, certainly I’d anticipated us showing. But actually, it’s been interesting, because there’s been a couple of people who have worked on the show who had never been to our house during the first two seasons, and then in the course of season three did come, and obviously it’s not what they thought it was. So, I think we managed, while seemingly showing quite a lot of it, in fact to not show the real essence of the house. There was one particular corner that we ended up showing quite a lot, and people started wallpapering their houses in the same way. I felt like, I can’t keep seeing that bit of my house on Twitter. It was starting to unnerve me, so I re-wallpapered…” she laughs. “Originally, we only had what we had to work with. We had no hair and make up, no costume. No set design, no lighting. So, it was very much like, how can we make this scene work, rather than what are we going to be happy showing?” She concludes.
I’m interested in how that lack of hair and make up made Georgia feel. “I loved it,” she exclaims. “I mean, you know, listen, one of my favourite parts of any filming job is in the make up chair, but there was something quite freeing about going: ‘There is nothing I can do about this situation’. At that point everyone was locked in their houses and presumably not looking their best, so you don’t want to be watching a TV show where somebody is, because that’s not going to be relatable or fun. So, I thought well, this is the opportunity to not really care about any of that. Turns out I have very much continued that in my real life. Freeing, isn’t it?” She grins.
Georgia wears: dress by Aje, bracelet and earrings by Kitty Joyas, and rings by Anuka and Orelia
And how was it working with David again? “I really, really enjoy it. I mean, he’s the only person I ever really want to spend any time with, so the idea of getting to work with him….” she smiles. “I mean, I had the best time. I think maybe I didn’t know that I was going to. He’s such a great asset, he’s really supportive of me whilst in no way being patronising, which is all I look for really in a human being: nice and supportive. And yeah, it just felt like a very safe space, and I feel like it worked better than I thought it was going to. So, we certainly wouldn’t rule out working together again in the future.”
Georgia and David first met after appearing on Doctor Who together in a 2008 episode called The Doctor’s Daughter. Georgia’s father is Peter Davison – another former Doctor Who star. Her mother is actress Sandra Dickinson. “I was good friends with a girl at school whose dad also played the Doctor,” she reveals, when I ask whether her parents’ work influenced her decision to pursue a career in drama. “So, the idea that my dad had played the Doctor on the telly was not a unique thing. I sort of assumed that there were quite a lot of us who had that experience, because slightly oddly, one of my best friends had. I didn’t ever grow up thinking that what my parents did was unique, or particularly interesting, but I did go: ‘That looks fun’. And I liked doing drama at school. So, by the time I realised there were other options, I had kind of already decided what I was going to do. Although as I’ve got older, I have started to do other things as well, to kind of scratch some other itches that I have got. But they are all sort of creative, I suspect because I probably was always going to do this.”
Is it a career she would recommend? “I would say it’s a wonderful job when people let you do it,” she nods. “But be prepared for there to be large swathes of time where people don’t let you do it, and therefore have other things to fall back on. But also, have people around to support you, because you have to be pretty hardened to rejection. You have to be pretty confident in yourself as a person when people are constantly telling you that you’re not right. ‘You don’t look right’. ‘This one’s not for you’. ‘Maybe the next one’. So have things in your life that make you feel confident outside of your work, I would say.”
Georgia wears dress by Aje, earrings by Anuka, and rings by Kitty Joyas
On that note, are there any particularly toe-curling audition experiences she’d like to share? “Oh my God! I’ve put those stories in some box on a shelf in my brain never to be opened again,” she laughs. “I’ve had awful, awful auditions. I had one that was so bad, I knew I was wrong for it, and I should have left before I’d gone into the room. I just remember fixating on the director’s shoes throughout this audition, and thinking, this person’s shoes are so much cooler than I have ever been, I shouldn’t be in this room – and as I looked up halfway through reading this scene, I stopped and he went ‘You want to leave, don’t you?’, and I went, ‘Yes’, and he said, ‘It was really nice to meet you.’ I was like, this is so awful, this is only going to end with me humiliating myself. That was the only time I have walked out of a meeting midway through, but I’m really glad I did. There’s something to be said for self-tapes!”
Like many actors, as she has gained experience, Georgia has started to take on other creative roles, in particular acting as a producer on a number of projects including Staged. I wonder which of the roles she prefers. “I really like the fact that I’ve got both of them, because I think one gives you absolutely no control, and one gives you quite a lot of control,” she tells me. “And to be able to do both of those things and still create art at the end of it is a privilege. Producing wasn’t something that I thought I was going to be good at when I was younger, and it wasn’t until I had worked with a lot of producers that I sort of thought, no, I suppose there’s a bit of me that could do that. And then I met the right person who wanted to give me a shot at it. I feel like I have earned the producing a bit more; it is not necessarily something you are born good at. I feel like I’ve learned quite a lot doing that. I have also started writing quite a lot, which again, I think is a similar thing. It’s a sort of skill that I’m not naturally wonderful at, and I’ve had to work hard to get better.”
Georgia wears top by Jacquemus, trousers by Ted Baker, shoes by Manolo Blahnik, and earrings by Orelia
Is there anything particular Georgia is writing currently? “I am developing a comedy about… I don’t think I should say what it’s about, I might get in trouble,” she laughs. “I’m developing a comedy with Relish TV at the moment, and I’m having a lovely time. I’m writing with my friend Daisy Aitkens. I produced her first film, You, Me and Him and she is one of my best mates. So, I get to work with my best mate, which is a dream.”
With writing and acting and everything else, I wonder how on earth she manages to be such a hands-on parent to so many kids. “I do my best; that is all I can do,” she shrugs. “I mean, there are days where I’m like ‘I’ve got this, I’m totally nailing it’. And then the next day, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve had so many children! What am I doing? Who am I? I can’t do this. They hate me!’. It’s just about remembering the days where you don’t feel like that, and sort of going ‘Probably, on the whole, I’m doing okay’. But there’s definitely no magic answer to the ‘How do you have it all?’ question. The answer is you just try your best and hope in that process that you don’t lose yourself, I think.”
Staged will be on BBC1 and the BBC iPlayer this month