Raine Supreme

Elfin-featured Jessica Raine was told at RADA that she would never play a period role because her face was too modern. Strange, then, that she’s making a career of bringing the past to life

First there was prim Jenny Lee in Call the Midwife; then beleaguered Jules Sutter in Wolf Hall; followed by bossy accidental sleuth Tuppence Beresford in Partners in Crime, and, this month, as tough Yorkshirewoman Annie, in Jericho, a drama about the building of the railways during the Industrial Revolution.

But then, if there’s one thing she’s learnt, it’s that acting is all about “going to a character, rather than bringing a character to me.” That, and of course, that “hair and make-up teams are very clever people.”

So is she keen to escape period drama after this? Surprisingly, no, she describes her latest role as “a real breath of fresh air,” adding that, “it always comes down to the script, and what really attracted me to this was the originality of it. The most important part is always the story.”

Storytelling is what drew Jessica to acting in the first place. Describing herself as a shy teenager – “a little runty pale thing” – she thinks that her school contemporaries may be surprised at where she has ended up. Initially drawn to photography or journalism, she eventually came to realise that, “both of those things are framing, or telling a story, and what I really wanted was to be in the story.”

Nothing about her childhood prepared her for a career on stage and screen. “We were in Herefordshire, it’s a county that really juts out on its own. You don’t go through it to get to anywhere, it’s not a tourist destination, there’s no motorway running through it. And, more than that, we were on a farm near the borders of Wales, and it was just very isolated. I was so green when I started.”

She remembers her first time on stage, and being equal parts terrified and exhilarated, a feeling that persists to this day. “It’s not so much terror anymore, because I feel much more professional now,” she explains, adding: “I believe that I’m good at my job, and I’m confident. But it is exhilarating, and it makes your heart beat faster. No other job will give me that kick that I love so much.”

And what of leaving behind the countryside and upping sticks for the Capital? Does she miss the green, green grass of home? “Not judging by my reaction to Yorkshire while we were filming Jericho,” she laughs, recalling the long months spent filming in a remote part of Yorkshire. “I thought I was going to stay put at weekends, and people would come up to visit me, but in the end I wanted to come back to London. No offence to Yorkshire, I just think I’m a city girl now. I’d never say never, but no, I’m very happy being in London.”

Being away from home is, of course, part and parcel of acting, but that certainly doesn’t make the separation any easier. “I missed my life here, I suppose. It was even more difficult because I got married (to fellow actor Tom Goodman-Hill) during filming, so planning that from a remote part of the Yorkshire Moors was quite stressful. And then I had to go straight back to work the next day, which was really hard. I wanted to spend time with Tom, obviously. Stuff like that is difficult, but luckily it’s a job that was worth it. And it definitely makes it easier being married to an actor – we both just get it.”

Set in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1870s, the drama from ITV Studios focuses on the shantytown of Jericho, home to a community that will live, thrive and die in the shadow of the viaduct they’ve been brought together to build. Jessica plays Annie, a woman who has been left shattered and penniless by the death of her gambling husband. Determined to keep going for the sake of her two teenage children, she sets out for a new life in Jericho. “I love it when writers put characters in very difficult situations,” she explains, “we finished filming at the end of October and I felt really sad to let Annie go, because she was an incredible woman to play. She really was. Hopefully I’ll get to play her again.”

So, with a second series potentially in the pipeline, what else might the future hold for Jessica? Does she see herself on the big screen? “Oh god yeah, I’d love to. But it always comes down to the script really. I came out of drama school and did a couple of years of theatre, and then hit the ground running really with these amazing television roles. Television seems to be going through a golden age at the moment, but if the right film role came along, I’d love to do that. It’s just a case of what scripts come your way, and what parts you’re offered. It’s not something I’m actually chasing if you like – more that I’m waiting to see what stories are there to be told.”

And is a move to Hollywood on the cards? “I properly love London – more and more the longer I live here. I’ve been here for 10 years now and I think it’s the best city in the world. I just think it’s incredible. I love the people. I wouldn’t mind getting out of London in January, but I wouldn’t go over there really hustling, it’d be more for the weather. I’d dress it up as work, but really I’d be going to the beach. I’d write it off on a tax return as research!”

Dreams of the beach aside, what does downtime look like for Jessica? “I’m a big fan of Pilates – I go to a class every Saturday. I love going out for walks – getting out and exploring London. We’re lucky to have so many parks and woods and open spaces. And I love food, and eating good food. Who doesn’t?” On her list of recent discoveries are Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner: “Oh my god, it was incredible! We all had such a terrible food hangover the next day, but it was so worth it,” and Spring at Somerset House: “The decor is like a really friendly art gallery, and the lighting is beautiful. The food was great, too – I ate the best pudding I’ve ever had.”

Which brings her on to another great love: galleries. “I go to the Taylor Wessing exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery every year. I just love looking at different faces and how they are portrayed. I think it’s fascinating, so that’s one of my favourites. And I like The V&A, The British Museum, Somerset House – I love the history, and the space. It’s so nice to just wander around and absorb. I find galleries really calming places to go to – when I’m working I barely ever get there because I’m just so manic, but whenever I have downtime, I find myself drawn to those types of places.”

Of course, downtime seems unlikely given Jessica’s recent track record. But what exactly is she hoping for next? “You never know what’s going to happen. I feel really happy with where I am. You’ve caught me on a high, because I’m really excited about Jericho. I thought that it was so original, and I’m really proud to be a part of that. My aspirations right now are to get on stage again. I feel like, in acting, you do grow more if you get on stage regularly.” Watch out West End.

Jericho will screen on ITV later this month