‘She Is Such An Influential Woman’: Ellie MacDowall On Playing Jennifer Grant In ITV’s Archie

By Olivia Emily

8 months ago

Streaming now on ITVX


Brand new on ITVX is Archie, a biopic chronicling Cary Grant’s early years and rise to fame, with Jason Isaacs leading the series. It is spliced with flash forwards, where we see the world-famous actor battling his own unhappiness as an adult. His daughter, Jennifer, is played by Ellie MacDowall, who we sat down with ahead of the series launch. Here we learn all about the series.

Interview: Ellie MacDowall

 

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Hi Ellie, how’s life going at the moment?

Yeah great, thank you! I’m currently home for a little bit which I am really enjoying. I do have a soft spot for Scotland, I must say.

You can currently be seen in Archie on ITVX – can you give us an elevator pitch for the show?

Archie narrates the story of Cary Grant’s early life as Archibald Leach, who grew up in Bristol experiencing extreme poverty and many family struggles. Although he experienced a hard up bringing, he grew up to become one of the biggest Hollywood stars in history and, although this life seemed to be all anyone could dream of, Archie was very unhappy in his private life.

You play Jennifer Grant – can you describe her?

Jennifer is a very inspiring woman. She carries a peaceful elegance and is extremely humble. Her parents were divorced when she was young and her dad passed away when she was 20, which is lot to deal with at such a young age. I just love that, despite that, she kept pushing, doing what she loves, and is forever proud of both her parents and their work.

What was it like playing her?

It was an honour to play Jennifer Grant. She is such an influential woman and inspired me a lot when preparing for the role. I really wanted to make sure I did her justice – to show the love and care she has for her father, as well as the gentleness of her character!

How did you get into character/prepare for the role?

I studied Jennifer, particularly where she speaks about her dad. There is a beautiful interview where Jennifer introduces one of her dad’s movies, and the way she talks about him with such pride is the most heartwarming moment. She mentions her favourite movie of his, Bringing Up Baby (1938), and says it represents the variety of characteristics that he carried. That interview really helped me, because it made it so clear how much he meant to her.

The series worked with the real Jennifer Grant, and she is a Producer – what was she like to work with?

Sadly, I didn’t get to work with Jennifer as she wasn’t on set the days I was. However, Jason and the team were sending over photos of us both, so she was getting up to date progress on how the shots looked. She said it brought back such fond memories of her and her dad during those times, and it was lovely to be a part of re-creating that!

How did that affect/influence your performance?

It was important to me that I portrayed how captivated she was by her dad and how much she looked up to him. My focus, above all else, was ensuring that that was shown.

It’s your TV debut – how does that feel?

It feels an honour, especially for it to be on such a lovely project that this one is. It really meant a lot to me that the team were all so lovely to work with, and I learnt a lot along the way, too!

What was your reaction when you got the role?

I was so excited and it felt like such an honour. I did the usual thing and phoned up everyone I wanted to tell!

Any funny stories from rehearsals or filming?

As I am playing Jenifer when she was in her teens, when I first went on set after hair and make-up, all the crew thought I was actually 16, asking if I had my chaperone with me and if I had managed to get off school easily! It was a very funny moment revealing I was 23… The power of hair and make-up.

What was the cast dynamic? Who was your favourite person to work with?

We all got on very well. There was a real sense of community. I loved working with Jason – he was really inspiring and it was really interesting watching him become Cary Grant.

Are you still in touch with any of your co-stars?

I am, yes. Samantha Colley, who plays Barbara, is just so lovely, and we really connected on and off set. Dan Partridge, also, who plays Randolph Scott, is really great and I actually went and watched him on the West End in Grease which was a great show (sadly finished, otherwise I’d highly recommend).

Were you a fan of Cary Grant prior to the project?

I was aware of Cary Grant and I had seen a couple of his movies, but I never knew his back story and the hardships he had growing up, so this was very fascinating for me to learn.

What’s your favourite film of his?

I love North by Northwest! Jennifer’s favourite, which I had never seen, is Bringing Up Baby, so I watched that before we filmed. It shows a variety of his characteristics and helps you really see why he was such a star.

 

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Can you tell us about any other standout projects you’ve worked on?

I worked on a few projects just as Covid restrictions started to lift after so many months! I really loved these ones as it felt amazing getting back in front of the camera again with other actors in person… Zoom for sure became the most used app for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one!

Any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)

I’m looking forward to exploring what is out there and any new scripts that come my way! Auditioning is what this is all about, and I’m super excited for what’s to come.

Who has been your favourite person to work with in the past?

I once worked with the choreographer Ricky Jinks where he created a dance piece that told the story of Alice and Wonderland.  I enjoyed the discipline that Ricky set and the way he used his imagination and creativity was hugely inspirational… He was amazing to work with.

Who is someone you’ve learned a lot from?

Back when I was at my performing college, there were many of my mentors who I loved hearing about: how they started, the ups and the down, and what got them to where they are now. There was one in particular who really resonated with me who I still keep in touch with today.

What’s your dream role?

I recently watched the series Maid on Netflix and became a huge fan. The role of Alex that is played by Margaret Qualley would be an example of my dream role. I love how the story unfolds and how Alex would be a challenge to play, but I love the vulnerability of it all and the idea of pushing myself.

What’s an unexpected genre you’d like to try?

I’d have to say a war film. There is something so beautiful about war films and I love the physical and emotional challenges that they come with. They remind us of the horrific events that took place in real life and I would love to be a part of sharing those stories.

What do you like to do to wind down?

For me, there is nothing better than going for a walk in the country. It’s the only time I can switch off from the world and just fully allow my mind to relax. Putting the wellies and the unfashionable dog walking jacket on is always the perfect way to do it!

Do you get to spend much time at home?

I do, yes. I have a base in London and in Edinburgh, so when I’m up in Scotland, I get to spend time at home which I really enjoy… Although unsure if my dog enjoys it – he gets the full pamper.

Do you live in the town or the country? Which do you prefer?

When I am up in Scotland, I live in the countryside and I much prefer that. Having the space to go on long walks up the hills where no one is around… I find it really refreshing and it acts as a huge detox for me.

What’s your interior design style?

I would say a mix of contemporary and eclectic style. I love a mixture of fabrics, textures and colours – where things shouldn’t work but they do.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I was brought up in a very creative environment, so as a kid it always circled around that. At first, I wanted to be a dancer, then an actor, then an interior designer, and then I basically went full circle. But it was always something creative; that was a no brainer.

If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?

Not to worry about what people think. I am still giving myself that advice now, but I think back in school, I wish I didn’t focus on it as much. Basically not to sweat the small stuff, as there is more to life.

How can we all live a little bit better?

I love the saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. If something pushes you out of your comfort zone, do it! I feel I am always proving to myself that I am stronger than what my mind tells me by just pushing myself.

Anything fun in the pipeline – professionally or personally?

Christmas is coming up, which is my favourite time of the year. I am looking forward to spending time with my family and friends while getting all festive.

Quick Fire

I’m currently watching… The Bear

What I’m reading… Still Me by Jojo Moyes

The last thing I watched (and loved) was… Marriage Story

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… Wonka

Favourite film of all time… Silver Linings Playbook

Favourite song of all time… ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by Electric Light Orchestra

Band/singer I always have on repeat… Coldplay

My ultimate cultural recommendation… Visit the Inner Hebrides

Cultural guilty pleasure… Irn Bru (a little biased)

What’s next for me is… There are a few things bubbling away in the pipeline that I sadly can’t mention, but I am excited about where things are heading, and looking forward to people watching Archie!

WATCH

Catch Ellie MacDowall playing Jennifer Grant in Archie. All episodes are streaming now on ITVX.