Have you watched Channel 4’s Partygate yet? The docudrama traces the infamous political scandal that rocked the nation in the midst of the pandemic. If you couldn’t quite place Grace Greenwood, she is played by Georgie Henley who got her start (and is best known for) playing Lucy in The Chronicles of Narnia film series. We caught up with Georgie to chat all things Partygate.
Interview: Georgie Henley On Playing Grace In Partygate
Hi Georgie, it’s great to have you on C&TH. Firstly, how’s life going at the moment?
Good! Busy, which is what I prefer!
You star in Channel 4’s new dramatisation of ‘partygate’ – how would you describe the film in one sentence?
The film is a reckoning of sorts – a refusal to forget what happened in Number 10 in a time of national sacrifice.
How does it feel to be dramatising such a well-known and controversial recent event?
It’s definitely daunting! When we were researching and filming, I was just trying very hard to focus on the character and the work because this is something that rightly means a lot to people. I was worried that if I felt that pressure, it would affect my choices. We worked hard to create a happy, relaxed atmosphere on set when we could, because at times the material was very tough to film.
Did your opinion of the event change through the project?
I think it made me even angrier than I already had been. It’s one thing reading what happened, but a completely different thing to be actually acting it out. Sometimes I would feel this pit in my stomach, but I just kept telling myself to use that feeling. There were some details that I hadn’t been aware of before, which were difficult to get my head around.
What do you hope viewers will take from it?
I think everyone will take different things from the film, depending on their own experiences in the pandemic. I hope it can be healing in a way, to finally show what happened, and maybe provide some catharsis. But most of all I hope it’s galvanising. I hope people see the film and decide to be part of a change for the better.
Do you think it will impact the general election next year?
I think that the timing of the film coming out is important – we are constantly being told to move on from these events without any meaningful sense of responsibility and accountability from the perpetrators. Who’s to say this level of dishonesty and obfuscation won’t happen again? In politics, you never feel like you’re voting for the best option, it’s more like the least worst. But I hope people remember what happened at Number 10, and realise we deserve so much better.
You play Grace – how would you describe her?
Grace is someone who has never found her niche. She has always been an outsider. She worked on the Vote Leave campaign and is over the moon to be working in Number 10. I think she genuinely wants to help change things, but she’s quite naive about what the atmosphere of Number 10 is going to be like. Being from the north instantly separates her, despite sharing similar conservative values with her colleagues. Her sense of what is right starts to generate friction with her desire to fit in.
What was it like playing her?
It was a lot to get my head around – her politics are very different to my own, so I had to work hard to make her opinions feel convincing and truthful. And it was sometimes quite lonely! The whole cast was such a lovely group, and really funny too, but I had to make sure that Grace was always on the edge a little. So I did have some scenes where I’d be a bit more isolated.
How did you get into character or prepare for the role?
I watched a lot of material on Brexit, particularly anything with young people talking about Vote Leave. Also a lot of debates around certain issues that you might describe as culture wars, listening to the conservative commentators and how they justified their opinions. My YouTube algorithm is so messed up now! I read a great book that our director Joe recommended to me by Deborah Mattinson – Beyond the Red Wall – which was a collation of conversations with Red Wall voters who had decided to vote conservative for first time in their life. And I also read There is Nothing For You Here by Fiona Hill, one of America’s leading foreign policy advisors who grew up in a working class family in the north. That was fascinating: to hear about her experiences as an outsider in certain spaces, being defined purely by her class and where she was born.
Any funny stories or standout moments from rehearsals or filming?
We spent a lot of time being silly, because what we were filming was so intense! I do remember Joe being worried that we would need a lot of loosening up to get into a party mode so we had a very chaotic karaoke session on our first day of rehearsals. Then I think he realised very quickly it didn’t take a lot for us to loosen up!
Tell me about some of your recent theatre work?
During the pandemic, I performed a 100-minute monologue by Philip Ridley called Tarantula. We couldn’t have a live audience, so it was streamed to people at home. It was such a huge undertaking, but the most incredible opportunity and challenge. I would love to be able to perform in front of a live audience actually. I think it would be a completely different experience!
And you also released a poetry pamphlet recently – what was that like?
I don’t think I was prepared for what a vulnerable experience it was! When you’re working on something yourself for a long time, it really feels like your own beautiful little monster and it’s scary to share it. But also incredibly freeing! I’m so proud of Amphibian, and people have been so kind about the poems in a way I never expected.
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How long have you been writing poetry?
I’ve always written bits and bobs throughout my life, but it really started when I had graduated from university. I had a lot I wanted to say, and my world was expanding tenfold. At first, it was just something I did for myself, and then when the pandemic happened I thought, ‘I don’t want to have any creative regrets, I want to be brave and take the leap and put them into the world’. I feel like poetry can be an outstretched hand.
Any other roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)
I’m currently on hiatus for a job I love due to the SAG strikes, so I can’t talk about it, but I’m very excited to return!
Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?
This is an impossible question! I have been beyond lucky – pretty much everyone I’ve worked with has been lovely and fun. That’s not always the case with actors, so I don’t take it for granted!
Which co-star did you learn the most from?
Again, this is a very tough question! I think recently I would have to say working with Harriet Walter was not just a delight but a real masterclass. We had a lot of scenes together and I really learnt so much. She’s so intelligent and curious, but also very practical in her process and she always manages to find the truth in what she’s saying.
What’s a genre you’d like to do more of?
Oh, so many! I’m watching a lot of sci-fi and thrillers at the moment, so maybe something like that. I’m fascinated by the idea of doing a horror. And maybe a romance? I think my mum would like that. So if anyone has a sci-fi horror romance thriller, I’m your girl!
Do you get to spend much time at home?
Home as in where my parents live in Yorkshire – I definitely don’t spend as much time there as I’d like to! I’m always calling my parents saying I miss them, and then forcing my mum to put me on FaceTime to my cat.
Do you live in the town or the country?
Technically the city – London!
Which do you prefer?
Definitely town. I grew up in the country, so I have that in my blood, but I need buzz and energy and noise!
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What’s your interior design style?
Chaotic. But cosy, hopefully! It’s really just a collection of all my mad knick-knacks with some furniture thrown in for good measure.
How do you find balance in your personal and work lives?
It’s hard as an actor because you have periods of not working, but then when jobs come along they do have a tendency to take over your life. I’m still working on the balance!
Anything fun in the pipeline – professionally or personally?
I’m currently on a plane to New York to be a bridesmaid for the first time, and I’m so full of love and anticipation for the whole experience!
I’m currently watching… How To with John Wilson
What I’m reading… I just started Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, a book on Taoism, which is a subject I don’t know a lot about. A director I like was talking about how it had helped her writing. So far it’s such a beautiful read.
The last thing I watched (and loved) was… I just watched Theorem by Pier Paolo Passolini for the first time, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it days later. A masterwork.
What I’m most looking forward to seeing… I am desperate to see Past Lives by Celine Song.
Band/singer I always have on repeat… Big Thief
My ultimate cultural recommendation… I am completely in love with the Almeida Theatre.
Cultural guilty pleasure… Real Housewives of New York
What’s next for me is… A secret!
Catch up with Partygate at channel4.com