Interview with Jill Halfpenny
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Interview with Jill Halfpenny

As new Channel 5 series The Drowning makes its debut, C&TH meets one of its stars

Since landing her first acting role in Byker Grove aged just 14, actress Jill Halfpenny has popped up in a whole host of great British TV shows. She’s featured in captivating dramas: Dark Money, Liar and Three Girls, to name a few, as well as Channel 4 comedy Year Of The Rabbit. Her latest venture is The Drowning, a four-part thriller for Channel 5 about a mother following the disappearance of her son – who she believes may still be alive. Here Jill chats to C&TH about the new series, dream roles and a newfound love for Zoom workouts.

What can you tell us about The Drowning?

It’s a psychological thriller about a woman who spots her son on his way to school nine years after he went missing.

Favourite person on the set of The Drowning and why?

It would have to be Cody (Molko). He plays the missing boy and is an awesome, kind and curious young man.

Favourite role to date and why?

Flora in Year of the Rabbit. A gun-toting, filthy cockney woman in the Victorian era. It’s a comedy with Matt Berry as Rabbit and it was so liberating to play her. A lot of the characters I play are holding a lot of tension because of their circumstances – Flora lived her life for herself, which felt wonderful.

Role you’d cut your right arm off to get?

There are so many good roles out there right now but the one that springs to mind is Villanelle in Killing Eve. I mean c’mon: the scripts, the actors, the locations, the accents and not to mention the fashion. Jodie is fantastic!

What demands do you have on set?

I try to eat vegan as much as I can, so the only thing I ask for is that there are Oreos when the biscuits come round!

Jill Halfpenny, The Drowning

Director you’d most like to work with and why?

I would love to work with Pedro Almodovar. He focuses on character and story, yet still makes every shot look beautiful. His work is unique and makes me think. He shows us the flaws and quirks of human nature in a way that not all movie makers do.

What qualities do you think have made you successful?

Grit, determination and fortitude.

Film you think everyone in the world should see?

It’s a Wonderful Life. How we perceive ourselves often bears zero correlation to how people feel about us and what effect we have on them.

What’s your relationship with social media like?

I skirt around the edges with social media. It’s not a place for nuance which I find frustrating. I promote work and have a little chat with people now and again but I’m aware I have one foot in and one foot out.

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

Comparison is the thief of joy.

What does it mean to be a mother?

To feel so much love that it’s overwhelming and scary and to fully accept that no matter what you do, you’re going to mess up. Progress not perfection.

Three books you’d take to a desert island and why?

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb: a brilliant book about a therapist and her clients’ lives, running alongside her own therapy and trying to get her life back together. Secondly A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: a brilliant insight into a way to live life and cope with all the things that it throws at us. And finally, Billy by Pamela Stephenson. A really funny and, at times, incredibly sad biography of the life of Billy Connolly – I adore him.

The most challenging moment or your life?

When my partner died and I decided to lean into the grief. Utterly terrifying.

How can we all live a little bit better?

We’re all one – all connected. If we all believed that, we would make infinitely better decisions.

Jill Halfpenny, The Drowning

Any life hacks you learnt in lockdown that you can share?

That working out over zoom really can work. I’m part of a community called TFG Training and it’s been a real lifeline and sometimes even pleasurable.

What’s your interior design style?

Dramatic and eclectic, a mix of old and new and fun. I probably express myself more in my home than I do with clothes. In another life I would work in interiors.

What are your indulgences?

Anything – I can shop pretty much anywhere I go. A few months ago I was coming home from a friend’s house and I stopped off at the local high street. Within five minutes I’d bought a pair of vintage Marc Jacob boots, a cupcake and an antique milking stool.

How do you relax?

At the beach, it’s gorgeous. I’ve also recently discovered the joy of beaches at night – just bring a little fire kit with you and you can watch the sun go down and bliss out with the sound of the sea.

If we’re coming to your area for a visit, what should we do?

You can grab a coffee at Dil & the Bear (Tynemouth) and then finish of at Longsands Fish Kitchen, but you have to get curry sauce with your chips otherwise we can’t be friends.

Are you a rule breaker or a rule taker?

Depends entirely on the rules!

The Drowning begins on Channel 5 on 1 February 2021. Images courtesy of Unstoppable Film & Television / Channel 5 / Photographer Bernard Walsh.


Polly Walker / Susan Wokoma