Leah Brotherhead is back on screens for series two of Channel 4’s laugh-out-loud comedy, Hullraisers, which centres on the dishevelled, messy and joyful lives of three women in Hull. We sat down with Hull native Leah to get the inside scoop.
Interview: Leah Brotherhead
Hi Leah, how’s life going at the moment?
Life is good! I’m looking forward to hibernating for the winter. Getting cosy and watching loads of films. I love summer, but sometimes I find the endless need to be outside a bit stressful after a while, haha!
You can currently be seen in series two of Hullraisers – can you give us an elevator pitch for the show?
For anyone who hasn’t seen the first series (which I recommend a catch up on All4), Hullraisers follows three women from Hull. The chaos of their everyday lives. Think Derry Girls mashed up with Motherland and Drifters.
What can we expect from the second series?
Bigger, better and bolder. Toni is dealing with the fallout of series one and has to make some big life choices. There are some big laughs, but also we tackle some real issues facing lots of women, from menopause to miscarriages.
You play Toni – how would you describe her?
Toni is as if you parked a car at the top of a hill and forgot to put the handbrake on. She’s endlessly crashing into situations and attempting to style it out as if she planned it that way all along.
What is it like playing her?
A lot of fun! She barely has a filter and is incredibly needy. She’s a nightmare, yet her friends and family are always there to pick up the pieces. When in real life do you ever get away with behaviour like this?
You’re a Hull native, so how did you feel when you got the role?
It’s a dream job. When the audition came through, I was just hoping to land any role in it, so to be given the opportunity to lead the show is just incredible. We also managed to get even more Hullians in the second series, so that felt really special. The opening scene in the news agents in series one is where I used to buy sweets when I was little. What a surreal moment to be filming in there.
How did you get into character/prepare for the role?
My accent has softened over the years of not living in Hull, so I had had to re-immerse myself back into those elongated vowels. Toni and I have a lot of similarities: we both would have done the same Performing Arts BTEC at Wyke Sixth Form College, growing up in the same area. I focused more on the differences in our character. I like to think I’m slightly more restrained than Toni and have more of a handle on my emotions, but perhaps my friends and family would say different.
How does it feel to lead a show set in your hometown? Did it affect your preparation process?
I’d say the process was the easiest I’ve ever had. There was no research to be done in terms of imagining what it would be like to grow up in Hull in the 90s. Leading a show set in your hometown is amazing but, on the flip side, I feel a lot more pressure to deliver a show that the people of Hull will enjoy and be proud of. After all, I do have to go home for Christmas, and would like to avoid being heckled if people didn’t like it, haha!
What is the cast dynamic? Who was your fave person to work with?
I think the cast dynamic is what, for me, makes this show so special. We really are like a family. A lot of us live in the same apartment block while filming and often knock on each others doors for tea. It’s a close call, but I think Shobna (Nima) and Yanick (Dane) are the best cooks. I’m really hoping for a third series, mainly just for some more home cooked meals.
You’ve also starred in White Gold – what was that like?
That was a lovely job. Lauren O’Rourke who plays Carol is an old friend of mine. We did National Youth Theatre together when we were 18. It always feels such a treat to work with people who you’ve known for so long, and that you’ve both managed to carve out a career in this mad industry.
And you had a small role in Bridgerton – what is that like to look back on?
It’s funny how often you have no idea how big a project will be while working on it. Is it still the most watched thing on Netflix? Crazy! My character was heavily pregnant in Bridgerton and we actually filmed whole scene where I gave birth and the main character Daphne delivered the baby. The scene was unfortunately cut, probably in favour of more sex scenes between Daphne and Simon. But hey, you have to give the people what they want!
What has been your favourite project to date?
Playing Jane Seymour in the RSC’s productions of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies was a job like no other. Living in New York for four months while performing on Broadway was an incredible experience. Although my favourite project was probably a little two hander called ‘Lands’ that we devised. We took it to Edinburgh Fringe and then it transferred to London. It felt so rewarding to develop a script from nothing and be so involved in all aspects of the project.
Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?
Perry Fitzpatrick (who plays Craig, my partner in Hullraisers) and I have such a laugh. We work in a very similar way so it just feels very easy and fun on set. Also, when I first graduated from drama school I worked on the BBC Radio Drama Rep Company. I would get to be in all these radio plays with unbelievable actors like Bill Nighy and Harriet Walter. It was amazing to watch these people work.
Which co-star did you learn the most from?
Sinead Matthews and Felicity Montague are just absolute powerhouses. Taj (Rana in Hullraisers) and I both say that we looked up to Sinead when we were coming up through the business as someone to emulate. She was just a few years ahead of us. She was and still is the queen of theatre in our opinion.
What’s your dream role?
I don’t have a role specifically but I would love to play a baddie. Someone really nasty who has no morals and is completely self-serving. Someone like Billy Bob Thornton’s character ‘Lorne Malvo’ in the TV series of Fargo. I think that would be so much fun.
What’s a genre you’d like to do more of?
I love to unravel a mystery, I’d love to some horror, I’d love to do some sci-fi. Any of the above would do!
You live in Berlin – what is that like as an English actor?
All my work is in the UK. My German is not remotely good enough to work in Berlin!
When did you make the move?
I made the move five years ago on a bit of a whim after living in London for 10 years.
Top tips for any visitors to Berlin?
If you don’t know anything about the city, then the free walking tours that start near Brandenburg gate can be a good place to start, just to get a little bit of the history. If you want cool bars then stay around Kreuzberg area. Hire a bike! There are lots of cycling paths so it’s a much easier way to get around the city. I would suggest coming in summer and cycling out to one of the many the lakes for a swim.
Do you get to spend much time at home?
Depends how much I’m working, which can vary from year to year. I was away in the US for six months last year doing theatre, so that was quite a long stint. I have acquired excellent packing skills.
What’s your interior design style?
If only money was no object and I could realise my true interior design style dreams! A fun thing about living in Germany is you can pick up cheap vintage GDR pieces from the ’60s and ’70s. I have a couple of nice sideboards from that era.
How do you find balance in your personal and work lives?
I think for an actor that’s a tricky one. It’s usually that you are either really busy or utterly unemployed. It’s more of a question of keeping a good routine when you’re in between jobs and not just waiting for the phone to ring. I can’t say that I’ve completely mastered that skill.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I did used to go to an athletics club with my friend when we were little. I remember in year six standing at the front of class saying that I wanted to be a long jump athlete. Which would have been difficult as I’m only 5ft 1. So you could say that in choosing acting, I’ve taken the easy option.
If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?
Try not to compare yourself to other people. It’s completely pointless. Focus on enjoying your own journey.
How can we all live a little bit better?
Everyone be nice to service staff. As someone who has worked in hospitality for a long time, I can’t tell you what a difference it makes when people are nice.
I’m currently watching… I’ve just started Irma Vep on HBO
What I’m reading… Berta Isla by Javier Marias
The last thing I watched (and loved) was… Beau Is Afraid (it’s very long though, take a sandwich to the cinema)
What I’m most looking forward to seeing… The second series of Severance on Apple TV
Favourite film of all time… His Girl Friday with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
Favourite song of all time… ‘The Weight’ by The Band (the version with the Staple Singers)
Band/singer I always have on repeat… While cycling through Berlin, I’m mostly listening to ’70s disco
My ultimate cultural recommendation… Is to see where your favourite band is touring and book to see them on holiday. I don’t think there’s anything better than combining those two things.
Cultural guilty pleasure… Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins
What’s next for me is… Christmas!
Watch Leah Brotherhead in Hullraisers. Both seasons are streaming now on channel4.com