‘I felt like I was lost in an 80s time warp for weeks’: Stefanie Martini On Filming The Gold

By Olivia Emily

1 year ago

The Gold starts on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 12 February

Debuting this Sunday on BBC One at 9pm, new series The Gold dramatises the real story of the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery in which £26 million worth of gold was stolen from a warehouse and which, at the time, amounted to the biggest robbery the world had ever seen. It features a star-studded cast: Hugh Bonneville, Dominic Cooper, Charlotte Spencer and Jack Lowden will all grace our screens – a ‘Celebration Box of actors,’ says Stefanie Martini, who will appear as Marnie Palmer, wife of John Palmer (played by Tom Cullen), the real ‘Goldfinger’ who melted gold bars in his garden. Olivia Emily sat down with Stefanie – who sits with her four month old puppy in her lap (‘she’s called Nova, like Supernova because of that amazing film with Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in it…’) – to chat all things The Gold, lengthy lockdown filming stints, and wanting to star in an action film.

Interview With Stefanie Martini

Stefanie on a chair in a pink dress

© Alexandra Cameron

Hi Stefanie, it’s so great to be chatting with you. You’re about to appear on TV in BBC One drama The Gold – can you give our readers an elevator pitch?

Yeah! It’s fast paced. It’s thrilling. It’s got a Celebration Box of actors in it – they are insanely good. Not talking about myself! Everyone is great, and doing some amazing performances. It’s really character driven, there’s loads of different storylines, and it’s obviously a real story, but a fascinating one that loads of people remember. I think I’m bridging the gap of when people younger than me don’t know about it, so that will be also really interesting. I genuinely watched it, and thought it was really, really good.

That’s good! Can you tell us a bit about what your character’s like?

She’s called Marnie Palmer – she’s a real person, and she was married to John Palmer, who is one of the criminals involved. They’re Bristolian, and they’ve got this quite lovely countryside life going on. Marnie and John are together in that world, and she has no idea… John’s melting down 26 million pounds worth of gold bars in their back garden and she has no idea! Everyone else is in a cops and robbers situation. I think I had a really lovely part in it, because I’m sort of in a love story.

Lovely! Did the show draw on any of the real people? Did you talk to them?

Hugh Bonneville, who plays DCI Boyce, got to talk with the real Boyce, which is incredible. Some of the police officers are an amalgamation of police officers that worked the case. My character has written a memoir, which I read and which was incredibly useful. But yeah, I think not everyone could really reach out because, I mean, it’s a mad story as you understand.

Yes, makes sense! What do you find the difference is for you between playing someone who’s real and a character?

It is definitely difficult. There’s not that much footage of Marnie, so I couldn’t really get a lot from what there was. I went more on my sense of who she was from reading her memoir, which is this really incredible, fun, loving, free spirited person. I think what was important about Marnie in the story is her relationship with John and how they work together – and how good they are together. That’s where I put most of my attention, because I didn’t have access to a whole bunch of information. 

And what was filming like?

Oh, it was honestly so great. It was amazing. The directors were incredible to work with. The crew are still some of my really really good friends! There were just lots of really kick ass women on the team and I really enjoyed that. 

Love to hear that. 

Yeah, it was great. Me and Tom [Cullen], who plays John [Palmer], got to film a bit of it in Spain. That was kind of insane, because we were filming in the same hotel we were shooting it in, which had not changed since the 80s. There was a mirrored ceiling in everyone’s bedroom and a hot tub on a plinth, and the bed was raised off the floor, and everything was a sort of dirty pink. I smashed my phone as soon as I got there, so I couldn’t talk to anyone from home. I felt like I was lost in this 80s time warp for weeks. But it was great! I had a really, really good time.

Sounds kind of crazy! And what was the cast dynamic like? As you said, it’s pretty loaded…

Well, everyone’s sort of in their lanes, so I only really worked with Tom and the two lovely kids playing my kids. But we have known each other for ages – for like 10 years! When I walked in to do the chemistry read for the part, he was just there, and we were like, Whapow! It’s so nice that that was already a friendship that we had. It just felt really easy, and a real pleasure to work on.

Nice. Do you have any funny stories or memorable moments from filming together?

There was a time we were on the beach, and me and Tom really got the giggles in a real way. And then Aneil [Karia] just left it shooting. I would be amazed to see if any of it makes it in, but that went on for literally about 10 minutes. I think no one else really knew what was going on and we didn’t quite know why he wasn’t cutting, and that made it funnier.

Our readers might recognise you from The Last Kingdom, where you played Eadith… What was your experience on that show like? How do you look back on it?

Oh, it was great. It’s a really good show, and all the cast are lovely. It’s the first time I’ve ever done two series of something! Coming into it, I was a bit nervous, because there’s such a family and everyone gets on so well. But I was welcomed with open arms. Everyone works really hard and is quite nerdy about the acting side of things, which is really lovely. I was out there for eight months during lockdown, living with 10 of them in a block of flats shooting series five, and literally couldn’t come home. I only came home for Christmas. But they’re great. And the show has got such a nice fan base. The fans were wonderful.

Are you still in touch with the cast?

Yeah! Millie Brady is one of my besties.

Lovely. And then you were also recently in Lola with Emma Appleton. What was that like?

Again, another lockdown film. We were staying in a wedding venue in the middle of nowhere on the border of two counties and in Ireland. And it was totally mad. We shot the whole film in three and a half weeks. I had to operate some of it, and it was all on film so I was operating these big amazing old film cameras – because it’s supposed to be my character’s documentary. And I had to learn guitar. So being in every scene and then also, because it was supposed to be like a documentary, everything was in one take. So we were rehearsing everything like a play. It all had to go really smoothly. It was a really great team of people, and Emma was a total joy to work with. I found it so challenging. It was really nice, especially at that time when the world was going mad, to have something so challenging to take my mind off it.

Stefanie Martini looking back over her shoulder

© Alexandra Cameron

This one might be a tough question based on the last few questions, but what’s been your favourite thing to film ever? 

Lola was amazing for all those reasons, but also Crooked House, which I did years ago, I loved because I got to work with Glenn Close, Christina Hendricks, Amanda Abbington, and all these women that I really looked up to. I also met one of my best friends who was my makeup artist, so that was a really special job for me.

Also, I did a film called Makeup which was really important to me because, when I was filming it, I wasn’t out as a queer woman, but I was playing a queer woman in it. And since then I’ve come out. That film is so special because it really made me think about a lot of things. And the director is incredible, and Molly Windsor was incredible. I really enjoy small indie films where no one has any money and everyone’s trying to make it work, because everyone who’s there is there because they really want to be there. It’s often really creative and fulfilling from that side of things.

What has been your favourite role to date and why?

Can I say my favourite role today was when I was in secondary school and I’d spent my entire life at that point wanting to be the lead girl in the year 11 or year 13 musical or whatever, and I really thought it was going to be me, and then I actually got cast as the pimp in Jekyll & Hyde? I had eight lines and a hairy chest and a weird silk shirt and a terrible cockney accent. And it was not at all what I wanted to do, but so much more fun. I realised, ‘Oh, wow, you don’t have to just be the pretty girl who sings a song all the time. It’s much more fun to be covered in chest hair and wearing a top hat!’

Great answer! Do you have any quirky ways that you get into character?

I sort of try everything and see what sticks. I find loads of music and write letters as the character, and go on walks as them, and try and wear their clothes. I try hot seating and improvisation. I try to get a sense of who they are, and then as soon as I go and set, I just have to trust that whatever has worked has worked. And anything else goes out the window.

Do you have any demands on the set?

No, never! [laughs] Never. I think actors work the least hard of everyone. They do the least, they have days off – unless you’re number one on the call sheet. But you have days off, you get picked up, you get given tea and coffee about every five minutes. I genuinely do try to be as undemanding as possible.

Do you have any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? 

No, not at the moment. I’m in that lovely bit where you have no idea what’s going to happen. I actually used to find that really hard, and now I’m a bit more chill about it, somehow. It’s a weird thing that goes with the job – that bit where you don’t really know yet what you’ll be doing in a couple of months at all. Now I find it quite freeing.

What’s your process like when it comes to picking roles? What would you make you immediately be like, ‘Absolutely not. I don’t want to do that.’?

[laughs] I think I’m always like, ‘Would it be fun to me?’. What I would not do is a ‘Hi, I’m in a bikini. I’m in the sea’ thing. I once had a take for something where she had one line, was in a bikini in the sea, and got shot within about two seconds. And I was like, ‘Woah. No, absolutely not.’

Anything that makes me feel a bit like that, I’m not a fan of, just because I think it puts me in a weird space where I feel like that’s what they want from me – to be some sort of bikini model – and I’m not that and I don’t want to be that. So that sort of stuff – the surface level, sexy lady stuff, I’m not that into. But other than that, I really, genuinely am open to giving pretty much anything a crack. I’d love to do an action film. I’ve done mostly period dramas – I’d love to do something like a heist film or something. Whatever comes up! 

Yeah, I was going to say what’s something that if you saw, you’d be like, ‘I’m gonna bite your hand off for that job. That’s exactly what I want’?

I think that’s hard because you don’t know until things turn up. I’d love to do something where I was playing a real person. There’s an artist called Pauline Boty, and if there was ever a film about her, I would absolutely love to play her. And I’d love to do some really heavy Shakespeare, or something completely different to what I’ve been doing. I’d love to be on stage actually, at some point. I haven’t done that since I left drama school.

What’s a character that you’ve played so far that you relate to the most in your own life?

Probably Jade in Makeup because she has just done what she wanted with her life, regardless of what people thought. And she cares a lot. But then, in other ways, she also doesn’t really care what people think. 

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

Glenn Close. I mean, obviously Glenn Close. She’s amazing. She’s a powerhouse. And I was just learning from her constantly.

Ah, I was just about to ask which actor have you learned the most from in the past…?

Well, actually, no, I think my second ever job was Doctor Thorne with Tom Hollander, and I had no screen experience whatsoever and was suddenly the lead in a Julian Fellowes thing. He was so sweet to me and was really helpful. Like, ‘this is your mark, this is what a mark is. This is how you hit your mark without looking at the floor. This shot means that you can do less, this shot means that you can do more.’ Screen acting by numbers. And he had the patience of a saint, and really was kind to me on that job, because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!

You said that you spent eight months on one set and ages on another set – do you get to spend a lot of time at home in between filming? 

Yeah, I do. I think those long times were mostly because of COVID, and normally you can jet back and forth. My friends call me ‘activity Monday’ because I’m so busy all the time. I’m a very active, learning lots of things, all over the place sort of person. But having a puppy has definitely made me spend more time at home. I think those long times away did make me actually want to sort of nestle in a bit more.

Stefanie on a stool wearing a red jumper

© Alexandra Cameron

What qualities do you think have made you successful?

I think I am quite resilient. I think you have to be on the border of optimistic-slash-naive in this job, because you need to just not look at the reality. You need to wilfully not look at how hard it is, you know? You need to just be like, ‘it’s all going to be fine’ and have a huge amount of faith in yourself and think everything’s going to work out. 

Are you a social media person?

I’m not. I’m waiting for Instagram to die out so then I’m not on it anymore. I take three-month-long breaks at a time sometimes. Because it’s just not real life, is it? But it’s a good tool, and it’s a really nice way of communicating with people that you don’t see all the time, and catching up with what friends and family are doing, and also getting into photography and being quite bad at it and putting it up anyway. But other than that, I’m not the hugest fan. I don’t have Twitter. I don’t really use Facebook. I’m refusing TikTok and BeReal and everything else. And then, eventually, Instagram will be irrelevant and then I won’t have to be on it anymore.

How do you balance your work and personal lives?

I really put a lot of time into my friendships and relationships, and it genuinely is very important to me. I’ll make sure that that has as much importance as work stuff. And also work stuff is sort of fleeting. I think a lot of people in my life know that if I can be there, I will 100 percent be there. And if I can’t be there, it’s only because something nuts has come up and I can’t get out of it. Once I was shooting quite a nuts werewolf movie and had to be at my friend’s wedding the next day, and it was such a switch in pace, and it took me half a day to adjust – but I was there! I did it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

Did you always want to be an actor? Was that always the goal?

No. I wanted to be an illustrator!

Oh wow, do you still draw now?

Yeah, I do still draw now. I made some Christmas cards for charity before Christmas and made my own Etsy and sold them. I do painting courses and stuff, and paint people things as presents and draw people Christmas cards. I feel like I could probably do more of it and lean more into it, but I like keeping it as something just for myself.

What kind of stuff do you draw?

People – I like painting people. Well, I’m learning to paint people. I tried to paint my niece and it looked absolutely terrifying, and I had to hide it under a desk. It’s still hidden under a desk – so scary. So I need to get better at that. But all of my Christmas cards were animals with Christmas hats on. I’m still learning painting techniques. It’s definitely people that I find more interesting.

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

Probably that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. And they’re all sexy and great. When I was 15 I was so so worried about all of that. And I think everyone is, right? On some level.

I definitely was.

Yeah… I mean, I still am now. 100 percent. But I feel like if I could have just had someone being like, ‘it’s great, it’s all great and fine’, then it would have saved me a lot of hassle.

Do you have anything fun in the pipeline?

[laughs] Not really! We’re just seeing what happens. Hopefully everyone likes The Gold and it will go again, but we won’t know for a while. There’s some interesting maybes in the air…

Quick Fire

How can we all live a little better? Always try to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

The last TV show I watched… The White Lotus, obviously. And The Traitors. Oh my god – the most stressful thing I’ve ever watched in my life.

The last film I watched… Aftersun

What I’m reading… The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I just started it, and it’s weird and excellent.

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… Tár. Anything with Cate Blanchett in, really.

Favourite film of all time… Life Is Beautiful

Band/singer I always have on repeat… Khruangbin always makes me feel like it’s summer even when it’s not summer. 

My ultimate cultural recommendation… Go into a bookshop, pick up any book you feel slightly drawn to, and then just go and sit and read it. I think it’s a really lovely thing to do, and something I do sometimes. And the Tate Modern is always beautiful. Even just in the Turbine Hall. Recently, they had these jellyfish things flying in the air. Sometimes there’s a huge sun and sometimes there’s loads of swings. If I’m stuck and don’t know what to do, I always just go in there.

Cultural guilty pleasure… Bridgerton. I resisted Bridgerton for a really long time, and then started watching it and watched it all in about two seconds. I loved it so much. It made me so happy. And I missed it when it finished. It was ridiculous.

What’s next for me is… Being a pup mum. And figuring out how to also do fun stuff and have the time for a puppy.


The Gold airs at 9pm on Sunday 12 February on BBC One.

Featured image © Alexandra Cameron.