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Antonia Bernath Talks ITVX’s Nolly

6 min read

We Brits are known for our staple soap operas — but before the likes of Eastenders and Emmerdale, ATV had . From 1964 to 1988, the motel had a notable run, accented by the sacking of leading lady Meg, played by . 's latest drama looks at the fall and rise of the soap's last legs, with , , and leading the cast. FILMHOUNDS sat down with Bernath to find out more about the challenges of playing both Jane Rossington and her character, Jill.

 

How did this fall into your lap?

I had taken six years out after a pilot for Fox and then Downton, and I got pregnant. And I was like, “Oh, I'll be back in a week.” I did loads of voiceover in that time, lots of video games and stuff. But six years later, I was really hungry. That itch was back. And it was just unbelievably lucky because I think six years is a long time. I got the audition and I was just unbelievably lucky. And Russell (T Davies) is wonderful and a feminist on and off screen.

 

So when you're you know you're working with someone like Russell —  lots of us regard him as the country's best screenwriter. Were you ever intimidated?

Yeah, it's intimidating. But it's also just really exciting. I just felt so lucky and excited and he's also so kind and down to earth, and sort of gentle. He creates this really lovely, inclusive atmosphere on set where everyone's chilled out and relaxed. It's hard to describe, but I think he kind of everyone gets over their nerves very quickly.

 

Did you have an awareness of Crossroads beforehand? For some of us, I think it's hard to grasp just how much of a monumental presence it had.

I grew up in America, so I had to immerse myself in it. I know what you mean, because now we have so many choices and so much content. It is like a very different world. I do remember the days of four channels! I had a friend who was in EastEnders, and she was playing a villain at a point and she couldn't go to Oxford Street like she was like, “I will get attacked if I go to Oxford Street because people just think I am my character.” It's crazy, but Nolly was so lovely to her fans. I think she was she was very grateful for them.

 

Do you think we give soap acting a hard time? We view the style so differently now — there definitely couldn't be a modern-day Noele Gordon.

Soap acting is so hard — the amount they have to learn is insane. I've watched so many interviews and Jane wrote a book. There's so much written about the process with Crossroads. We all talked about it a lot. It is just insane the amount they were learning. Susan Hanson (a fellow Crossroads star) said that Jane just learned her lines really quickly, that she was someone who could just read it through and learn it. I've heard that about Sheridan Smith who I worked with once. Someone else on set said: “Oh, yeah, she's got a photographic memory. She reads it once and it's in.”

 

Speaking of Jane — you've got a double challenge, because not only are you playing somebody that people know in real life, there's a whole generation of people that are so familiar with her Crossroads character. Do you have to put that to one side, or is there a lot of creative licence there?

There's so much material that I could go on before we actually started filming. I did really throw myself into watching old Crossroads episodes and reading her book. There's so much to watch, but then I guess you can't just do an imitation of her — you have to tell a story. What was really helpful about talking to Susan and just finding out how they all felt was then thinking about how I would feel. It's a kind of multi-layered process. I know they were all worried when Nolly got sacked that they were next, and Jane was apparently extremely worried that they'd get rid of her too. It's that process of wanting to do it all justice. Jane actually has Alzheimer's now, which is incredibly sad. She was such a lovely, wonderful person in everything I watched, just so full of life. So there was a little bit of pressure there.

ITVX

 

One of the things I found really interesting — and not that I'm ever going to act, but if I did I feel like I'd struggle with this — is when you're filming the scenes within a scene. Did that feel strange?

It's funny because they all felt that the acting that they were doing was really progressive. They were doing this kind of really naturalistic acting that other people maybe weren't doing. Jill (Jane's character) felt like she was really quiet, and so I felt like I was really being Jane. So I was really proud of what I was doing because Jane was proud. I did feel quite in the moment.

 

Do you feel like there's an element of the sort of inner workings of TV that's still quite true to life? 

Well, I mean, that's the thing, isn't it? Like this pattern of men at the top bringing down women at the top. In our show, we had really amazing female producers at the top, like Karen Lewis and Nicola Schindler. It's funny because even in the six years I've been out, I noticed the difference when it came back. I don't know whether I noticed the difference because I came into such a lovely production that was just so not like that. It was really important to me to take that time out. But there is this real perception that like if you're a stay-at-home mum — though I was doing voiceover relentlessly — there is like this idea that you're kind of turning back the clock on decades of feminism and you must be living off your husband and wasting your education and your talents. I was just incredibly lucky because Russell and the people on this show were just not like that at all. They're just so wonderful and just looked past the six-year gap. I've got a lot of friends who did the same thing and have found it hard to get back into things. I feel like we need to support women making whatever choice they make because you never really know what the reasons are behind someone's choice. Be nice to the mums! Everyone's just doing their best but you're damned if you do damned if you don't. Someone's always going to have an issue with whatever choice you make.

 

I was looking through your Instagram posts of all the behind-the-scenes moments, and you really do look like a close cast. How important is that to portraying Crossroads as an ensemble? Was Helena as lovely as she seems?

Oh, she was so wonderful. She was in every scene and she must have been exhausted, but she was just relentlessly kind, relentlessly generous. She would never have anyone reading for her. She's always there reading for everyone. I'm sure everyone always says this about casts, but genuinely in this instance, they could not have been a more lovely group of people. I do think that's important (the closeness) because I guess that makes you not feel embarrassed or shy. I was like picking their brains, desperate to learn from them. You can't really go big unless you feel totally comfortable with the people you're with. And I think everyone did feel really comfortable.

 

Talk about kicking 2023 off with a bang with this project. What else would you like to come from the year?

I took a bit more time out after Nolly because my youngest was still really young. I have just started auditioning for stuff so I don't know what will come! That's exciting.

 

Nolly is available to stream on ITVX.