Interview: Charlie Rowe on itv's major new drama series, Vanity Fair.

International actress Olivia Cooke leads a stellar cast in the new ITV adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

Olivia, who plays Becky Sharp, is joined by a star-studded cast including musician and actor Johnny Flynn (Genius) as Dobbin, Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) as Sir Pitt Crawley, Frances de la Tour (The History Boys) as Miss Matilda Crawley, Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster) as Miss Pinkerton and Michael Palin as Thackeray himself.

Gwyneth Hughes’ adaptation of Thackeray’s literary classic is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and follows modern heroine Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English Society.

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Actor Charlie Rowe tells us more...

Q: What was your reaction when you heard you had got the role?

“It was exciting to be playing someone who, at least on paper, reads as a pain in the backside. Something I hadn’t really done before. The opportunity to work in the UK and with such brilliant English actors was also hugely appealing. “I was filming season one of Salvation for CBS in Canada and I jumped for joy by myself in my Toronto hotel room. I had been away from home for about six months and still had more to film on Salvation. Then Vanity Fair came through and it was exactly what I wanted and needed. “American network television is an entirely different world. I’d been working in America mainly for the past three or four years. So it was really wonderful to be back in London.”

 

Q: Had you read the book?

“I hadn’t read the book. I knew about Vanity Fair as I studied English at A-level - so I knew of Thackeray but I’d never actually dived into the book. I also knew there had been previous film and TV adaptations. “Obviously when I got the job the first thing I did was buy the book. I read it over the next couple of months and loved it, laughed out loud and got a copy for my dad and my mum. But I stayed well away from the 2004 film and the 1998 BBC adaptation. “I didn’t want to see other people’s interpretations of George. In a way he’s a bit of a villain in the story, but it was my goal to change that. I wanted George to want to do the good thing. I hope we don’t hate George completely and realise he just doesn’t understand anything else.”

 

Q: Who is George Osborne?

“George is like a petulant child. He is completely entitled, has been spoilt his entire life. He has a father who has told him what to do every single day and has given him everything he has ever wanted. George knows nothing else. “Nothing has ever gone wrong for George. Ever. So when things start to go wrong for him in Vanity Fair it is particularly interesting. I don’t think George means to be a terrible person. He just lacks experience.”

 

Q: How would you describe George’s relationship with Rawdon Crawley (Tom Bateman)?

“Rawdon is a powerful figure. Tom Bateman is huge compared to me. Rawdon sees George as weak and the only reason Rawdon hangs out with him is to take his money. Beat him at the billiards and cards’ tables. “But George is excited because he’s with someone of a higher rank and he confuses it with friendship. All the while Rawdon is simply taking all of his money, which is sad. Thankfully I didn’t have to be very good at billiards as George loses. In fact, I was pretty terrible at it.”

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Q: Are you wary of the negative aspects to both fame and social media?

“I’ve got a lot of good people around me who won’t let me get an inch from the ground. A lot of good friends from home who just constantly take the mickey out of me, which is very helpful. And a mother and father who are constantly making sure that I am who I am. “I grew up with social media. I was working when I was 14 and I was on social media then. In a way it has helped because I feel like I’ve grown out of that phase now. I don’t really spend too much time on social media anymore as I know it can become unhealthy. But you have to accept the fact that it is a different world, and for what I do, it can be extremely useful. So I need to know why it’s useful and why it’s not.”

 

Q: How do you reflect back now on the making of Vanity Fair?

“I loved working on such a long shoot with so many characters in a story that spans a number of years. It was really exciting for me. And to play a character that felt very different to who I am. “There are dark aspects of the story. And I found playing this angry character made me angrier in my day to day life. Although George’s absurdity is quite funny. His dislike for everything. But we did have a lot of fun making Vanity Fair. We all got on really well and had a little gang. I miss them all - they were all golden.”

 

Vanity Fair starts Sunday 2 September, 9pm on itv.

Vanity Fair (Wordsworth Classics)
By William Makepeace Thackeray