VANITY FAIR: Adaptation of classic novel set to be TV event of the autumn | TV & Radio | Showbiz & TV


Claudia Jessie as Amelia Sedley and Charlie Rowe as George Osborne. (Image: ITV)So securing the lead in ITV’s new adaptation of the novel was a gift for actress Olivia Cooke.What’s more, the role landed in her lap at the end of an incredible year for her.After quietly making her name in TV series like 2012’s The Secret Of Crickley Hall and Bates Motel in 2013, followed by films The Signal and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, she hit the big time this year in Steven Spielberg sci-fi movie Ready PlayerOne, which, she says, contributed to her being cast as Becky.“None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Spielberg. I’m sure they would have called Emma Watson instead,” laughs the down-to-earth actress from Oldham.“They cast me in Vanity Fair before Ready Player One had been released. When you have Spielberg behind you it does change people’s perceptions a little. But for all they knew I could have been rubbish – then they would have been stuck with me.’’Ready Player One is Spielberg’s highest-grossing film of the last decade – it took $500 million at the box office and catapulted Olivia to a new level of fame.And while her role in Vanity Fair couldn’t be more different – trading virtual reality for bonnets and corsets – she admits to thriving on the challenge.“I don’t like to repeat myself and I’m grateful that I have access to wonderful, diverse roles,’’ she says.Michael Palin as author and narrator William Makepeace Thackeray. (Image: ITV)

as Brits we make so many period dramas and sometimes people roll their eyes when you say you’re making another
Olivia Cooke

Becky Sharp is likely to be another high-profile part for the actress.The period drama is billed as the TV event of the autumn and has a glittering cast.Murder On The Orient Express actor Tom Bateman will play Rawdon Crawley, who is at risk of losing family and fortune through his liaison with the captivating Becky.Martin Clunes, Suranne Jones, Anthony Head and Michael Palin also star in the seven-part series.In many ways it’s a sumptuous Sunday-night period drama, but contemporary touches have been added.Pop and rock songs, including Madonna’s Material Girl, are played over the credits, while the script, by Gwyneth Hughes, who wrote last year’s thriller Dark Heart, draws parallels between hierarchical 1800s society and our own image- and social media-obsessed culture.“As Brits we make so many period dramas and sometimes people roll their eyes when you say you’re making another. So I think it’s always the endeavour to do it with a little more flair or attitude or through a different lens,” says Olivia, 24. “The language isn’t as stuffy as usual, either, which is a device to bring the audience in.”The daughter of an impoverished painter, Becky refuses to settle for a humble life and breaks class taboos by clawing her way up from lowly governess to the English aristocracy.The story has been the subject of many adaptations over the years, most recently the 2004 Reese Witherspoon film, but Olivia admits she has avoided watching them and came to the project with fresh eyes.“Everyone has their own idea of Becky and I think I would have inevitably copied them or doubted myself. I wanted my own version of the character, otherwise what’s the point of doing another adaptation?” she says. “I try not to think about how people are going to react. If I did I’d be stifled with anxiety. I want to do the character – the one I was interested in portraying – justice.”Reflecting on the highlights of the five-month shoot in London, that took in Marble Hill House and Fitzroy Square, and Budapest, Olivia says working with Martin Clunes, who plays Becky’s curmudgeonly boss Sir Pitt Crawley, was a joy.“There are moments, watching it back, when I am actually howling with laughter,” she says.Martin Clunes as Rawdon’s father, Sir Pitt, with Becky. (Image: ITV)“He’s just wonderful and hilarious. It’s strange working with someone who is such a staple of British television. I was born in 1993, so I’ve watched him my whole life and he’s as recognisable as a family member.”Olivia fell in love with the stage after starting at the Oldham Theatre Workshop at the age of eight.But she struggled to get a professional break and was turned down for parts in Hollyoaks and Emmerdale and rejected by drama school RADA. It was a move to New York that finally changed things for her and she found fame in US TV series Bates Motel with fellow Brit Freddie Highmore.Frances de la Tour as Lady Matilda Crawley and Tom Bateman as her nephew Rawdon. (Image: ITV)Olivia, who is now based in Brooklyn and dating Christopher Abbott, 32, star of US shows Girls and The Sinner, appears to have had the last laugh. She’s filming movie Sound Of Metal, in which she plays a member of a heavy metal band alongside Riz Ahmed, and her next film release, Life Itself, sees her opposite Antonio Banderas, Samuel L. Jackson and Annette Bening.“It’s such a glorious job,” she smiles.“I get to live so many other lives, whether they’re incredibly tragic or wonderfully flamboyant. It’s a whirlwind and exhausting – but I’m ravenous for it.” 


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