Playing the mistress – Glass talks to British actor Laura Haddock about playing Da Vinci’s lover in the day, and finding solace in cooking at night
Watching the actress Hayley Mills star in Pollyanna at an early age made Laura Haddock certain that she wanted to become an actress. Growing up in Hertfordshire, Laura was inspired and encouraged by her drama teacher at St. George’s School to follow her instinct and train professionally. Leaving the English countryside at 17, Laura moved into London to study performing arts – joining former alumni such as Julie Andrews, Martin Clunes and Catherine Zeta-Jones – at the Arts Educational School in Chiswick.
After three years in training, Laura quickly made a home for herself in British TV where early appearances saw her play Melanie in the popular comedy sitcom My Family (2007) acting alongside the award-winning film and TV actress, Zoe Wanamaker. Whilst staying loyal to British TV – playing Beryl Ballard in the popular period drama series Upstairs Downstairs (2010) – Laura expanded her repertoire into Film; acting in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) alongside Chris Evans and Tommy Lee Jones, quickly followed by her role as Alison in The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) – an extension of the celebrated British comedy series starring Simon Bird. Her part as Alison later won her an Empire Award for Best Female Newcomer.
For the last year, Laura has been filming the second series of American drama Da Vinci Demons – a period series where she plays the biggest part in her career so far as Lucrezia Donati, a central character who uses her beauty and sexuality as a spy in Rome. Laura’s popularity in TV and Film has yielded the busiest year for her yet, not to forget the enviable position of being one of Britain’s emerging female talents.
As the second series of Da Vinci Demons airs in the UK this month, Laura caught up with Glass to introduce herself, and let us know a little bit more about the difficulties of playing her sexually provocative on-screen character Lucrezia.
At what age did you realise you wanted to become an actress?
I think I knew at quite a young age that I wanted to be an actor. I watched Hayley Mills in Pollyanna and thought yes, that looks like fun, I’m going to do that.
So was there someone who helped you in the direction you needed?
I was at school until I was 18, and spoke to my drama teacher in high school; she helped and advised me on my drama school auditions. I got into a drama school (Arts Educational) in London and that was the best three years ever.
For the readers who may not know about your character – or are a little behind on Season One of the Da Vinci Demons – tell us a bit about your character.
My character, Lucrezia existed in Florence at the time, so she’s rooted in truth. She was married to the head textiler, so she sort of was a walking clothes-horse for him. Lucrezia was able to throw on his designs and wander around the market where other women would look at what she was dressed in, admired them and commission his clothing. The director, David Goyer and his team of writers built upon that which was really great for me because they built this really three-dimensional woman, a character that we see her have affairs with Lorenzo de’ Medici and Leonardo da Vinci.
When we first meet her, she’s very comfortable – or at least we think so – in using her sexuality as a tool and a weapon. In Season One we see her have this very intense relationship with Leonardo, and in Season Two we find out there’s a reason why – she’s actually a puppet being told and forced what to do by somebody else and we don’t quite know who that person is yet. The beauty of Season Two is that I got to go back and experience her ten years ago, and find out what happened to her in her life.
So narratively it recalls her past …
Yes it was brilliant, the sort of thing that you go home and write in your character bible, and come up with things that have happened in the characters’ life giving reasons for the way she is. It was actually my favorite storyline so far – going back visiting her then and this thing happened to her in her life that meant nothing could ever be the same.
There’s one scene in particular that must have undoubtedly been challenging for you. How did you feel when you first read this sexually intimate scene? For the readers who may not haven’t seen it, it’s graphically very intimate.
I was nervous initially as it was more than I’ve ever had to do on screen, but the more I read into Lucrezia as a character and got to know her, the more I realised that she was completely comfortable with her body, using her femininity and sexuality – the tool she needed to get through life to gain the answers she needed. So I felt it was all completely justified in terms of her character, person and journey.
I totally believed it. Obviously as me – Laura the actress – I had to get my head around it, but thank goodness we had lovely actors who were equally as nervous. You end up telling funny jokes, putting your game face on and going for it. I certainly felt satisfied that I’d told that part of her story. They were living in the renaissance era and everything was free and bohemian, but it was never going to be easy.
Did you instantly know that you wanted to play this character as soon as you read the script?
I remember reading the script, and it was such a strong female part – a part I’d never really read like that before – so I really wanted to try my best to get it.
So do you remember your audition?
I met David Goyer and the casting director Priscilla John on a Sunday, and they were really lovely. I did the reading of it with them, had a recall where I met Tom Riley who plays Leonardo and we had this fantastic chemistry together. Shortly after that I went out to the US and met the producers when David called me personally and said [American accent], “Hey Laura, you’re taking the bullet”, and I was like [reverting back to her softly spoken English accent], “Oh no! Well thank you for having me in. I really enjoyed myself and best of luck with everything.” To which he replied, “Why? You got the job” – I thought, “taking the bullet” meant,“bang you’re out”.
With it being a historical series did you have a lot research to do?
I certainly looked deeper at women, costume, and styling from the Renaissance era, and then looked further into Leonardo Da Vinci. But actually, the more I read the scripts the more I didn’t want to do any research because David fills his scripts with so much, that everything you need is right there on the page.
Criticism must be part and parcel of your job. How do you work and deal with, and through it?
It’s something that often comes from other people in your life, and suddenly when your job is there forever you can watch it on DVD – you can go back and watch it, and it’s available for you to critique it constantly. You need to find a really good balance of letting things be, and you will see parts of yourself that you think “Oh gosh” and evokes a bit of a cringe, but someone else might watch that part of you and think “that’s my favorite thing about you”. It’s all up for interpretation. Anything that’s creative or art based one person can love it, and another hate. Living in the middle of those things is the key. Making sure your content and satisfied – work as hard as you can until wrap is called, then leave it alone.
With you busy filming schedule, do you manage to maintain a sense of routine in your daily life?
If my dog could be speaking to you right now, she would answer that question with “there’s no routine in my life”. [Giggles] The one thing she absolutely knows is that she has her breakfast at 8 am every morning. Everything else from there, we go with the wind. More recently, I’ve found solace in cooking, so I’ll ask if there’s somewhere I can have a little kitchen, as a pose to a hotel. I do like to wind down by cooking.
Do you go to the cinema a lot, or have seen any great films recently?
Yes, I do a lot. We recently watched all of the BAFTA/Oscar-nominated films, so we really have had a sit down and a watch of everything. I think Her was probably one of my favorites – I loved it – along with Dallas Buyers Club which was brilliant.
Which bring us to the present. Do you feel satisfied with what you’ve accomplished so far, or are you less inwardly focused and keep progressing as you go on?
Yes, that’s a lovely way of putting it. I definitely keep my focus on moving forward whilst everyday having a big appreciation for it. It’s one of those things that everyday you have to remind yourself that your being able to support your life, doing something that you’d be doing for free, and your being paid to do it. Sometimes the schedules are tough, especially when you don’t get to see your friends and family, and you’re not at home but you have to realise you’re doing your hobby and it’s helping you pay your mortgage. It really is a dream. I read a really nice quote the other day, ‘Two things define you. Your patience when you have nothing, and your attitude when you have everything.”
by Stephanie Clair
The second series of American drama Da Vinci Demons airs on Fox (UK) April 4, 2014.