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Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Dress by De la Vali

Many images may spring to mind when picturing the Golden Age of Hollywood, but the image of Horfield, a suburb of Bristol, is likely not one of them.

This week, ITV's new drama, Archie, is pulling back the curtain on the life of Hollywood titan Cary Grant, born Archibald Alexander Leach. The four-part series takes audiences through the star's life, from his impoverished childhood in Bristol to his struggles to cope with the enormity of his career in Los Angeles. Released on 23 November on ITVX, Archie is set to show the cinema legend's life in a new light and place the age of classical Hollywood cinema in front of a new generation. The cast includes Jason Isaacs, Laura Aikman, and unforgettably charming newcomer Ellie MacDowall.

In her debut role, Ellie stuns as Jennifer Grant, Cary's only daughter. The series finds Ellie's character as she comes to terms with her father's different relationships after divorcing her mother when she was a child. Jennifer, who in real life went on to feature on-screen in projects like Beverly Hills 90210 and, more recently, Babylon, shared an incomparable bond with her father, who elected to leave his life in showbusiness behind in order to provide her with a sense of normalcy during her childhood in the 1960s and 70s.

5ELEVEN sat down with Ellie to speak about the excitement surrounding her first role, where she takes on the challenge of bringing Jennifer – who served as an executive producer for the show – to life on screen.

Ellie MacDowall was photographed by Lucy Ranson. Styled by Ria Poly.

Photographer assisted by Austeja Cheg. Ellie appears courtesy by Prosper PR.

Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Blazer by Michael Kors

First of all, congratulations on Archie! we understand it's your debut role.

Yes, it is!

What's your frame of mind right now ahead of the premiere of the show? Are you nervous? Excited?

I think both. I'm excited because it was such a great project to work on. Then also, I'm nervous because it's like, you know, you've done the work, and now people are actually going to see it. So definitely a mix of both, but I like being a little bit nervous about things.

How did this project come about for you? What first drew you to it?

My agents submitted me, and then they came back and asked me to audition. When it first came through, I knew who Cary Grant was, but I didn't know about his backstory. I did some research on it and realised that he really came from – he grew up in extreme poverty. I learned about the journey he took to get to where he ended up and about having his daughter, Jennifer. He gave up his whole life for her, basically, in terms of his work, which was just lovely, having not seen that relationship kind of unfold. I was really excited to be a part of that, and share that story and show the relationship that he had with his daughter that led him to retire from everything he worked for.

Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Skirt by E.Stott. Dress underneath by Remain. Shoes by Chylak. Necklace by Hai

Had you seen any of his movies prior to joining the cast? And did you watch many in preparation for the role?

I had already seen North by Northwest. And then I watched an interview with Jennifer where she's at a classic movie festival where she's introducing one of his movies. She says her favourite is Bringing Up Baby because it just shows all of the characteristics that Cary Grant had. As soon as I saw that interview, I thought, 'I need to watch it'. It's such a lovely movie, and you do get to see every single aspect of him, which also helped me learn about who he was as a person.

It’s fantastic that you're making your screen debut in a show about a Hollywood titan. How did it feel to be part of bringing that story to life for a television audience? What do you think people are going to learn from this show that they might not have known about before?

When you see people on screen and in interviews, they're often living in LA and experiencing this big life, but Cary Grant wasn't happy in his private life. I think it's always nice for people to see that, yes, he might have had what seems like everything, but it's not always. You don't know what could have been happening behind closed doors. It's kind of humbling to see all these people who have 'everything' – it doesn't mean they're happy. His story shows that although you might not have come from much, he managed to work hard to get to where he was after a very, very, very hard childhood. I hope the show influences people in that way – although you may be going through a tough time, things can get better.

Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Knitted dress by Miló Maria. Vintage silver necklace

How did you prepare to take on your role? Did you watch many of Jennifer Grant's films and television appearances?

She was in Babylon with Margot Robbie, so I watched that because it's a more recent project of hers. She's so charismatic. I just love her. She really inspires me. I watched a lot of her interviews as well, and I saw how relaxed she is – she takes her time, she's not rushing, she kind of floats. I just think she's lovely. That really inspired me to do her justice – because I'm playing a real person, I really wanted to make sure I showed people all her lovely qualities.

Jennifer was an executive producer on the show. Did you get to meet her?

Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet her. She wasn't on set on the days that I was on set. But I communicated through the crew, so when we were on set, we were sending her photos of the monitor and photos of me and my costume. Jason Isaacs, who plays Cary Grant, was texting her, and we were sending selfies of us. She was like, 'Oh my gosh, it's taking me back to the time that I had with my dad'. We showed her the costumes I was wearing, and she was like, 'I remember I had a top just like that.'. It was really nice. You know, her dad died when she was 20, so it was really lovely for her to actually almost visualise all her times with her dad again and kind of bring up those memories that she had with him. It was an honour to be able to give her that.

Can you tell us where we find Jennifer in the show? What kind of arc does the story take her through? No spoilers, though, of course.

It starts off when Cary was young, so I'm towards the end of the show. I'll try not to give away too much. Cary Grant had lots of relationships, and unfortunately, the marriage didn't work with Dyan Cannon, who is Jennifer's mom. He then meets a lovely lady called Barbara, and he's kind of exploring his relationship with her, so we get to see how Jennifer feels about all of that. So, we get to explore the fact that the main thing Jennifer wanted was for her dad to be happy. She didn't really have a 'together' family in that sense. Her parents divorced when she was two, and Cary sadly died when she was 20.

Earlier, you mentioned the costumes your character wore. Do you have a favourite?

I actually wore this lovely shirt – it was the colour yellow, which I don't usually reach for. I love the colour, so I don't know why. I put it on, and it was a polo shirt, which again is not something I would wear, but I just loved how it looked. I had a pair of mom jeans on – I love mom jeans – and these little sandals. After that, I started buying yellow jumpers.

Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Top and Shoes By Hai. Earrings by DÉVÉ

That sounds great. Yellow is quite trendy.

Yes, I don't know why I didn't own any clothes that colour!

We've touched on this a bit already, but we want to know what aspects of Jennifer's story you personally connect with most.

I think the main one was Jennifer's relationship with her dad. I'm very fortunate to have a great relationship with my dad, so that really resonated with me. I was able to bring how I feel the relationship I have with my father into how Jennifer was with hers. I was really lucky to be able to use my own personal experiences. It made it a lot easier for me.

We read that Cary Grant didn't want Jennifer to go into acting. She took on a whole slate of other jobs before finding her way into show business. What was your journey into acting like?

I've known I wanted to be a performer since I was three when my mum shoved me into ballet class. I never left it. So, I started doing ballet and dancing when I was younger, and then I started joining theatre groups when I was around eight. I was also quite fortunate that my school gave us a lot of good opportunities in terms of exploring the performing arts. When I was 11, I was part of Evita's UK tour when it came to Edinburgh. At that moment, when I was surrounded by all these adults, and I saw them on stage, I thought, 'Wow, they're getting paid to do what they absolutely love'. That was when I realised you could do this for a living. From then on, I always knew that I was going to be doing acting and dancing. So I went to a performing arts academy, where I studied both. I graduated during COVID, so that was a bit of a struggle, but I still had the fire in me. I kept up with my training all the way through the pandemic, and here we are. It's lovely to think that I'm living the dream of three-year-old Ellie in ballet class.

Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Leather Trench by Nynne. Shoes by Chylak

We did see on your Instagram that you're an amazing dancer. Would you ever like to take on a role in a musical in the future?

Yeah, definitely. I think my dream role would involve being able to link acting and dancing because I have such a passion for dancing. I think my dancing also really inspires me in my acting – I can use them both in each other. So, 100%. I absolutely love acting and everything, but I do want to be able to incorporate dance into it. That would be a dream.

Do you mean the physicality that you get from dance? Are you able to work that into your acting performances? We imagine that might be helpful.

Yes, 100%. And even when you're on stage, you're dancing from the head down, but then it's also about telling a story with your face and through your movement. You know, if you're on stage and the dance you're doing is about war, for example, you're not just going to be doing the movements. You're also going to want to tell the story to the audience. So, I think you can bounce those elements off each other.

That makes sense because many parents on Dance Moms always shout about 'not forgetting your face'.

Yeah, everything flows a lot easier when you use your face. I was also a massive fan of Dance Moms.

Coming back to Archie – the show has an amazing cast. There are people like Jason Isaacs, who have been around for a while, and newcomers like yourself. Another name that particularly stood out to us was Henry Lloyd-Hughes, who I've loved since the Inbetweeners. What was it like working alongside this cast?

He's the funniest person I've ever met. I never had a scene with him, unfortunately, but there was one time we were on set – there was a lot of waiting around and stuff, and we were waiting in the greenroom. We were there for ages, and usually, it might be a little bit boring, but having him in that room, oh my goodness. I was laughing so much that I got called on set and was like, 'Oh, yeah, right!'. He's just so funny. I'd never seen Killing Eve, which is great, and I watched it after meeting him. He's great, as well as Samantha Cooley, who plays Barbara. The whole cast was lovely. And again, I'm not just saying this, but we felt like such a little team. Everyone was so great to work with. Even people I wasn't in a scene with, we all still got to know each other and had a laugh. It was great.

Exclusive online interview with British actress Ellie MacDowall. Photographed by Lucy Ranson. Stylist by Ria Poly
Dress by De la Vali

Did anyone give you any pointers or advice on set that you maybe hadn't thought of before?

I had a scene with Jason Isaacs where we were in a theatre, and when we weren't on set, we could sit in the auditorium and watch because the audience wasn't being seen at that point. So, I got to watch him on stage, and he had a recording of Cary Grant speaking, and he was constantly listening to that before they called action. Seeing him get into character, and then after they shout 'cut', he always stayed in character, even during breaks and everything. He was also so relaxed. It was really nice to see that you can do all the preparation and then trust yourself and relax on set because you've done all that preparation. I learned a lot just watching him.

Learning by osmosis.

Yes, definitely.

Who is your role model in the industry? Like, who is someone's career that you look at and think, 'Yeah, something like that would be cool'?

It would be Saoirse Ronan. I've watched every single interview of her, and she just seems like one of your friends because she seems so sweet and genuine. I love her. I love Little Women. That was the first movie I saw her in. She's very watchable, and the way she tells a story is just lovely, so it would have to be her. I'm a big fan of her work and her as a person. She seems like a very lovely girl.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with 5ELEVEN?

I can't mention too much, but there is something really exciting. There are a few things that are coming, but nothing that I can share yet!

Catch Ellie in Archie. All episodes are streaming now on ITVX.


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