When you’re a young girl looking to break into show business, there’s only one thing that matters. It’s not landing a part in a movie, nor achieving fame and fortune. The dream for any young girl with a knack for performing is simple, and it is to play the role of Annie. The last place you might expect to find a former Annie and self-confessed lover of romantic comedies with a background in theatre is smack bang in the middle of one of today’s most exciting DC Universe projects. But that’s exactly where you’ll find Harriet Slater, who is quickly proving she is one of television’s most versatile rising stars. In an exclusive interview with 5ELEVEN Magazine, Harriet Slater discusses everything from the show, her childhood in Leicester, seventies fashion and Annie.
Words by Maddie Anderson.
When you were younger, was there a specific TV show, movie, play or any piece of media you saw that made you first think, ‘Oh my God, I want to do that’?
I don't think so. I don't remember like a specific moment where I was like, ‘Oh My God’, this is what I want to do. But I feel like I was surrounded by movies and theatre my whole childhood mainly because of my Grandpa. He loves film — he had a whole room full of old rolls of film that he collected over his lifetime and I used to go over once a week and I'd watch the Wizard of Oz with my Grandma pretty much every week. I was maybe four at the time and I just loved it so much.
I grew up in Leicester and we have quite a few theatres there which was a blessing because I feel like I was just always at the theatre and theatre clubs and doing amateur theatre, so I don't remember ever really wanting to do anything else. I just grew up thinking, ‘I love this, it's so much fun, I'd love to make a career of it’.
Did you have a dream role as a kid?
It was Annie. I played her when I was ten, I’m really glad I got to play Annie. I would’ve loved to have played Dorothy as well and Bugsy Malone! I remember auditioning for Bugsy Malone when I was like ten and not getting it — I was devastated. That was an important lesson to learn how to cope with rejection!
You mentioned your grandfather loves films, was there anyone else in your family who got you into acting? Or was it just your thing?
It was my Uncle who was directing an amateur production at our local theatre, which is the Little Theatre. He was doing Annie Get Your Gun, and they needed someone to play the little boy. So it was actually really him who got me on stage for the first time. But other than that, a couple of my cousins are in music and I've got an aunt who's an actor as well. But it was mainly probably due to my grandparents, my uncle, and my parents for just being so supportive and literally driving me to all these rehearsals twice a week for God knows how many years.
It’s nice that you were surrounded by other people who were inspired to do the same thing.
Definitely, I feel really grateful for that and also for growing up in Leicester, where theatre is such a big thing. We have the Little Theatre and The Curve, which is a really big theatre as well. And then had we had the Haymarket at the time, which is closed down now. But there were a lot of opportunities for getting involved with that kind of thing.
Do you have anybody in the industry that you looked up to as you were finding your way? Where does your inspiration come from?
Lindsey Lohan was definitely a big inspiration when I was growing up and when I was a teenager. I loved her films.
Which one was your favourite?
Don’t make me choose! The Parent Trap was my favourite as a young child but my sister and I watched Freaky Friday on repeat. And Mean Girls, obviously. You can’t tell now because my hair is blonde, but I actually have very red hair and I think that’s partly why I liked her — because she’s a fellow redheaded actress! She was getting these lead roles in these films, which I absolutely loved.
I love Judy Garland and Kate Winslet as well. Titanic is one of my favourite films, I just think she’s brilliant. I was kind of inspired by the way Kate Winslet got that role, because I remember hearing the story of her being so set on getting that part that when she was taping and screen testing, she sent over a bunch of roses and a letter. I thought that kind of commitment was inspiring.
Speaking of inspiration, let’s talk about Pennyworth — where does your inspiration for your role as Sandra come from?
I've watched a bunch of sixties films when I was preparing for the role. I was obsessed with Jane Fonda and her films from the sixties, I just think she's incredible. But music wise as well, I listen to a lot of Sandy Shore, and Cilla Black — I read their autobiographies. I read Marian Faithfull’s autobiography too, I could not put it down. I read that twice last year. I think it's it's such a good book, especially if you're interested in learning what life was like in London in the sixties.
You’re three seasons in now — how did it feel to come back for a third season? Did you have to do anything different this time around to prepare for the role?
I read Marianne Faithfull’s autobiography twice in preparation, since she was a very successful singer at that time. And I just wanted to know what it was like to be successful in a way but I guess not feel quite whole. At the same time, I feel like Marianne Faithfull had a lot of sadness and a lot of struggle — I feel like Sandra also had that. I kind of just drew on sixties artists of the time, and just read the scripts over and over and over.
I read another book in preparation — it was Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton. I remember really relating it to Sandra’s character because she’s been so unlucky in love and she’s had so much hurt. There are a few passages of the book I actually photographed and I would read them on set sometimes. It's mainly just that feeling of sadness and longing — I think Sandra really wants to love and be loved and she's had a lot of loss in her life and she's been let down a lot, so I found [Alderton’s book] helpful.
You mentioned the seventies costumes — how do you think they contributed to the world building of the show this season? And did you have a favourite outfit?
I've been so lucky as to play this role because of the costume. They've all been incredible and most of the time they're made from scratch. But I think my favourite one this season was the first one I wore, which was the black, all-in-one pleather jumpsuit which was based on a Marianne Faithfull film from the sixties — The Girl on a Motorcycle — which I also watched for the role.
I also find that costumes are a big part of finding the character for me. It was sort of like, ‘Oh, this is who Sandra is now’. She felt like a very different person in that moment she's grown a lot and that's reflected through the costumes.
Considering that it’s a DC show as well, I think the show has a very unique take on this world.
Aesthetically it’s incredible. You don’t have to do much acting when you’re in a set like that. Alfie’s club in season two was a fully-working set. You could literally go up on the stage, you could go backstage to walk around the corridor, you could go upstairs. When you’re so immersed in it, it just feels completely real. With the makeup and costumes on top of that, you really feel like you’re there.
Were you a DC fan before you were cast in the show?
I’m going to disappoint you here because I was never a huge fan! My sister and I had a collection of VHS tapes and we just watched those on repeat and we only had about five channels at home. It wasn’t like nowadays where you can just search for something and it’ll be there. So, we watched the same chick flicks over and over again.
I definitely appreciate the whole fandom though. I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for how many fans there are. My boyfriend is actually a massive DC fan. As soon as I got the part, I got way more into it. I did loads of research. I was watching all the Batman films.
He’s not DC, though. Is that bad to say? It’s Spiderman. I love the Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone films. Their chemistry is amazing. Those were my first introduction to that world for Marvel. For DC, it was Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
If you could play any other role in a superhero movie, who would you want to be?
Good question. I love Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. I think I have that on the brain because of the black pleather thing! So maybe Catwoman. I think she’s a great character.
Away from the world of superheroes, I know you’ve been working on a couple horror films. You worked on True Haunting and you have another movie in the pipeline with Horrorscope. Seeing as Pennyworth is action and crime, are there any other genres outside those three you’ve been wanting to try? You mentioned you liked chick flicks, so would you ever go for a romantic comedy?
I'd love to get around to comedy. I think that's so fun. I’d love to work in every genre to be honest. I really want to do a period drama, that's been the one that I wanted to tick off since the beginning of time, mainly for the costumes, hair and make up to be honest. I'm obsessed. I grew up watching Downton Abbey, I would watch every week with my family.
On True Haunting — what was it like to work with Jamie Campbell Bower?
He’s amazing, he’s such a nice guy. He was playing my older brother and I feel like we really did have that vibe on set. I loved working with Erin Moriarty as well, the three of us were so close. I’ve learned so much from both of them. They’re both so hands-on when it comes to their characters, their scenes, and the project as a whole. They really dug in and got involved. During table reads, the director and script supervisor were very up for discussing things, so if there was something that didn’t feel quite right, an actor would be like, ‘Okay, could it be this way instead?’ It just felt like a really collaborative approach.
I love horror films — I watch them all the time with my boyfriend who is quite terrified. I love ones based on true stories like this one. The film is based on the first televised exorcism on NBC, which I’d never heard of before!
Harriet is currently starring as Sandra Onslow in HBO Max’s Pennyworth,
which currently streaming its third season.