With Sanditon in the books following the series 1 conclusion in the U.S. as part of PBS’ Masterpiece series, Tellyspotting had the extreme good fortune to sit down recently with delightful Rose Williams, aka Charlotte Heywood, to talk about the series, the role of Charlotte, Jane Austen and everything in-between. We even talked her into divulging her secret to playing cricket! All I can say is what a delightful individual and what a brilliant breath of fresh air! It’s a long one, so grab a bag of popcorn and settle in.
Rose Williams: Hi Bill! How are you doing?
Bill Young: I’m great. How are you?
Rose Williams: I’m good, thank you.
Bill Young: I hope it is a lovely Los Angeles day.
Rose Williams: Yeah, it is nice. It’s a bit better than London.
Bill Young: Thanks for taking time out of your day to talk.
Rose Williams: Absolutely, not at all, thank you. It’s nice to talk about it, to have a little quick catch up about it and it’s nice to continue to talk about it so thank you.
Bill Young: When you look at the role of Charlotte, which is, is I guess your first really starring role. How has your life changed since Sanditon?
Rose Williams: It hasn’t really changed in any drastic kind of way. I suppose it was such a different experience on set it was. I’ve worked in series before as a recurring character but has not been a lead.
So the experience on set was different because the bonds that you create are just a bit more with the crew, in particular, because you’re in every day from the beginning of the day to the end of the day, so I suppose that element to how work looks like on a day to day basis is what I so enjoyed. That part was different and it opened me up in the work sense of things but nothing else is really.
It’s nice talking about it with people who watched the show and being able to share it with everybody. And the main thing that changed my experience of work on set and how I approach work on set. In that sense, it was such a gift of a role and I really, really learned a lot from it.
Bill Young: What originally attracted you to the script when you saw it?
Rose Williams: Just seeing the name Andrew Davies, he’s so respected and established and has written such beautiful adaptations in the past, particularly Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
When I read the script, I had not read an Andrew Davies script before. I’d seen his stuff I haven’t actually read it on the page. The scripts read so well and they’re funny. They’ve got so much charm to them. There were so many moments with Charlotte’s character that were kind of unexpected.
This kind of show with all the female characters really quite quickly like in the first episode, Lady Denham was introduced, Miss Lambe who was such a brilliant character. I just really liked how well Andrew has written with these female characters from the outset and then expanded them.
So his marvelous writing and also the fact that it was Jane Austen because I wasn’t too clued up about her work before so I really loved the invitation to research into her legacy and read her works and it was a lovely education for me.
Bill Young: Speaking of Andrew, throughout the entire process of the production were you able to sit down with him and get beyond the lines on the page and get his thoughts as to where he wanted Charlotte to go and were you able to take it to a different level based on those discussions?
Rose Williams: We didn’t speak particularly about the character but I did have a very long conversation with our first director Olly Blackburn about Charlotte’s trajectory but the nice thing was meeting Andrew at the table read before we started so everyone got together and we all read episodes one through three together, and Andrew was the one reading in the stage directions and reading in characters for the actors that weren’t there.
So you really got a sense of just how he wanted the story to be told with the inflection in his voice. It was really wonderful because his voice reading it really painted the picture. Throughout filming, to be honest, I got to know more towards the end of the shoot and when we started to do press together.
He came out on a couple of the big ball scene days and we had nice chats. When it came to planning out kind of where Charlotte’s character was going, that was predominantly with our initial first director Olly Blackbird and then continuous conversations with our two wonderful producers Belinda Campbell and Georgina Lowe.
And that was another thing to have two female producers that had input on the story it was great because it was a female story and to have two female producers behind it was really wonderful as well.
Bill Young: You talked about Crystal and when you think about the cast and you have Anne Reid, who I think is phenomenal, and you have Kris Marshall and Theo James and Crystal Clarke. Can you speak briefly to the importance of having a strong ensemble cast like that, that creates a success for such a series like this.
Rose Williams: Oh my goodness, I think the richness of all the characters that were in the show, it’s absolutely what makes it, and the fact that everybody’s performance is so creative and different. Everyone’s characters are so rich and everyone bought their own flavor. The way that Anne played Lady Denham, in particular, is such a good example she just bought her own flair to it. The same with Crystal. Everybody, really.
I think everyone was very committed to building these characters and making them believable and fitting them into this world and bringing something different to the table. And that was such a joy for me. It was kind of real life and story life mixed into one because we kind of see the story through Charlotte’s eyes as she comes to Sanditon where she meets all these different amazing characters and she’s kind of in awe of the exuberance them all.
That reflected in real life with me in that it was such a joy to be on set and be inspired by and watch all the other performances. I was particularly inspired by Charlotte Spencer as well who plays Esther and Lily Sacofsky who plays Clara. Their scenes are always fantastic to watch so I as Rose and as Charlotte were watching these fantastic characters. I learned a lot from watching everybody was absolutely a great group of people.
Bill Young: Over the course of the series, did you discover anything about yourself or is there a bit of yourself in Charlotte?
Rose Williams: Yeah, I think so. The interesting part for me was in the scenes where Charlotte spoke up and used her voice I think that was quite interesting. My instincts with the character and how that was different or similar to me in my life, for example, the scene when we’re at the pineapple luncheon and Lady Denham asks for my opinion and Charlotte sort of pipes up and really doesn’t think about the consequences of speaking out of what she truly feels.
It made me go back to when I was younger and think how I’ve been much less afraid of speaking my truth. And then, as I’ve got older, maybe I’ve got a bit more quiet but there’s that balance isn’t there of knowing when to speak and thinking before you say out loud, but that was an interesting part of Charlotte’s character that I was kind of looking at in myself to how she just kind of how she feels.
Bill Young: I loved watching, especially all the female characters, especially when you consider the time how strong they were, it was a time when women still weren’t allowed to do a lot. So, I wondered whether you can look at the beginning of the Regency period when Sanditon is set and whether the times kind of dictated being a little bit stronger.
Rose Williams: Yeah, that was a really interesting time because it was so debaucherous and kind of wild, you know, with the influx of artists and post-war so fashions are crazy they were flying in fabric from Paris suddenly and the men were in pinstripes and it was all quite extravagant and yet there was this constriction and oppression for the life of a woman day to day with practicalities like women couldn’t legally sign a contract. When women got married, all of their money immediately went over to be in the man’s name. To me, it’s absolutely fascinating because there was this kind of sense of freedom and chaos, yet still, women were oppressed.
I also think it’s interesting to look at what people wore particularly the women because the necklines were cut a lot lower and the hair was quite free flowing on the top of the head with the curls and, I said this before, it’s quite interesting that underneath those dresses which you don’t see looking at the woman at the shape is that there is a corset, we were all in corsets which you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell and I think that kind of symbolizes how, on the surface, it was kind of a bit of a freer time but underneath everything was constricted.
Then after the Regency Period, the Victorians came in and it got completely worse and women were covered up right up to the neck and you couldn’t show an ankle. So, it was this odd breath before the Victorians. I can’t quite get my head around it but relating it back to the characters in the shows, and that’s why I loved that the matriarch of the town is the person that controls the money is Lady Denham, a woman, and the person that has the most money is Miss Lambe, a woman from Antigua…well, that’s my favorite part of the show.
Bill Young: I’ve heard you speak of this before about the inclusion of Crystal’s character, Miss Lambe. Can you speak to the importance of that character in the series from historical standpoint?
Rose Williams: I think the really important thing to stress is that Miss Lambe’s character was in the 11 chapters that Jane Austen wrote. There was an initial kind of conversation here and there or tweets of how ITV was just trying to take this to a quota but absolutely not, this character was written on the page by Jane Austen. There are so many people of color throughout our history.
In England, if you go all the way back to looking at trade between Europe and the Moors there is this history that hasn’t been represented on screen so there’s this reaction of ‘oh my goodness’, we’re including a woman of color in a Jane Austen piece like this is historically inaccurate, absolutely not, it’s completely historically accurate. It’s just, I think there’s kind of a need for a reeducation of what, particularly, European history looks like if you haven’t necessarily seen in TV or film a truthful representation of how things were. There’s a lot of retelling to be done.
Bill Young: One of the most surprising things was realizing that of the 11 chapters that Jane Austen wrote, this encompassed pretty much only a majority of the first episode and that the rest of it was in Andrew’s head. From your approach as an actor, do you think it would constrict you if it was a complete work of Jane Austen to where you have to portray Charlotte in a certain way but, this way, you kind of get the best of both worlds because you have the established character but then you were free to put your stamp on the character?
Rose Williams: You put that very eloquently. Absolutely as to what you just said. That was the real joy and blessing of the part was exactly as you said, they’re the kind of bones of a character and there’s a hint of where she might have gone with the story, but then it did become a creative collaboration with Andrew, with the producers and directors to really mold who this young woman was.
I had a really nice conversation with one individual that worked with Andrew on the writers team and she said that they had looked at Jane Austen’s early life and doing some comparisons to the character of Charlotte and the character of Jane Austen. So that was something I always held in the back of my head because Jane was the eldest of a lot of brothers and sisters, as well Charlotte. Charlotte was raised on a farm in a small village, as was Jane.
They are these really lovely letters that were found between Jane and her sister Cassandra. And unfortunately, this scene had to be cut because of time or whatever but there were quite a few nice scenes in the original part of Episode One with one of Charlotte’s younger sisters, which kind of echoes the relationship that Jane Austen might have had or we think might have had with Cassandra.
So that was something that was quite fun to play with kind of imagining the personality traits of Jane Austen might have had herself and then bringing them to Charlotte character so yeah, it was lovely to have that freedom and try my best to do Jane justice.
Bill Young: You’re a big fan of dance, I know. Does that now include 1800s ballroom dancing?
Rose Williams: You know what, yeah, it does. I really liked the Irish elements to the ball. There were a few comments here and there about how the music wasn’t historically accurate but that was something that our composer and Olly, our first director and all the producers were really adamant on the fact the music was absolutely true to the time. Olly Blackburn wanted to really represent the Regency period for how it would have looked.
He studied history which was pretty cool so when I first sat down with him he had all of this abundance of information about the Regency Period, what the balls looked like and what kind of music they danced to.
And I really enjoyed that element, it was very jolly and upbeat and you could get a real sense of togetherness from hearing the music and I really, I really so much did enjoy the Regency dancing.
Bill Young: So what was the biggest challenge, going back into a period drama?
Rose Williams: The challenge with this role was building her up in my imagination taking into consideration the world that she would have been raised in. So, what did the physical landscape look like; what kind of things would she have been exposed to within her family; what would her day to day life have looked like; building that picture in my mind.
I suppose, performing the scenes, coming from a place of that knowledge and lining that up with where she was emotionally; that basically playing the emotions through imagining what the time would have looked like. That was the challenge.
Just making sure that she had core beliefs and values I came back to and, I suppose, just finding those things like, for example, one of them that we decided with Olly was that her parents were quite liberal and she had been raised in a home where they were anti-the slave trade and they were pro the abolishment, so I suppose, just balancing Charlotte’s modern sensibility with the truth of what the time would have looked like at the time.
Bill Young: The chemistry on screen with Theo was amazing to say the least. Just the on again, off again sequences drove audiences crazy to a maddening standpoint. Were you surprised at the fan reaction at the ending, not only ending of the last episode, but the fact that at this point there is no series 2?
Rose Williams: I know, I know! We knew there were no guarantees but it’s been very heartwarming to see the reaction, the movement on Twitter called the Sanditon Sisterhood which really makes my heart so full, because I came into it kind of thinking to myself, okay, how can I try my absolute best and for that to resonate with young women which would mean the absolute world and beyond to me. It just means a lot that people connect to it and, I suppose, we’ll just have to wait and see as we don’t really know if it’s gone forever.
All I can say that I had the absolute best time doing it and I’m glad people enjoyed it. And if that is the end forever, I like to think that there’s this tiny piece of Charlotte that potentially could echo Jane because Jane never got married; there’s kind of a school of thought that she went through a great big heartbreak. So…I shall hold on to that.
Bill Young: I think a lot of comments that we’ve received here to the PBS broadcast it it mirrors a lot of Downton Abbey from the standpoint of the character of Rose in Downton Abbey connected with so many teenage girls and also in Victoria when you see Jenna Coleman as a young Queen Victoria, the number of younger women that those two series attracted in addition Sanditon brought to the audience is really really nice overall. I think there was a great connection from your standpoint in your portrayal of Charlotte
Rose Williams: It’s lovely, isn’t it, to be able to bridge worlds. It doesn’t matter when a story is set or when it’s told, emotions are so universal and especially at stages of people’s emotional growth or the beginnings of a woman’s life.
That is something so universal, those stories are so timeless and lovely to bridge those gaps and be able to kind of connect over every story; it’s a really nice thing.
Bill Young: I think what all of these series do is they put heavy emphasis on the story, so I think in those three instances, there was a young woman could see themselves on the screen. And that was really the key to the success of this series from an audience standpoint.
Rose Williams: Oh cool, that’s a nice to hear. Yeah, absolutely, I totally agree. That’s lovely to hear, thank you.
Bill Young: I would ask you to explain cricket to me, but I know that will take forever.
Rose Williams: Oh, God (laughing). I don’t know how to be honest. I just thought as long as I hit the ball. Actually, I was quite good. My secret was I was told that there was a guy who came on set helping us on how to play correctly for the period and he was like, whatever you’re doing keep doing it.
I said to him, basically, I’m just imagining hitting the ball before it flies at me and it seemed to work. So that was my technique on how I’m going to hit it and I imagined hitting it and then 70% of the time that worked, but also Young Stringer, lovely Leo Suter, did throw me a nice and easy ball so…
Bill Young: Assuming you have spare time, what do you watch today?
Rose Williams: Good question. Let’s see. I’m staying with a friend at the moment and she has a teenage daughter so the very latest thing I watched in the last couple of days was Grown-ish and I was just astounded at the production value of the show and how amazing everyone was and that it’s done extremely well. We were watching High Fidelity. Last night, we were watching Grace and Frankie and I really enjoyed that.
I enjoy dramas. I really like Scandi noirs. I think the Swedish dramas are done really well. I kind of watch everything. I was watching something that potentially I might be working with a guy that directed a show called Box 21, and it’s not out in the UK or in America yet. It’s a really cool Swedish drama about sex trafficking. It’s dark but very watchable and engaging so I like to switch it up between light hearted stuff and, yeah, I kind of like everything.
Bill Young: It’s amazing. Over the years, the number of people that are from the UK think that Americans do the best TV, and everybody here thinks that the UK does the best TV
Rose Williams: I said that last night when we were watching Grace and Frankie and I thought, oh my God, the Americans do it on TV shows. I do love the British sense of humor. Some of my favorite shows are British comedies. Our sense of humor, I think, is one of our strong points, and our period dramas we do very well. Yeah, got to love TV and there’s so much of it.
Bill Young: What is your favorite British comedy?
Rose Williams: Okay, so it’s really obscure. It’s called The Mighty Boosh. It’s completely mad but I think I watched it 100,000 times. I was kind of obsessed with it when I was a teenager.
One other show that I think is so brilliant is People Just Do Nothing. It’s a bit newer and it was on BBC Three and it’s about a pirate radio station and it’s absolutely brilliant. It was quite culturally specific.
Bill Young: I so much appreciate you being available to talk about Sanditon
Rose Williams: Oh, my God, I appreciate you wanting to ask me questions. It’s nice to talk about it so thank you.
Bill Young: Well let’s hope that we talk again when season two starts.
Rose Williams: That would be lovely, thank you.
Sanditon has struck a chord with fans on both sides of the Atlantic that many of us haven’t seen since Mr. Carson shuttered the doors of Downton Abbey back in 2016. At this point in time, series 1 is in the books with no plans for more episodes after ITV made the seemingly hasty decision to not commission a second series following the UK broadcast.
Fortunately, that decision has not dampened the hopes of the hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide as the desire for a second series seems to be picking up steam on a daily basis. So much so that there is a petition making its way around Planet Earth to encourage broadcasters to pick up the ball and get the Sanditon band back together. Don’t worry, petition organizers only have 6 requests for a series 2. If interested in adding your name to the over 41,000 Sanditon fans who have signed the petition, click here.
For those that want to play catch up or watch series 1 again, you can become a member of your local PBS station and enjoy all 8 episodes on PBS Passport or you can also binge watch the entire series on the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel.