By Anne Brodie.
Downtown Abbey’s shy flower Lady Edith played by Laura Carmichael, scandalously gave birth to a baby out of wedlock and handed it over to others to raise while she figured out what to do. Carmichael stars as Aggie in the new Australian thriller series The Secrets She Keeps on Sundance Now, also about a baby. But what a difference! Living alone and at the poverty line, Aggie has no real plan for her future. She’s a shelf stacker at a small grocery store, she’s heavily pregnant and she’s obsessed with a local Instagram mommy blogger (Jessica De Gouw) who’s also pregnant. Aggie worms her way into Meghan’s life in order to carry out a sinister plan. Whatever would Lady Edith say? I spoke with Carmichael from her home in the UK.
After so many seasons playing the aristocratic Lady Edith, jumping into a role as pariah must have been a thrill.
I think all actors feel the need to try different things and keep variety in their roles and when I read the script I was thrilled; I’d never read anything like it before and got on it.
And playing a lead female character who is so cunning and harmful is brave given the role you’re known for in Downton Abbey. This is like Farrah Fawcett’s Burning Bed moment.
I think that’s interesting casting and to actors yeah, let’s see how far you can push it, such an interesting part and interesting route. I really want to have a go!
Aggie has mental health issues stemming from her repressive upbringing, and our hearts bleed for her even as she does atrocious things. Did you study women like her?
I did have the book and script and they were helpful but I did look at the cases where there have been attempts to steal babies and I felt more often than not, it was around a tragedy that causes an extreme reaction and the need to become a mum. I did read up on it; it’s a tragedy and that’s at the heart of it, that’s so great that I was able to feel real and authentic and sadness at the heart of it and the shock.
Aggie’s clearly devoted a lot of time to make her complex plan. She has a brilliantly strategic mind.
She is a great manipulator and then she also has thee impulses and strangely loyal to Meghan at the same time planning the worst things you can do to a woman, and squaring it in her head things that are morally wrong, and she okays them. She came out of trauma, and makes decisions that are and hard, fast and okays them. The decision you make to show the way you got there is the job of an actor. The script shows you the past and how she’s managed to get to the point where this was an okay thing to do.
She is not alone in her flaws; every character in the series is problematic. But one of the points of the series is that they all seem so happy and successful on Instagram.
They’re all fully formed flawed characters and it allows as well for your alliance and allegiances to the characters to switch between them. You are suddenly angry at Meghan and you see there is no difference.
The film raises the high cost of social media. It encourages Aggie to create a life of deceit and crime, and Meghan’s forced “aspirational” online life is equally false.
It’s very interesting. Jess and I would look at mummy blogs and there are so many of them out there, and they’re all telling mums how to do it, what to look out for, what to buy. The idea is you need to do it better. There is enormous pressure and it creates unhappiness.
Do you miss life before social media?
I can take it or leave it. I’m quite good at looking at it without any urge to post. I’m a terrible poster, useless for people that follow me. I don’t have the impulse to share, or the nosiness or interest in other people that way, I guess, I never think when I’m having a nice time that I should post it! I was in drama school when Facebook came out, but my school wasn’t a university so I couldn’t get on The Facebook as it was called. It’s funny to remember it now.
How have you spent the lockdown?
Cooking and walking and watching TV. It’s all you can do. If I tried to get back into a work state of mind, I’d be more anxious. I’m grateful to be able to see family when I can.
Tell me about Cartoon Girl.
The live read with The Black List. I was asked to do this live reading of the (unproduced) script when I was in LA by Franklin Leonard who runs The Black List. It was an amazing experience to do a live reading of the script with these megastars (James Marsden, Jessica Alba, Luke Wilson). We read it once together in the afternoon and at 7 o’clock, we read it before a live audience. It an amazing and terrifying experience!
What’s happening in the UK with production now?
Production is just beginning to start up again The Witcher and big productions have gone back this week but it’s all very tentative and slowly getting back on our feet. Preproduction is not taking any chances; we’re slowing down to see what happens.