This English star Ophelia Lovibond talks about playing Carrie Johnson in a new drama
None of us are strangers to the unique plot of biopics and historical dramas – Netflix’s hit hit The crown and the hype surrounding the upcoming Marilyn Monroe drama Blond testifies to this – but how do we feel about a TV show telling a story that is still unfolding?
Actress Ophelia Lovibond was commissioned to tell such a story. She brought Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie Johnson (née Symonds) to the small screen in Sky’s TV drama This England out this Wednesday, September 28. Also starring Kenneth Branagh as the former prime minister, the show follows the monumental events following the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, as well as the government’s handling of the ‘first wave’ national lockdowns.
Ophelia catches up with GLAMOR as the world reels over the passing of Queen Elizabeth II – we’re talking the day after news of her death was announced. “I was coming back from yoga this morning, in front of all the Queen’s digital billboards. It’s surreal to live,” she says. “We have witnessed so many stories in recent years.”
She describes feeling “curious” to know how This England will be perceived by the public as a different moment in history, as the impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns are still keenly felt by all. “It’s still as current as ever,” she says. “People have such strong opinions… [and] may have already made up their mind [those] involved.”
The thought of the real Carrie watching This England crossed her mind, admits Ophelia, partly because of the decision she made not to contact the Johnsons while preparing for her role. “Generally, playing a real person is a gift,” Ophelia says, referring to the ability to ask questions. “But I felt talking to Carrie would have made me less objective.”
After some back and forth, she decided to talk to only a few people who knew Carrie from her school days, so as not to let too many opinions get in the way of character formation. “There’s so much writing about Carrie in the tabloid press that’s inherently unreliable,” Ophelia says. “I thought it would be fairer to do as much of my own research as possible and take the facts as they are.”
Kenneth and Ophelia’s physical transformation into the former Prime Minister and his wife is truly quite extraordinary – a veritable masterclass from makeup artist Vanessa Martin, who has worked on huge titles such as Bridget Jones Diary and Gravity. Ophelia sent a photo of herself as Carrie to her mother, who immediately assumed it was an IRL photo of Ms. Johnson (“I was like ‘Okay, that’s good sign !'”).