By Claire Bueno
Synnøve Karlsen confesses to me she had a lot of fun playing Jocasta the bitchy antagonist in Edgar Wright’s latest film Last Night in Soho. In person Karlson couldn’t be nicer, erudite and exuding a genuine sweetness and humility. The actress may be Glaswegian born, but there is no denying her Norwegian ancestry with her fresh faced, striking beauty. But there is much more to the emerging actress who takes commitment to her craft very seriously. Having previously appeared in Medici, and Clique, Synnøve Karlsen will next star alongside Keeley Hawes in the forthcoming The Midwich Cuckoos. Without doubt she has talent that is being recognised and sought after, and it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to talk at length with her about it.
You must be very excited about being in Last Night in Soho?
Oh yeah. Very excited. Very exciting indeed.
It's a time traveling, horror movie, so it's not something that we see very often, was it good for you to get into a project that was so different?
Yeah, definitely, I mean, I think that's the nice thing about getting an opportunity to work with someone like Edgar Wright. There's nothing that he makes, no two things that are the same. So I knew just from that, from the get go that it was going to be a really unique project. And it definitely proved to be that.
You're playing the part of Jocasta, and she's an antagonist. Can you tell us a little bit more about her?
Yeah, she's sort of the main antagonist at the beginning of the story, when Eloise who is played by Thomasin McKenzie comes to London from Cornwall. And she's just really fun, it was just a really fun part for me to get into. She makes Eloise’s life pretty difficult. She's that classic really bitchy, not very nice girl that you encounter on occasion (laughs). She's at her most vulnerable, in a sense, Eloise, when she comes to London, the first person she meets is Jocasta who makes her life very, very miserable.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Gere, if I can pick the name up off the ground! (Laughs) And it was for a part where he was playing an antagonist. And he said to me, it's not up to the actor to make a judgment call. Even though she is bitchy, you have to be objective about her really?
Well exactly. You have to try and make this person into a sort of 3D kind of thing of substance. So, it's my job to try and make her human and sort of empathetic in a sense, which is definitely what I tried to do. And I tried to draw on, I don't know, people that maybe I've known, or that
encountered at points in my life that have made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. And yeah, I think as he said, you can't judge them because then they sort of become a caricature. You're just playing that meanness. And actually, I need to sort of love Jocasta in order to make her believable. So it was fun. I had a lot of fun. It was really, really fun. I was very aware of I think, everyone on set was a little bit. Just the crew were a bit more sort of tentative with me (laughs). And then I realized, oh no, they think, I'm really mean (laughs). So that was fun to try and overcompensate and be very nice.
Often, you know they say about the bully is somebody that's often been bullied. So did you have some sort of backstory and try and give her a reason as to why she's behaving as she is?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's interesting because it's so jam packed this film and it's like, I've seen it once and I'm going to see it again. And I actually I don't usually like to watch myself that much, but something like this, you want see it as many times as possible because it's so packed full of detail. And Jocasta in her first scene it’s just so jam packed, and she's got so many great lines in that you learn a lot about her and where she came from. So that to me was really what I stuck to and what I drew from, was trying to again make of this sort of empathetic person. And she references growing up in care in Manchester and coming down, and she sort of really elevated her accent. Yeah, I think, finding that backstory, even if you're only in the film for half an hour or whatever it is, it's still so important to bring that character to life in a really truthful way. Yeah, and it was just a great, great opportunity to do that.
Absolutely. And you're playing a part that is in the present day because the film for people that don't know is set between here and the 1960s. You've played period drama in the past so when you start to think about breaking down the characters and women's roles. We've evolved. Men have evolved. Women have evolved over the period of time. So do you have to think differently when you're say, playing in the Medici, when you're playing a much more innocent role and what a woman would be more like in that time.
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. And that was actually really interesting because it was, medieval Italy. And you kind of have to get into the physicality of someone who's grown up in such a man's world. And she really is there to facilitate, you know, to give birth to her husband's children in a sense. And yeah, that's an interesting thing as an actor when going back into different periods of time, even thinking about the lack of technology in the sixties and what that would do, what that does to you, how that influences young people and the way they interact with the world in a sense. So it's always really interesting going back and dwelling on periods of history. But again, for this, I was in modern day. But yeah, I always find that really, really fascinating. And there's a lot of physicality that you can work on. I found myself with Medici really wanting to think about the way that, you know, how a woman would walk at that time. How does a woman walk when she's wearing a corset? And with all that going on.
Yeah. And actually it’s an interesting point that you say that because there was an interview that I did, ages and ages ago about Titanic and they had to go back and do ADR. And James Cameron was saying, ‘No, it doesn't sound like it, doesn't sound right, it doesn’t sound like when you were on set and we were filming.’ And basically, it was down to the corset and they all had to do ADR wearing corsets.
Yeah, exactly. It just completely changed so many things that you don't even realize, even like, I know the pitch of your voice or the quality of your voice, all of those things change. And shoes, also with period drama, shoes are very important. Shoes really influence how you walk and how you get around and how you hold yourself. So I love that side of my job, and that's why I love doing things in different time periods and then modern day stuff. Because it's very easy to relate but it's easier in a sense to fall into that because it's closer to where you are naturally.
And going back to your training, you trained at LAMDA. How important was going and getting training in your craft to help provide you with the tools to have a technique and to be able to adapt to different roles?
Yeah, I mean, it was so important. I didn't complete my training, because I got a job. But no, I think I learned the most valuable things there really. I don't regret not leaving because I think for me, also working and gaining experience and just being on a job is so important. Definitely, it is a craft. And there are so many different ways of falling into a character and getting into that character. I think I wouldn't have known how to do that without going to drama school.
Absolutely. And you've obviously worked in TV as well as working in film. How does that differ? Because with television you've got long form storytelling, you have many episodes in a series to evolve a character. Whereas in a film you've got a certain amount of time. How does that affect your preparation?
I think it becomes easier to fall into the character. I don't know if that's true all the time, but I've been filming recently for about six months and it's a character similar to my age, so I don't know, I think it sort of becomes easier to, fall into that character in a sense, the longer that you do it. Or I felt that way, but I don't know. I'll have to wait and see when I see it, whether that actually happened (laughs). Yeah with something like Last Night in Soho it was a much shorter shoot. I mean, it was so long for film, to be honest but as I said, this one, I've just done in six months, so it really does vary from project to project. I think if you've done the right preparation
and you've got a good relationship, and you have those good conversations with the directors, then you should always be able, it should always be, not easy, but you should be able to have that time on set between action and cut. That you've really used and you feel like you've done a good job. But maybe getting into that place is easier the longer that you live with a character?
You've touched upon it there. You've got an exciting project coming up next, working with Keeley Hawes. She's a national institution Keeley isn’t she? (Laughs)
She is isn’t she? Do you know what? I've worked with certain celebs or whatever, but she was the one, I was really ... a little bit nervous when I met her. I think just because, she's such a British sort of … you know … just a huge person in TV. And I've seen her for so many years on my TV. And then suddenly I was like, Oh, I've got a Zoom meeting with Keeley Hawes, OK, this is going to be weird. And also,
Zoom is weird at the best times. I mean, its fine for this sort of thing, but when you're acting, I'm acting to you. And then other people are watching on this Zoom link, it is quite odd. It's very weird. But no, working with her was amazing. We got on really well. She was just brilliant and I love …. I don't know….. It's also nice to meet someone who has had such an amazing career and has a family and sort of manages to have quite a balance. I know that sounds bad because I probably wouldn't say that about a man, but it is important and it is nice, it's comforting and it's reassuring and also makes you sort of see how much you can aspire to achieve. Yeah, she was great, and she's definitely kept in touch. We had a laugh and blast.
And just finally, before I let you go, I just wanted to know what you've taken away with you from working on Last Night in Soho. What have you learned? And how will that help you kind of move to the future with your acting?
Oh, I've learned so much from doing it. It was a long time ago to be honest, it was before the pandemic. But the whole journey of coming out and getting a job, it was very big for me, so I'll take a lot away with it. I think I'll just treasure working with Edgar because I've just always been such a huge fan of his films. And I think those sort of moments of memories of being on set and getting notes from him, that's the main thing that I'll take away from it.
Synnøve Karlsen stars in Last Night in Soho in cinemas 29th October
Photographer: Joseph Sinclair Stylist: Holly Elget Hair/Make-up Charlotte Yoemans
With special thanks to Personal PR
Last Night in Soho - Official Trailer