Kate Phillips has been seen in some of the most well-known tv series like Downtown Abbey, Peaky Blinders, War & Peace and Netflix’s smash hit The Crown as Venetia Scott. Phillips steps out of her supporting role as the star of the new PBS drama series for Masterpiece, Miss Scarlet and The Duke. We met up with Kate over Zoom to talk about her new role as Eliza Scarlet.
MM: Miss Scarlet and The Duke premiered about a year ago in the U.K? Right?
KP: It came out about a year ago almost to the month. I think around February or March last year. It’s kind of crazy to do another round a whole year later.
MM: You have played plenty of characters in period pieces in your career. What drew you to the character of Eliza?
KP: I guess the obvious really. She is a very sparky, very bright, very witty character. I was drawn to that and wanting to play a character that has very clever thoughts but at the same time says fun things. Also, in the context of a Victorian London she’s not what you expect from a woman. The whole drama has this sort of outrageous vividness that you don’t expect with similar dramas and I just immediately knew I wanted to play that character. I think Rachel has put together a very clever series and I just love Eliza’s character.
MM: What experiences or research did you dig into in order to prepare for this series?
KP: For me, preparation completely depends on the project. I feel like with Miss Scarlet the world is so specific. As soon as you watch the show you will understand because it’s not your average period piece drama and I was really keen to immerse myself in the world. It was a process of asking the showrunner, what her inspiration for the show was and who is this character? She is Elizabeth Bennett, she is a female Sherlock Holmes or even an Indiana Jones! These were the kind of images they wanted to evoke in the series and very quickly you get an idea of the rhythm of the piece and how to eke out the humor. I am all about tearing the scripts apart and trying to find out what’s going on and obviously reading books like ‘How to be Victorian’ can be really helpful. You just never know the funny things you find that help create lots of texture in the performance.
MM: Did you wrap the series before the pandemic?
KP: Oh this was done a long time ago before anyone said the words Covid-19! We didn’t know this was on the horizon at all. We finished this in September 2019 which seems mad! It’s kind of cool that we are coming out now in the U.S. on PBS as they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this January. A lot of things have changed this year in terms of where they want to put programming and it’s really fun that they are bringing the show out now and it feels like the right time, for Masterpiece.
MM: How long does it take to actually get through the hair and makeup of Miss Scarlett before you can emerge on set and start filming?
KP: I am in the chair for at least a good hour and a half or two hours in the morning. It’s maybe an hour for the hair, then 45 minutes for makeup, and then the costume on top of that. You are up at the crack of dawn and I sort of like that process. It’s a good way to start your day and tune in to the world and the character and I always love the women or the men in hair and makeup. It’s a really nice bonding time at five o’clock in the morning! Quite often costume changes aren’t put into the day’s schedule so they ask how much time you need and it’s always underestimated how much time it takes to change a hairstyle or a costume. Then you have moments like the fight scene where my hair was coming apart and you’re not only having to do physical stunts and talk but you are also having to manage this massive load of hair on your head so it doesn’t fall off.
MM: You have a deep career in acting in these kinds of shows where you are in full costume from another time. I wonder if you are ever walking downtown London and catch your reflection on a building and you see yourself in modern clothes and kind of stop in place and wonder where you are, a kind of occupational hazard of sorts?
KP: I’m probably in a period dress around 100 days out of 300 hundred in the year so I have thought it would be weird to be in jeans on set one day!
MM: Do you have a favorite character you have played so far in your career?
KP: Eliza Scarlet is up there because she is the first lead I have played and it’s a wonderful experience to have had. It’s a great feeling to walk on set and really get to know a character because you are at it all day, every day. You feel like you are part of a gang with the cast and crew and it’s wonderful. Eliza is just so vivacious, clever, and fun and I had the best time of my life playing this role. But I couldn’t forget playing Venetia Scott in The Crown. It was a really precious experience. I loved it. I had an amazing time and I got to work with John Lithgow; who played Winston Churchill. He’s just a wonderful human being and I am pleased to have met him. I feel like I can call him a pal.
MM: If you could play the lead in any kind of superhero blockbuster film who would you play?
KP: I don’t know a lot about superheroes but if you could make a superhero out of Boudica the British Queen, something like that. Like a really powerful woman on horseback – that would be really exciting.
MM: We were so happy with the story you shot with Joseph Sinclair for this cover story. Was there a specific look that you shot that was your favorite?
KP: It was this off the shoulder dress by EMILIA WICKSTEAD and the earrings by SWEET PEA. And I think what Shukeel did with my hair was really great.
MM: Since wrapping Miss Scarlet and dealing with the pandemic this last year, are you anxious to travel like many of us and where are you hoping to go?
KP: I would love to go to Japan and New Zealand. Both are on my bucket list. I tell you what; I cried when I went to New York for the first time. Maybe two years ago was the first time I went and I had just started walking the high line. There is a weird sort of nostalgia because you have seen it in movies growing up. I imagine the novelty of the city will wear off but it hasn’t for me yet.
MM: Have you taken on any new hobbies to help pass the time?
KP: We are lucky enough to have a little garden and it would have been crazy not to take advantage of that. And I had a baby in July so she’s just turned 6 months. We’ve been very lucky because we have been able to give all our time to get to know her. I know it’s been a tough time for the world but the silver lining for us is her. We’ve been very lucky to spend this time with her so we won’t forget this time.
MM: Words to live by?
KP: Actually, it’s a Walt Whitman quote and I love it. Do you know where I have found it? Have you seen the Apple TV Show Ted Lasso? It’s Ted Lasso quoting Walt Whitman. “Be curious, not judgmental.” But I think it’s such a good one.
Metropolis Report – Digital