Holliday is featured in Mail Online (Daily Mail) with a new exclusive interview and gorgeous photoshoot! See the photoshoot and interview below:
We’ve had great expectations for rising starlet Holliday Grainger. And as the lead in this winter’s must-see movie, she doesn’t disappoint
‘I don’t have any massive ambitions to be a movie star. I’d like to continue acting as long as I enjoy it’
Holliday Grainger is juggling three mobile phones, and an air of furious concentration pervades her doll-like face as she sets them into rest mode. ‘They’re for different countries,’ she sighs without a hint of swank, leaving the phones to pulse unheeded. While she is a thoroughly modern girl, insisting that Skyping from film locations is the solution to the perils of long-distance love, she has spent the past three years being laced into – and in some cases helped out of – corsets, bustles and bonnets.
Appearing in films of Jane Eyre, Bel Ami and Anna Karenina, and playing Lucrezia Borgia in the Sky Atlantic hit The Borgias, Holliday has clearly become the go-to girl for period drama. ‘It’s weird: people have started asking me recently if I’m worried about being typecast. But actually I started on contemporary TV series when I was little, so in my head that’s what I am. Still,’ she concedes modestly, ‘my career has stepped up to a new level since I’ve started this costume drama lark.’ Now the 24-year-old Mancunian will, I predict, become an ‘overnight’
star – after 18 years as an actress – when her luminous performance as Estella is seen in a new film of Dickens’s Great Expectations later this month.
I arrive at YOU’s photo shoot to find Holliday sheathed in an incredible black Louis Vuitton dress cut dangerously low at the back, being encouraged to arch her spine and work it like a cat on heat. With her hair dyed blonde for The Borgias (she is currently filming the third series in Budapest) and the light glinting off her fabulously broad cheekbones, she has the look of a young Michelle Pfeiffer.
Later, perched on a chair and wearing jeans tucked into Dr Martens and a Mango jacket, Holliday brims over with the helpfulness of a school’s newest prefect, her earnestness broken up with regular fits of giggles. She has the kind of face you want to stare at: slanted eyebrows, a snub nose, a rosebud-shaped mouth. And she looks much younger than she is, which slightly blinds you to the fact that she can weave an air of mystery around herself.
Meeting the sweet-natured Holliday is a shock after seeing her play emotionally damaged Estella, the adopted daughter of jilted bride Miss Havisham who rears her to be the conduit through which to avenge herself on men. Directed by Mike Newell and with a script by One Day’s bestselling author David Nicholls, the film is full of huge names: Helena Bonham Carter as a comically tragic Miss Havisham in a puffball wedding dress; Ralph Fiennes, haunting as Magwitch the convict; Robbie Coltrane as the pragmatic lawyer Jaggers; David Walliams milking the comic potential of Pip’s uncle Mr Pumblechook; and War Horse lead Jeremy Irvine as Pip.
‘It’s so much easier to draw on emotions in acting when you can understand them better. I find it much easier to cry in a role than when I was younger’
Holliday mesmerises every time she is on screen as Estella allows Pip close enough to fall in love with her and then, as she has been programmed to, cruelly breaks his heart. ‘The first time I read the novel I was only 15 and I didn’t quite get Estella because she’s complex and has gone through a lot, which you won’t understand until you’re older. I hadn’t gone through heartache myself then. In the novel you see Estella from other people’s perspectives and it is only at the end, when you learn her history, that you can piece her together as a person. So it takes a second reading to really enjoy who she is.
‘As an actor, I found those complexities fascinating. A lot of people hate Estella. In my university seminars, people would describe her as cold or a coquette, but when Pip falls in love with her in the novel there are lots of instances when she’s genuinely laughing.’ Holliday pronounces ‘laughing’ as ‘laffing’ in a soft Mancunian accent which further distances her from the cool, assured Estella.
‘Her natural joy has been sucked out of her by her upbringing. She believes she can’t love and so she is tragic.’ Holliday confides that she herself is ‘single at the moment’. Has she been in love or had her heart crushed? ‘All of those things. It’s so much easier to draw on emotions in acting when you can understand them better. I find it much easier to cry in a role than when I was younger.’
Holliday worked with Helena Bonham Carter in 2005, playing one of her children in the BBC drama Magnificent 7, ‘so I knew she was great. She has this reputation for being eccentric but she’s actually down-to-earth and easy to get on with. We spent a lot of time texting each other the Strictly Come Dancing results. That’s about as mad as it got. Chelsee Healey was in it last year when we were shooting and I know her from working on Waterloo Road.’
As Estella, Holliday models a sexy, gothic look with lavish gowns, a red wig teased into curls and loops and studded with jewels, and catwalk-style chokers and earrings piled on in a more-is-more philosophy. ‘I enjoy flitting around between hair colours. I find it fascinating when people think I’m naturally blonde as I’ve only been blonde for about two seconds. People pay more attention to you as a blonde; it’s also easier for people to assume you’re a ditsy young actress. Of course, I am a ditsy young actress – well, maybe not ditsy.’
So, apart from ‘not ditsy’, who is Holliday Grainger? The detail which seems to define her early life is that she was brought up by a single mother, Jan, a graphic designer, although she has contact with her father. ‘I was so tiny when my parents split up that I can’t remember them ever being together. That was never an issue as I guess I never went through the trauma of them splitting up. I admire my mother for being a single mum. It’s ridiculously hard. When you’re a child, you take things for granted. For instance, my mum didn’t have a lot of money but I went to piano, ballet and gymnastics lessons, and tae kwon do.
I wasn’t spoilt in a material sense but I was completely spoilt by her and my grandparents in what they allowed me to do. I felt that my childhood was very lucky and that I was nurtured and always had the belief that I could do anything if I wanted to.’ Holliday has long trotted out the story that she was named after the blues singer Billie Holliday. ‘Then my mum said it wasn’t really true,’ she gasps. ‘They’d been throwing around names like Mollie and Billie and it was word association.’
Her first acting role was at six years old in the BBC comedy drama series All Quiet On The Preston Front. Even then, Holliday did her research. While ill with chickenpox, she drew pictures of the scenes her character was in and impressed the director when she turned up with them for the audition. A stream of roles followed in series such as Casualty, Doctors, Dalziel and Pascoe, and she signed to an agent. ‘I never felt that acting was a big deal or got nervous. My only training was doing GCSE drama.’
Although she has said in the past that other children would shout her lines at her, she now says her career was mostly ignored at her comprehensive school. ‘Even my friends didn’t watch my programmes. Occasionally there’d be jibes but nothing that affected my life. My mum was freelance so she chaperoned me and liaised with school so I kept up with the syllabus.’
She went to Leeds University to study English as ‘I wasn’t sure how acting would go’. Her career really took off during her first year of studies and she was forced to make a choice. She opted to act and transfer her studies to the Open University, and she has just been awarded a first.
She was always the one with her nose in a hefty tome on set or listening to an audiobook classic on her way to the studio. ‘In fact, I was doing a module on the 19th-century novel when I got the audition for Estella. I was writing an essay on Dombey and Son and I’d flicked through other Dickens novels I’d previously read, including Great Expectations. So my head was in Victorian literature at the time.’
The film of Maupassant’s Bel Ami, opposite Robert Pattinson, was one of her first period roles.
She played ‘an evil little witch’ out to get R-Patz’s character, while the Budapest set was under constant siege from his Twilight fans. ‘What I learned set me up fantastically for other roles. To be a Renaissance princess or Victorian lady, it’s all about the etiquette. A lady would only ever pick up her skirt with one hand. When I see one of the extras on the set of The Borgias use both hands, I want to go over and say, “NO!”’ Does she? ‘Of course not,’ she says, aghast.
It is The Borgias – a hyperbolic mix of seething lust, power politics and religion – that has done the most to erode her anonymity. ‘In Canada for the Toronto Film Festival recently, I got recognised in bars and restaurants more than ever before. I was, like, “Oh! Hi!”’ Lucrezia was said to have indulged in incest, adultery and murder. ‘I don’t think anyone is just good or evil. She was a great patron of the arts, as well as acting Pope when her father was away.’ He became Pope Alexander VI and is played by Jeremy Irons.
‘Jeremy is eccentric and you can tell he lives in a pink castle in Ireland. He’s very passionate about the series and will give you notes but not in a diva, actorly way. He’s very free to play and take notes from you. Not that I would give notes to Jeremy Irons. He’s very tactile. A shoulder rub from Jeremy is the best way to start the day.’
Holliday actually starts the day by gazing at David Beckham in his underwear. ‘I ripped the H&M campaign with David out of a magazine and pinned it on my hairdresser’s wall on the set of The Borgias. So when Stefano does my hair, we’re both staring at David’s torso.’ Another good torso, she agrees, belongs to Jeremy Irvine who, as Pip in Great Expectations, works for a while as a blacksmith, shirt off, sweat streaking his muscles. ‘He’s so lovely and even better looking in the
flesh than on screen.’
Holliday recently worked on Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley, although they only really met in the make-up trailer. ‘She has this youthful, bubbly energy that comes across on screen, and – I sound like Louis Walsh now – that likability factor.’ But Holliday isn’t necessarily lusting after a Keira level of fame. ‘I’d like to do more theatre.’ She was lauded when playing a suicidal girl in Athol Fugard’s Dimetos at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2009, in which she lowered herself on a rope in her underwear, causing apoplexy among some front-row critics.
‘I don’t have any massive ambitions to be a movie star. I’d like to continue acting as long as I enjoy it. I’m grateful to be where I am but maybe at some point I’ll be ready for the next stage in my life when there isn’t acting.’ She could be waiting a very long time before she is required to exit stage left.
HOT FOR HOLLIDAY
Saver or spender? I spend money on food, drink and airport shopping. I live with my mum in Manchester but mostly I live where I need to be for work. I’d love to do the home making, settling down stuff. I don’t want to be a nomad at 40.
Top ipod track? Alt-J’s ‘An Awesome Wave’ at the moment.
Haute couture or high street? I get my inner girl out on shoots, wearing designer. I don’t spend a lot on clothes. I tend to be middle range: All Saints, Diesel, Mango and H&M. I shop a lot at Cos.
Self-restraint or indulgence? My guilty pleasure is dark chocolate and I’m not good at restraining myself. Then I go for a jog.
Favourite book? Jane Eyre. But I don’t fancy playing her. Mia Wasikowska was too good too recently and I’ve got too much energy to play Jane.
Career girl or stay-at-home mum? I would love to have children one day. I’m not in a relationship now but I think there’s hope, although I’m often away. You can talk to each other over the internet.
Style icon? My old flatmate, The Borgias actress Ruta Gedmintas.
City or country? Suburban, so I can hop to both.
Great Expectations will be in cinemas nationwide on 30 November