Rising star Holliday Grainger tells Metro why she’s more than happy to strip naked on shows like Great Expectations and The Borgias.
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‘My friends keep Facebooking me saying “I saw your face on the Tube,”’ laughs Great Expectations star Holliday Grainger, who has just hit London to promote Mike Newell’s adaptation of the Dickens classic.
Fair, fresh-faced and peppering her Manchester accent with a range of throaty laughs, Grainger seems a far cry from the poised, flame-haired Estella, pictured in a tryst with Pip (Jeremy Irvine) on the posters.
‘I think people do expect something different,’ says the 24-year-old, who agrees she couldn’t be less like her cold, distant character, who’s been trained to manipulate men.
‘I’m the opposite. I come from a very loving, stable background where I’ve been persuaded to just be myself and anything is possible.
‘Estella puts pressure on herself, as Miss Havisham [ Helena Bonham Carter] has done, to lead a life that’s already set out for her.’
As for Grainger, known as Holly to her friends, she prefers to play it by ear. ‘I don’t really have any strategy for my career,’ she says cheerfully. ‘I feel like I’ve been doing really well the last few years.’
She says this last sentence like she does many – with a faint note of surprise and pleasure, as if she’s just realised it that second. No pretence of humility but no arrogance either – just a simple statement of fact.
And it’s true. After youthful roles in TV series including Waking The Dead and Demons, Grainger’s career kicked into gear as recently as 2011. Even while she was still studying for an English literature degree, she was juggling parts in Bel Ami and Jane Eyre with a regular stint as Lucrezia in The Borgias, the steamy Showtime series that gave the actress an unusual ailment.
‘It’s my left boob,’ she says, creasing up with laughter and gesturing at her bust, today loosely covered in a green shirt she’s teamed with tight trousers and clompy boots. ‘It’s something about my left boob and the perpetual push of the corset that just doesn’t quite work. It just starts to ache. And the boning just comes there, just under your nipples…’
No wonder she’s happy to strip off for nude scenes in the saga of the not-so-holy papal family. ‘I’m perfectly comfortable naked,’ she admits. ‘I have that thing where I never think of myself as at all sexy so I’m like a two-year-old; I’ll just be naked, that’s fine. They’re just bodies – people shouldn’t make so much of a fuss.’
Grainger thinks Hollywood should show more ‘normal’ figures. ‘You’re so used to watching perfect bodies, if someone’s too skinny or if someone’s actually got a bit of normal fat on them then it registers… it’s so wrong.’
If she could change that, how would she? ‘Run the industry with women who’ve got normal bodies and let’s all get naked,’ she shrieks. ‘Maybe all actresses should, rather than go, “I’ve got a naked scene, I should get down the gym,” go “I’ve got a naked scene, I need to eat a pie and not go to the gym so that people have to see my cellulite and then you can all get over it because we all have it.”’
Clearly naturally slim, Grainger describes eating ravenously on the Budapest set of The Borgias, where she’s currently filming series three. ‘It’s amazing – we have constant ice cream in the summer and constant pizza in the evenings in the winter.’
She almost slips into teenager mode here but, as ever, a quick reality check is around the corner. This is a young woman who’s growing up fast and knows things will change.
‘I’m very lucky as I’ve never ever felt any pressure from any producer to lose weight whereas a lot of actresses have,’ she says. ‘So if ever I feel that pressure from someone inside, then maybe ask me that question again and I may be down the gym and eating no carbs.’
So is Grainger dying to ditch the corsets and get a bit grittier? ‘Well, I love period pieces, there are such great roles for women but it would be nice to try a different genre. I’d love to do something that’s more social realism and based on improvisation like Mike Leigh or Shane Meadows, that would be amazing.
Actually, I just got offered a job today but I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it. I really wanted it and it’s working with people I love and have worked with before. There’s a strong lead female, it’s all very naturalistic, it’s 20th century.’
Any other ambitions? ‘I’d love to do action and I’d love to do horror. As much as people have that sense of that being selling out, no – you know what? Put a gun in my hand and get me to do some high kicks and I would be so happy.’
We didn’t see that one coming. ‘I’d love to do a sexy, strong woman like Catwoman – like the one Scarlett Johansson plays, Black Widow. Oh yeah,’ she laughs, checking her idealism once again. ‘I’d have to get down the gym then…’