Esther Denham has few friends in Sanditon, and even her wolfish step-brother, Sir Edward, seems to prefer the company of others more than he does his sharp-tounged step-sister. So it’s a charming surprise to speak with actor Charlotte Spencer, who truly is everything that Esther is not.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
There’s something about Esther Denham that rubs everyone the wrong way. She’s blunt, brash, and…well, rude.
Esther We have to dislodge that little interloper Clara Brereton. She is determined to discredit us. I just wish this would end.
Jace Esther’s close relationship with her step-brother Edward borders on the obscene, and the siblings relentlessly conspire to snag the sizable fortune of their relative, Lady Denham.
Esther Our aunt has summoned us, it hardly bodes well.
Edward Oh, on the contrary She probably wants us to help Clara pack her bags.
Esther You act as though this is nothing more than a schoolboy’s game.
Edward It is a game! And soon enough, Miss Clara Brereton will be sent to the baths with a bloodied nose!
Jace Lord Babington, however, sees something else in Esther, — and his own pursuit of this prickly and impoverished young noble lends a joyful light to Esther’s otherwise dim life.
Babbington: Miss Denham does not waste time with petty games. She is entirely herself at every turn. She has finally answered my letters. And the response is short and lacking in any courtesy whatsoever. I have taken great heart from it.
Crowe Oh good grief, man. You are lost.
Jace Actor Charlotte Spencer was already a huge fan of Jane Austen’s novels, and the chance to step inside her unfinished fragment of Sanditon was too good to miss.
Charlotte Spencer: It’s just a sort of fantasy of going back in time and and, you know, imagining what people were like…what they went through and what they were like…I love escaping.
Jace We spoke to Spencer about playing the devilishly sly Esther, her unusual dynamic with Jack Fox’s Edward, and the peculiar joys of playing a stubborn jerk.
Jace And this week, we are joined by Sanditon star Charlotte Spencer. Welcome.
Jace In the script for the first episode of Sanditon, Esther is described as being, quote, “pale and standoffish.” What did you first make of Esther’s character when you read the scripts?
Charlotte Well, I absolutely loved her. It was one of the reasons why I went for the role, actually. I mean, you know, as well as it being an Austen novel, I absolutely love period dramas. My parents could never understand it. And I always wanted to be in one. And then finally, I am, and I fell in love with Esther because I love her honesty. I mean, she’s so much fun to play. You don’t get to say those things in in real life or do those things. So to places someone like that, I was I I’ve got I’ve this is one part I really, really want. And thank God it worked out.
Jace Esther’s standoffishness, her iciness seems to be a defense mechanism of sorts, an armor that she puts on to battle the world. What do you see as being her weakness?
Charlotte Oh, her…her weakness is is her love for her stepbrother.
Esther What happens once this undignified contest is over?
Edward Then? We shall enjoy a life that even the poets would envy. We shall swim the Hellespont! Roam the canals of Venice! Whatever it is that your heart desires, my dear sister, you shall have it.
Charlotte I actually think she relies on him a lot because it’s actually all she’s known. And I think that she feels that without him, she won’t survive as as actually back in those days, women couldn’t really survive without men. Unfortunately, you know, that was just the way it was. They relied on them for money, they relied on them for food, for the title, they relied on them for pretty much everything. So without him, she is lost and she doesn’t feel that she’ll ever be married off. I don’t think so. Yeah. I think her weakness is him.
Jace Do you see Esther as being a villain or a survivor?
Charlotte No. She’s a survivor. I don’t think she’s a villain at all. Actually, I actually think I love her honesty. I think it’s refreshing. I think in a world in which everyone is so sort of editing themselves and making sure that so worried about what they’re going to say, that actually it was so refreshing to play a character that didn’t care. That’s just like this is this is how I feel. And if you don’t like it, then jog on Basically,.
Jace I mean, that’s the thing is, as the season wore on, she became quite a sympathetic character, either in spite of or perhaps even because of the walls that she puts up around her. This week’s episode in particular finds her turning down an offer of marriage, perhaps unwillingly. Do you find her to be an innately sympathetic character?
Charlotte I think so. I think that some of the most interesting people I know aren’t just one thing. I think every every human being has a multilayered and. And to just be this sweet one or the nasty one is not that’s not real. She is she is multilayered. And it’s because of her past and because of what’s happened to her. Bearing in mind her her mother married Edward’s father when they were, I think, teenagers. And and then her mother died and then her stepfather died. She has no one except Edward. She’s very much alone and has just been moved from pillar to post. And actually, I can understand her why she’s so defensive, because she’s she doesn’t trust anyone.
Jace I love the scene between Esther and Charlotte, where they walk along the beach and Esther badmouths everyone in Sanditon, in sharing her views with a complete stranger.
Charlotte It’s – always pleasant to make new acquaintances.
Esther Very prettily said, and you don’t mean a word of it. I saw Lady D haranguing you the other day. What was she talking about?
Charlotte Well. Her money, mostly.
Esther And how we are scheming to get it, no doubt. She talks of little else. She’s a mean, miserly old monster. Did she mention her niece, Clara Brerton?
Charlotte She told me she was very poor indeed.
Esther Oh, she has no need of your sympathy. She is well enough, basking in the warmth and luxury of Sanditon House, while Edward and I shiver in the damp and cold of Denham Place. If she succeeds in her object, which is of course to have everything for herself, I swear I will poison her.
Charlotte I’m sure you don’t mean that.
Esther And your hosts?
Charlotte I am very fond of them already.
Esther Mr Tom Parker is a monomaniac who is well on the way to ruining himself and his family with his crazy schemes.
Charlotte You don’t really think that? I think his ideas are admirable.
Esther Wait till he bankrupts himself. I have nothing against his wife, indeed I feel very sorry for her. His brother Arthur is a buffoon, as no doubt you’ve discovered for yourself, and Sidney…
Charlotte I have not had the pleasure yet.
Esther Very unsteady and unreliable. I advise you to be on your guard.
Charlotte Thank you.
Esther All in all, I think you may come to regret ever setting foot in Sanditon. I know I do. Look at that view. Sea. Sky. Isn’t it all unutterably dreary?
Jace Is she a truth teller or a provocateur or both?
Charlotte I think she’s a bit of both. I think that she saw him. She plays up to that. Then the nasty one, I think is also also that’s a defense mechanism as well. Like, well, no one really likes me anyway, so I might as well be, you know, speak my mind. But actually, she does tell the truth. Everything she says is upfront and and is real. She’s not someone that’s underhanded or lying. She she would tell people how she feels. And I I love her for that. I sort of compare her to a wild cat. How to you have to tame her? And once you get to know her and she trusts you, then then She’s a sweetheart. She’ll purr. But you have to. You have to be nice to her. And then if she trusts you, she’ll change.
Jace Esther is rather trapped in this seaside town by circumstances as much as finances. The sunshine is dreary to her. The view is unremarkable. She’s contrary by nature. What makes Esther so resentful and embittered, do you think?
Charlotte I think it’s her past. I think she. So she she didn’t fit in. I don’t think she fit in as a child. And she she’s quite intelligent. And I think she did well at her lessons and everything. And I just think that she’s not really been brought up into society. So therefore, her best friend is her brother. She doesn’t really know anyone else. She doesn’t really have any friends. She doesn’t have any extended family. It’s just her and Edward now. Now, in those times, the men would go off and go on tours and and travel the world and the women would just be left behind. So I think that she’s just lonely.
Jace She certainly is not on the best of terms with Clara. She tells Charlotte that if Clara ends up with Lady Denham’s fortune, she’ll poison her.. Is she merely trying to bait Charlotte? Or is Esther capable of murder, at least where Clara is involved.
Charlotte I don’t think she’d murder anyone. I just think that she wants to teach her a lesson. I think the beauty in this script is actually how much the women are in control. The men think they are, but actually they don’t have a clue. It’s like, you know, Esther and Clara trying to survive. Clara was trying to survive and get the money for herself. Esther wants to survive for herself and get the money so she can keep Edward with her, Lady Denham’s the one with the money. Charlotte Heywood turns up and turns everyone’s world upside down with all these ideas. It’s like these women are in control and the men have not got a clue.
Jace That goes along with the fact that there is this sort of underlying modernity to Sanditon That’s refreshing. Whether that is sort of the sort of feminist power within the show or male objectification or exposing the underlying misogyny or racism of Regency England or just sex itself. I mean, do these elements help to make Sanditon more universal and timely despite the period trappings?
Charlotte Yes, I think so. I mean, you know, we we could only we could only work with 11 chapters. It was obviously written by Jane Austen, who’s a woman of her time. Writing like that was was incredible. And. And I think that I just think we’ve been told the stories in such a particular way that people, you know, are up in arms, are going well, this clearly didn’t happen. It’s like, well, it did. They these women had to be in control in a very. They had to be clever about it, that they couldn’t be in your face. They weren’t like the men they had to. It was all beneath the surface. And and women have always done that, I think. And I think that’s why it transcends because women are more in control than than we’ve ever been given credit for. And and, you know, when you watch period dramas, you just assume that they’re going to be sweet, nice. And actually, of course, they weren’t some of the best people in history. You know, best females in history are the ones that broke the rules a bit. And that’s why they’re remembered.
Jace I mean, in that respect, Esther seems to be more of a stand in for Jane Austen herself than, say, Charlotte.
Charlotte Yes. I love Esther because she she is strong. And also, it’s that for that I very much stick by the fact that, you know, people said what people might say, oh, well, you know, if it’s feminist, you know, two girls shouldn’t be fighting over either a boy or either money or. Well, actually, I think that’s wrong. I think a females just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean you’re going to get on with everyone. I actually think it’s more feminist to to show women fighting in something and being real. In all honesty, instead of being, oh, you know, buddy, buddy, I actually think they that Clara and Esther, for example, have had this kind of all due respect for each other, despite the fact that they’re each other’s enemies. It’s just more that look, you know, I’m just I understand. But I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that I’m me and my family are okay.
Jace Edward and Esther are step-siblings thrown together by their parents marriage. How would you define their rather, well, say, unconventional step sibling dynamic, what with its sexual component?
Charlotte Yes. I think Edward is the only man that Esther has ever truly known. I think that he’s he’s sort of manipulated her into only trusting him and which is why she’s batted away suitors and things. And I think that it’s just more it started as a friendship. You know, they only had each other once her mother died, once his father died, you know, they they were left together. And I think that for Esther, that blossomed into into love. And she doesn’t know any different. And I think it’s sort. Almost is it slightly, slightly mentally abusive, whether he knows it or not. And it’s all she’s known. I don’t think it’s wrong for her to have fallen in love with him due to the circumstances.
Jace The two of them are teetering on a knife’s edge into incest. Does the secret that they share, whether it is love or something more twisted, bring them even closer together?
Charlotte I think for Edward, it’s it’s a game. He likes having Esther around. He likes her as his confidant, confident and and his best friend. And I think he he oversteps the mark with that. Now she allows it because she’s never experienced anything else. I think she does love him. And they are not blood related at all. It’s just so happens that they bonded by marriage. If they were you know what? If they if their parents didn’t get married, they would have nothing to do with each other. So it’s not wrong for them for her to love him.
Jace We’ll say that again. They’re not related by blood.
Charlotte They are not related by blood.
Edward: Look what the morning post has brought! Yet another billet doux from your unflagging suitor!
Esther If you love me, you’ll burn it along with the others.
Edward And deny us our morning’s entertainment? Not a chance. Dear Miss Denham…Despite your best efforts to rebuff my attentions, I find myself compelled to continue our correspondence. I have no expectation of receiving a reply but that will not deter me in the least! The exercise is of some good to me and I write without any intention of paining of you or humbling myself. Others might find your silence disheartening but I have always believed that a prize too easily won has no real worth..
Esther All right Edward, that’s enough. The maid left my stays far too loose this morning. If you wish to make yourself useful, come here, and pinch me in.
Jace You said that she does love Edward. Is she truly in love with him, or the idea of him?
Charlotte I think it’s a bit of both. I don’t I think she knows no different. And it’s not until Babington comes along and and actually treats her with respect and and enjoys her company and her wit, which has been, you know, I think pushed people away in the past, that she suddenly realizes that maybe there isn’t just one person. And maybe being treated in such a way isn’t right. But it is verging on mental abuse, really. And she’s sort of being gaslit, I think, by Edward, whether it’s deliberate or not. And so, you know, she keeps going back to her abuser. And actually, you know, you can see Babington has is this lovely just sweetheart You know, I certainly want her to choose Babbington.
Jace There is an intense eroticism to those Esther-Edward scenes, such as the corset sequence in last week’s episode. How did you read that encounter between them? Is this just one of many boundary pushing flirtations between them?
Charlotte Yes, they they definitely push the boundaries with each other. But you have to remember as well that Esther is around 27, 28, and she has never experienced anything sexual. Now, you know, she’s sort of over the hill of that time to be getting married, so she’s probably, you know, resigned herself to the fact that that it’s not going to happen and that all she has is him. But, you know, he pushes the boundaries and she goes along with it because she’s a girl in love.
Jace And I think that that’s why Clara represents such a threat for Esther, is that she is sort of knowledgeable in that arena, she has a way with with Edward that Esther can’t even fathom.
Charlotte Yeah, absolutely. Clara is totally street smart. Esther was brought up in this sort of little cage of of well-to-do high society. So she doesn’t know anything like that. She was totally protected from any of that. And Clara clearly wasn’t. So to her, that’s Esther can’t even fathom.
Jace I mean, I do love the fact that there are moments of tenderness between Esther and Edward, such as when Edward brushes Esther’s hair. What sort of backstory did you create about their relationship prior to what we see in Sanditon?
Charlotte And so we we spoke and we were still figuring out when when their parents would have married. So I think that, you know, Esther would it would have been about 13, 14, and he would’ve been a few years older. So, you know, I think they started to they didn’t really talk and then they started to trust each other and maybe become friends and and and probably, you know, laugh and play tricks on the on the helps the maids and people. And and then it just blossomed into this sort of this friendship where they they really do only trust. I mean, certainly for Esther. She only trusts Edward. And and those those intimate moments, which then the lines of blurred slightly with the brushing of the hair because she has feelings. It’s not just brushing hair anymore. It’s to her. It’s just the fact that she wants his touch. She feels safe with him and she wants to be as close to him as she possibly can.
Jace Lady Denham might be the ultimate puppet master holding all the strings.
Lady Denham So, Esther. I’ll come straight to the point. What news of Lord Babbington?
Esther None, Aunt. Sorry to disappoint.
Lady Denham Good thing he’s been sharing plenty of news with me, then.
Esther You how?
Lady Denham I’ve written to him on your behalf.
Esther To what end?
Lady Denham To assure him that you are delighted at his attentiveness. It seems I must take matters into my own hands.
Esther I wish you hadn’t have done that. Now I’ll appear rude.
Lady Denham Rather late to worry about appearances, Esther.
Jace How is Esther’s relationship to her aunt challenged by what appears to be a sudden illness for Lady Denham?
Charlotte Esther is always made out that she doesn’t really like her aunt. She finds her quite spiteful. And actually I think she’s she’s right. And but I think that there’s a she can probably see see Lady Denham in herself and perhaps what Esther might become one day, you know, maybe a an old maid with with money and with a sharp tongue. But I think that she. I think she looks up to her aunt. She does love her and she does love her wit. And she is funny. And she is she does control things. And she. But she’s. I don’t know. I think she looks upset, she really loves her, and you can really see in that moment where her aunt falls ill that she does care as she doesn’t just leave her. She she stays. She stays with her and is worried for her health. Despite the money, she does actually care.
Jace Putting aside the fictional for the real, what is it like working with Anne Reid?
Charlotte Oh, my God. Anne Reid is an absolute legend. I have never laughed so much on set with with someone, and I learned so much. I mean, she’s hilarious. She she knows exactly what she’s doing. And she’s she’s just wonderful to watch and to to have scenes where I’m, you know, acting against her was just in there, really. There are some people, some actors in the world that you really look up to. And if you think that you know everything and you don’t think you need to learn anymore, then you’re very much mistaken because you you learn an awful lot from people that have done it for a long time. And she was one person that I really do look up to and hope to be in the future.
Jace Andrew Davies’s scripts are full of gems, but it’s Esther who often walks away with the lion’s share of the best dialogue in each episode. How much fun is it to deliver these lines with such hauteur?
Charlotte Oh, it’s so much fun. There are certain things she says where I’m like, I wish I could say that in real life or I wish, I wish I did that. Like she’s just so sassy. And like I said, her honesty is it’s refreshing. You know, people are so, so worried about what they say now, which, you know, to a certain degree, yep, you should be. You know, don’t be nasty to people. But at the same time, you know, I think the world might be slightly easier if people were a bit more honest.
Jace So we should all take lessons from Esther.
Charlotte Yeah. Just, you know, just a snippet, just like, you know, take a snippet of it, you know, small doses, but yeah, why not?
Jace So an ounce of Esther.
Charlotte An ounce of Esther. Yeah.
Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
Jace Lord Babington is smitten with Esther from the first moment he encounters her, but she seems utterly, completely bored by him. What does she make of him privately and is she is truly against the match as she seems.
Charlotte I think when she meets Lord Babington, she just assumes that he’s like every other gentleman that she’s met. You know, they know how to say the lines. They know how to woo. And then suddenly, as soon as they see something they don’t like, they run off. And I think that her defense mechanism is to say, well, I’m not even going to bother because I know what you like. I’ve seen it before. And your you you’ll get bored of me and then I’ll be heartbroken or or whatever. So she doesn’t care. But the more he pursues and and actually enjoys her company, I think she starts to realize that her own worth a little bit more because she’s been told his how much he’s worth by Edward. And that’s always sneakily and and on the side and, you know, underhanded and everything. And and so she she doesn’t feel that she’s worth anything and then suddenly has someone who actually listens to her opinion and actually thinks that she’s wonderful and honest and unfunny. And I think it it warms her heart.
Jace I mean, he could be an escape route for Esther, but she seems so determined to ruin it that you can’t see what marrying him might allow her to do. Is she blinded by Lady Denham’s, encouragements and the logic of the match or the illogic of her love for Edward?
Charlotte I think it’s a bit of both. I think. I think she she, you know, might realize that once Edwards says, no, I don’t I don’t love you or I don’t see you like that. She she sort of says I. Okay, well, I have to. I’ll have to do something. And. And Babington is the way out. But I also think that the more time she spends with Babington, the more she realizes that maybe she was wrong. And I actually think that half of her reluctance is actually because she doesn’t want to be wrong. She doesn’t want to be the fool that that fell in love with with someone that was nasty to her. You know, of or was in this unrequited love. She she wants to be right. She wants to have believed that Edward loved her, loves her. And actually, this is why she’s so standoffish with Washington. Actually, maybe she’s starting to realize, oh, well, maybe love isn’t that.
Jace What’s funny is she has so many excuses why she can’t marry him. She doesn’t love him. He’s a buffoon. He’s full of pretense. But all of those excuses sort of reveal that they are just excuses. And it reveals the fact that she’s sort of unwilling to be perhaps, as you say, wrong or vulnerable. And it’s that vulnerability that I think is what she’s so afraid of.
Charlotte Yeah, definitely. Definitely. She doesn’t want to get hurt. She does. Oh, that’s all there is. And I completely understand that as a girl. In this day and age, you don’t want to get her. But sometimes you have to let your guard down in order to experience something amazing.
Jace This week’s episode finds Esther and Babington near a waterfall, and he spontaneously proposes to her in one of the most gorgeous sequences in the entire season.
Babington It’s very beautiful here.
Esther I thought your heart lay in London, Lord Babington. Are you suggesting a change in affection?
Babington I think that is exactly what I’m suggesting. Believe me, there is no one more surprised than I. What are your feelings, Miss Denham?
Esther About what? The sea, the sunset, the company?
Babington Yes. All of this.
Esther It’s growing on me. Though I wouldn’t want to be in agreement with you too much. Too soon.
Babington No, whatever you do, you must guard against that. Humiliation. You have your reputation to consider.
Esther And you yours. Though I’m sure yours is already beyond redemption.
Babington I think you would be surprised. I am not such a good-for-nothing as I would like. I’m starting to think my life has been something of a pretense.
Esther I dought there are many among us who can say that they’ve lied a life free from pretense.
Babington Well then surely if we’re to lead a better life, we’re honor bound to free ourselves from such a burden.
Esther Why Lord, Babington you amaze me. I’m starting to find you slightly better company.
Babington I have never met anyone else who can give a compliment in such a way as it might also be an insult. You are extraordinary, Miss Denham. Quite extraordinary. All pretense aside, I have never met any woman who has conjured up such feelings in me. I am all at sea.
Esther It’s getting cold, Lord Babington, we should go back.
Babington I cannot go back, Miss Denham. I am compelled to go forward. Miss Denham, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?
Esther This is ridiculous.
Babington I’m serious.
Esther I wasn’t expecting this.
Jace What was your take on this scene and on Esther’s uncontrollable smile?
Charlotte Well, I I absolutely. When I was reading so they said they sent you scripts, said you have like 1 2 scripts, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. And when they sent the second lot of scripts and I read that scene, I was just like, oh, my God, I was I was beaming myself reading it because I want her to be happy so much. I think that she deserves it. And and she’s had a bit of a hard time. And for someone to to be so lovely to her and to show her the beauty around her and the beauty in herself, like it makes me want to cry, even though it was the most beautiful scene. And Mark Stanley, who plays Lord Babington, just I think he’s honestly one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I think he’s incredibly talented. And the way he he presents Lord Babington is actually with a sort of he’s with a realism. He he delivered those lines with such a realistic element to them. And in and. No, no pretense, no pretense that, you know, when we were doing it and we got on well. So it was just so easy to to sort of have that and feel that smile come along and and, you know, the shock that she’s not expecting him to say that, but. But actually, you know, I just felt that Esther deserves to be happy. And it was just a very, very sweet, sweet scene. And it was absolute beautiful, although the waterfall was very loud. We had to go over the top. So, yeah, that was thely only thing. But it was beautiful. It was a beautiful scene to shoot.
Jace This is ridiculous. Esther says of Baabington’s proposal, but she seems happier than we’ve ever seen her before. Why is she so quick to turn this into a joke? Is it again, that sort of self-defense mechanism?
Charlotte I absolutely. I think it is self-defense. She’s never had anyone propose to her. You know, even if she’s had suitors in the past when people have tried to match her up and things, you know, they’ve got probably got to like this. The second meeting or third meeting and they’ve gone, oh, god, I’m not I’m not interested. I can’t be dealing with her sharp tongue. And he hasn’t he he absolutely adores her for it. And so it’s shocking to her, which is probably why she says this is ridiculous. She’s never experienced this before. No one’s ever spoken to her like this before or been so sweet or been so honest. And she doesn’t know what to do with it. I don’t think I think you can tell by her face at the end that she just needs to think about it. She’s never. This is shocking. It’s not a no. It’s it’s just that she’s never had anyone say this to her before.
Jace And as you say, it’s not anything she ever anticipated happening. No, no, absolutely no. Edward is instantly jealous. Babington and appears hell bent on destroying any chance of Esther’s happiness with him. So much so that he kisses Esther in one of the sexiest and most passionately twisted moments of this season. Is this what she wanted, to win Edward, finally?
Charlotte I actually do. I think that she at that point, she thinks that Edward is a lost cause, that there is there is no point in carrying on this thing between them. But I believe that Edward. Does love esta to a point, but he he’s not in love with her. I think he’s so used to having her on his side and on his team that suddenly seeing her disappear would mean that he loses loses a part of himself. And I don’t think he wants her. But I don’t think he wants anyone else to have her. So it’s more of a tactical thing on his part, not on hers. And and then suddenly it’s you know, she’s she’s had a taste of the drug again. And she she reverts back to how she is and and think so. OK, well, Edward wants to be with me now. So I’ll tell them I’ll say goodbye to Babington.
Jace Her instinct here seems to be to hurt Babington in order to further push him away.
Charlotte Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It reminded me of the scene in Moulin Rouge when when Satine says to Christian, you know, ‘I’ve never loved you. This is what this was all just an infatuation’. She doesn’t mean it. It’s to protect is to protect him. And knowing that that almost to protect him from herself. Because if Edward does love her, she will choose him. And it’s so it’s it protects you. It’s to protect Babington from herself.
Jace What can you tell us about what lies ahead for Esther for the remainder of this season?
Charlotte Oh, what could I tease? I guess I can say that I think she gets what she deserves. And I think that’s the best way the best way to say it. What I think she deserves.
Jace True or false? You wanted to act beginning at age three.
Charlotte True. Yes. Yeah. I, uh, I always knew what I wanted to do. And I can’t tell you why. My my parents said that we had to buy Bay Window and my parents said that I would get up in there and use it as a stage before I even knew what a stage was. And then I asked to go to ballet and and go and act and dance and sing. And I just always knew.
Jace You’ve said that you grew up in a working class background. Your mom works in a school. Your dad is a builder. Is it true that your parents remortgaged their house to support your career by sending you the Sylvia Young Theater School?
Charlotte Yes, they did. Bless them. I absolutely wouldn’t be where I am today without my supportive parents. I know a lot of people aren’t as lucky as I am to have to have parents like that. Yes, they they remortgaged the house to send me to that school, which I will forever be grateful for, and we’ll pay them back at some point.
Jace Sylvia Young has produced some of our finest actors, including Keeley Hawes, Nicholas Hoult, Billie Piper and Stephen Mackintosh to name a few. What was the single greatest lesson you took from stage school?
Charlotte Oh, the greatest lesson. Oh, there was actually quite a few. I loved that school. I think it’s that when you’re in a working environment, you are everyone is equal that you you don’t you’re not above anyone and no one is above you. You’re all working together. And if you think you’re irreplaceable, you’re not basically.
Jace You mentioned at the top of this interview that you love period dramas. You are no stranger to period dramas, between Sanditon, The Living and the Dead and ABC’s 1970s Boston pilot, Broad Squad. What is it that attracts you to period roles?
Charlotte I just I love the history of it. I love how people worked around things without all the technology and and things that we have now and and how people were and the different etiquette back then. And also, I just I love the costumes and the way people look. To be honest, I think some of the best styles are from the 70s and 80s. And even though I don’t love wearing corsets, I do think they look quite good. So, yeah, it’s just it’s it’s just a sort of fantasy of going back in time and and, you know, imagining what people were like, oh, our sort of ancestry, what they what they went through and what they were like. I love I love that. I love escaping.
Jace Which begs the question then, if you could live in any time, which would it be and why?
Charlotte Oh, that’s a really difficult to see. I’ve got a few different at different time periods. I do love. I do love the 20s. I think that would be a fun time to be alive. And the birth of jazz. And so, you know, the speakeasies and and things and the. I just think it was quite wild. And yeah, I love I think maybe the 20s. Yeah.
Jace What songs are on your playlist for Esther Denham?
Charlotte Oh, yes. So yes, I make a play dress for every character that I play for Esther. If I can remember, it was things like Lana Del Rey. A lot of I think there are a couple of songs from Dracula and things like that. Yeah. Anything that sort of either got me into her mindset or and and reminded me of of her. And then there was some quite loving ones when when she as she gets softer and sort of heartbreak. Yeah. So different, different, different things. And I will say, you know, before any any sort of emotional scene, I listen to songs to get me in the zone basically because music makes me cry. Yeah. So that’s what I’d do. I’d be there with my headphones in and then just tell us just tell us when. And then I just keep my give my headphones. Thank you again. My day. And then I burst into tears. Oh yeah. That’s a good trick though. Yeah. So that’s that’s my trick. That’s the knee. You know, if someone’s like, oh Charlotte can you cry on. I know you have to get to go and I have to give me a song, but if you want me to cry.
Jace So what is the song that makes you cry the most?
Charlotte It’s really funny. Basically the one that I chose. This is hilarious. I can’t believe I’m I’m remaining is the one that I chose that really made me cry in the scene in which I tell Edward I love him is I’m not that girl from Wicked. I know you’re right that I love you. Very unexpected. Yeah. Yep. It’s not like some deep, moody thing. I just like having because to me I think that s is you know, I never experienced love. And she’s she’s almost like a teenager. And that’s that song to me is very much of young love. And your first heartbreak. So that’s the thing that got me into the place at that moment. And, you know, I’m sure everyone’s howling at the fact that it’s a song from Wicked. But yeah, it’s the thing that absolutely made me pull my eyes out. So, yeah, whatever works,.
Jace Whatever works.
Charlotte Exactly whatever works.
Jace Charlotte Spencer, thank you so very much.
Charlotte Thank you. It’s been lovely.
Jace In the thrilling next episode of Sanditon, Charlotte, Georgiana, Sidney and Tom leave the sea and head to the city — and Rose Williams, Theo James, Crystal Clarke, and Andrew Davies return to the podcast for a special exploration of London. That’s Sunday, February 9, right here on MASTERPIECE Studio.
Sign up to get the latest news on your favorite dramas and mysteries, as well as exclusive content, video, sweepstakes and more.