Ellie Harding is a bold newcomer on the Grantchester green, digging for front page scoops in the murderous little village. Actor Lauren Carse loved Ellie’s modern, career-minded character, and she joined the podcast for a conversation on romance, rumors and Meryl Streep.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Romance in the village of Grantchester can often lead down an unexpected path. But for dashing Rev. Will Davenport, romance — or at least the consummation of it — seems almost impossible
Ellie He’s better looking than the rest of your boys.
Geordie I wouldn’t bother – he’s celibate.
Ellie Oh! You’re that Will. Should change your name to Won’t.
Jace So it’s a surprise to see Will pursue the bold, confident Cambridge Echo reporter, Ellie Harding, after a not-so-meet-cute over a fry up at the top of the season. Ellie gets answers — and very often gets in Will’s way.
Betsey It’s Betsey with an ‘e’, by the way.
Will She’s tenacious, I’ll give her that.
Ellie That’s the problem with modern women. They know what they want. My first front page scoop…
Will Will I be in it?
Ellie I’ll be kind. How does “Grantchester’s most eligible vicar” sound?
Jace The newly minted couple try to make things work, but Will thinks he needs a different sort of answer from Ellie in order for their relationship to move forward.
Will What I want to say is… will you marry me?
Ellie Oh God. You’re serious. No, Will, that is not the answer. We don’t even know each other.
Will We do!
Jace Lauren Carse joins us to explore what it is that makes the deft Ellie Harding such a joy to watch, and offers hints of the storyline still to come for the Grantchester newcomer.
Jace And this week, we are joined by Grantchester star, Lauren Carse. Welcome.
Lauren Carse Hi.
Jace You clinched the part of journalist Ellie Harding after nailing a chemistry read with Tom Brittney, who plays Will Davenport. What do you remember of the read and what was the general audition process like for Grantchester?
Lauren So, I sent in a self-tape, for the part of Ellie, and then heard back quite quickly that I had a chemistry read with Tom. And it was lovely, I got to meet Gordon, the director and Daisy, the writer, and Tom, and we hit it off straight away, I think. It was fun, and we were laughing a lot during the audition, so yeah. And we got to have a play as well with the scenes, and it was a scene that was not in the script but that was written to kind of explore the dynamic between them, where she teases him a bit, and they’re both waiting to speak with Geordie, but it was really nice to meet under yeah in that circumstance and have a play before we started. Yeah, it was a really nice audition.
Jace Ellie manages to be slightly snarky, but incredibly likable. She’s flinty, but flirtatious. What did you make of Ellie as a character?
Lauren I loved Ellie. Yeah, I think she is humorous and sees the fun in things and tries not to take herself too seriously. But I think that’s a product of of, you know, what she’s had to overcome to be where she is as a journalist. So, yeah, while she can seem a bit snarky, I think it’s just, you know, she has to kind of shield herself and not become too emotionally attached and the things that she writes about just to kind of do her job. And I think that’s, you know, she has an alignment there with what Geordie does. So, yeah, I love that about her. I love her sense of humor.
Will You look smug.
Ellie I don’t look smug. I look contrite.
Will That’s your contrite face?
Ellie I was trying to apologize, but fine…
Will Apologize for what?
Ellie Look, I know you think I’m cynical and rude –
Will And unprincipled.
Ellie I liked that old chap and his garden. I hope we didn’t scare him.
Will I’m sure he’s fine.
Ellie I’m only the way I am ‘cause… I don’t know – I have to fight twice as hard as everyone else.
Will When you can’t change something, you have to find another way round it.
Jace I mean, it’s interesting you make that comparison to Geordie as a journalist. Do you feel that she’s more motivated by the story or by the truth with a capital T?
Lauren That’s an interesting question. I feel like there’s a real blurred line between journalism with where where the story and truth comes in. But I do feel like she does have principles and morals. And while she searches for probably the sensational side of the story, she I don’t think that she would throw that away for the sake of a story. And, you know, she is on the gossip pages, but that’s not where she wants to be. She does want to report on the big headline stuff and be taken seriously as a proper investigative journalist. And I don’t think that she would want to be on the wrong side of the truth when it comes to that. I think she cares about what she reports about.
Jace You were coming into Grantchester in its fifth season. Despite Tom joining last year, it’s still an ongoing series. Was there any trepidation or concern about jumping into a cast in a show that’s been around for half a decade already?
Lauren Yeah, I was definitely nervous about it. But I mean, I spoke to Tom and Robson before and they assured me that this is one of the nicest casts that I’d be a part of. And it was true. You know, and I got the sense that everybody really cared about what they were doing. And that is just so much love poured into the show. And everybody seemed to get along really well. And it is like a big family. So those nerves went away really quickly.
Jace You are coming into a drama where many viewers can take a dislike to the leads. Love interest. Personally, I love Ellie. Was there any apprehension about Ellie ruffling any viewer feathers, as it were?
Lauren Not on my part. I wasn’t worried about that. But I think that’s what’s really nice about Ellie. And, you know, I enjoyed the friction between, you know, how people feel about her. She’s not you know. Well, she’s not your typical female. She doesn’t fit the typical female archetype of that time. She’s modern and fun, but she’s bold and brave and, you know, steals cigarettes from Geordie, smokes, just barges into his office unannounced. And I think that’s a big part of her character. And I think that’s what Will finds compelling about her. It’s you know, she’s not like other girls. And I think that makes for a really interesting dynamic between them.
Jace She definitely doesn’t represent the type of woman that we’ve seen on Grantchester, you know, she speaks her mind. She loves a pint and a fight at a time when women’s roles were changing considerably in the 1950s, does Ellie represent a modern working woman who can hold her own with the lads but still retain her femininity?
Lauren Yeah, definitely. And I think that’s that’s one of the things that’s really nice about it. She was a trailblazer in her field because, you know, in 1957, there weren’t that many female journalists. So she wouldn’t have had that many people to look up to. So she would have had to carve her own path and make her own way. And, you know, fortify herself against the hardships that she would have come onto. And I think that’s what gives them maybe this slightly masculine energy sometimes, you know, enjoys getting her hands dirty and doesn’t isn’t afraid to do that for the sake of the story and has fun and drinks beer and wears jeans. So she is really modern and dynamic. But I think that’s a product of her work environment more than anything else.
Jace I mean there aren’t many characters and Grantchester who can toss off a line of dialogue at a Vicar like, “Oh you’re that Will. You should change your name to Won’t.” Does that single line of dialogue capture the very essence of Ellie Harding in some way?
Lauren Absolutely. I love that line. Daisy writes really well. And yeah, it’s that’s the kind of sharp humor that she has and she challenges people and she gives as good as she gets. So I think that’s what’s nice is their relationship that quite at each other’s throat a bit. And, you know, she’s able to fire back and hold her own. And I think that’s what’s really nice about her. So, yeah, that definitely encapsulates her whole persona.
Jace I want to talk about the first meeting between the two of them in the cafe. There’s a definite chemistry here between Ellie and Will, one that could go either way, could develop into antagonism or attraction. What was your take on their meeting and these first tentative scenes together? Does it set the tone for what’s to come?
Ellie There’s a ball at Newnham tomorrow, isn’t there? So when I’m stuck, I try and get on
the ground, immerse myself in the story. If either of you need a date —
Will It’s not a bad idea though…
Ellie Fine. Ugly sisters – you go to the ball… But remember who thought of it when
you’re doling out the exclusives.
Lauren Yeah, I think it does, because it’s not you know your typical girl meets boy love story. I think there’s a lot at play that and I think there’s an instant attraction definitely between them. But it’s not that straightforward. They’re both quite different and their scenes are quite highly charged. And I think the first few times that you see them, you really you really get a sense that this, there’s the spark. But, you know, he’s religious, she’s not. And he makes a remark about how she’s unprincipled and will do anything to kind of get a story. And she hits back that he’s spouting rubbish from the Bible. And you know that, you know, she matches his energy. And I think it’s that kind of schoolboy, you know, when you like someone, you sort of tease them a bit. And I think that that teasing is what actually taco’s them to each other. And I think it’s really nice.
Jace This season gives you an opportunity to work closely with both Tom Britney and Robson Green. What are these to like as scene partners?
Lauren Amazing. They’re both a dream to work with and really funny as well. I mean, Tom’s such a generous actor and lovely to be around and the same with Robson. And they both made me laugh so much. In fact, sometimes Robson would just…he has this glint in his eye sometimes when the camera’s on you and not on him. And it’s quite scary because I could laugh at any minute and, yeah. It kind of puts you off of a bit, but I love that about him, and it makes the whole thing really fun and easy.
Jace Did either of them offer you any advice before you started production?
Lauren Yeah, well, we were lucky enough to have some time for rehearsal beforehand, so I met them before we started filming. And you have Robson and said that this was gonna be one of the nicest teams I’d work with and to just enjoy myself and, you know, treasure it kind of as it is a nice moment. Cause he’s obviously been in the business a while and has seen his fair share of sets. And so, yeah, he just had to enjoy it. And that’s that’s what I did.
Jace Episode two begins to shade in Ellie’s character. She’s not the sort of callous vulture that Will believe her to be. I feel like we see this really clearly in the scene in the garden at Elliot House.
Ellie This place has got so much love in it. Makes you want to cry. What?
Will That’s the least cynical thing I’ve ever heard you say.
Jace Were you surprised that her cynicism might be a facade, that this is sort of we’re getting at the sort of true, Ellie, in this moment?
Lauren I’m not surprised. Now, I think I think people everybody’s got layers and especially those that have a kind of hard outer shell. So I always knew that there was a softer side to Ellie, especially with being a journalist. You know, you have to get on with people and you have to understand how they work. And particularly in this scene, I think you’re right in that it shows what she’s good at and she’s able to disarm Mr. Graham, when he gets distressed just by kind of reading the scene and understanding that, you know, what makes him tick is his garden and he clearly loves it. So she starts talking to him about flowers and calms him down. And and I think that Will here gets to see that she’s actually really approachable and likable. And she actually handles that a lot more tactfully than he does.
Jace Ellie effortlessly climbs over the wall in the garden, while Will is less than graceful, we’ll say following her. Did you do your own stunt here?
Lauren I did. I did. And I nearly, I fell off. I mean, we had these crush mats. And I think the first time I just threw myself just a little bit too much force because I was so key to do it and just came right off the crash mat and into the soundman’s arms. It was all a bit, okay we need to really think about what could have gone wrong there. But, yeah, it was like the first stunt that I’d done, really. So, yeah, I did jump over the wall, but it was a crash mat wall. But yeah, it was fun.
Jace Will and Ellie’s date at the cinema in episode three goes horribly wrong when a murder takes place, because this is Grantchester, after all. But before that, there’s a real innocence to the way that their hands reach for each other in the dark. It’s very sweet. Is this moment meant to contrast with what happens later when things turn physical between them?
Lauren I think it’s definitely showing the build up there and the chemistry that they have and, you know, they are really attracted to each other and that does cause problems for well. But, yeah, I think I think that’s they are really drawn to each other. And you even see in the foyer beforehand, you know, Ellie teases that she’s there with Larry and then Will teases her about popcorn so now he’s on her level and they both kind of you know, they get each other. They’re much more in tune. And I think when that happens and you open up a bit more, you can be a bit more physical. So, yeah, all their flirty little moments, I think, definitely helped to build up to what happens.
Jace She’s working for the Cambridge Echo, covering gossip initially, but she has far more ambition than working at a local rag, the cinema murda provides her with her first big cover scoop, in fact. Where do you see Ellie’s aspirations taking her?
Lauren I mean, she would love to be, you know, working on the big papers in London, I bet. That’s kind of what I had in mind for her big career opportunity there. And, you know, just to be taken seriously and to be credited as a good journalist with good stories and having the real inside info that people care about and that people want to read about. So, yeah, that definitely is a big moment for her where she’s at the forefront of a confession and gets to witness it herself. So she has, you know. The front page news is going to be hers, to own that story, which is what she’s fought for this whole time. So, yeah, I think that that’s the beginning of what she wants to become for herself.
Jace Episode three ends with a pretty disastrous moment in the alley between Ellie and Will their date at the bar is going so well until things turn physical and he leaves her there in the alley. What did you make of that scene?
Lauren I loved the scene in the bar where they’re dancing. I think that’s really beautiful. And then it naturally, you know, evolves into what happens in the alleyway. I think it was really confusing for Ellie and embarrassing that she was left in that way. I don’t think she really understood how she could have been led to that point and then sort of left high and dry. But she’s willing to look past it and move forward when they meet the next time. So I don’t think it affects her too much at that point, but it’s certainly not a position that she was happy to be found in.
Jace I mean, it is, considering Will is the protagonist of this series, it is a very upsetting moment. Obviously, he’s struggling with his vow of celibacy, but it is this humiliating moment that he sort of puts onto Ellie. And then when they do meet, you’re right, she is sort of much more willing to put it behind herself than I would think she would be under the circumstances. She invites herself to dinner at the vicarage and things escalate again until Will shuts it down completely.
Will You know my situation. It’s been clear from the day we met.
Ellie Actually, Will, it gets less and less clear the longer I know you. I’m not sure you even know what you want.
Ellie Will! You can’t keep doing this. It’s humiliating.
Will I know.
Ellie I mean for me.
Jace Is Ellie just exasperated at this point? What does she make of Will’s behavior?
Lauren Yeah, I think exasperated is the word. It’s exhausting, you know, being led to think that one thing is going to happen and then and then, you know, having it pulled away at the last minute, I think it’s definitely just a confusing place for her to be. And whilst he’s trying to make sense of it himself, she’s getting caught up in it and it can’t go on like that. So, yeah, I think I think it’s something that he needs to sort out. And the more that they spend time together, the more this chasm between them becomes evident.
Jace: Before the next question, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors…
Jace Will has been struggling with this vow of celibacy. He’s holding himself to this much higher standard than anyone else might expect. This all comes to a head during Ellie and Will’s scene on Jesus’ Green where Will out of the blue proposes to Ellie. What the hell is Will thinking here, do you feel?
Lauren Well, I think it’s obviously an impulsive decision that he makes. And it’s not well thought through. And she thinks it’s a joke. It comes out of left field and takes her by surprise as she laughs it off and then realizes that he’s being serious. But, you know, it sort of, it doesn’t solve anything. There is this weird dichotomy between his vow of chastity and his clearly strong feelings for Ellie that he’s so pinballing between. And again, she’s just getting caught up in it. And his marriage proposal is a kind of attempt to bridge that gap. And it doesn’t solve anything. And it doesn’t it certainly doesn’t take her feelings into account. It just kind of is a fast sort of answer to the problems that they’re having in that moment. But yeah, I think her refusal of it exemplifies her independence that she’s fought for and her ability to act in her own best interests. And being married to Will, at this point really doesn’t serve her well what she wants.
Jace I mean, she barely knows this guy and yet sort of expected to possibly throw everything away, including her career, to become a vicar’s wife.
Ellie I’m sorry but this just isn’t part of my plan.
Will It wasn’t part of my plan. Plans change.
Ellie I’m not going to commit to something I don’t want just to help you get over this thing you have about sex.
Will This thing is my faith.
Ellie Just one reason why it’s never going to work. I’m sorry.
Jace What do you think her sort of plan is for these next five years?
Lauren I think she is. It’s the main focus of what she wants is her career. And that’s not to say she wouldn’t want to get married down the line, but she certainly doesn’t want to be a housewife. And I think she is at the forefront of that change that was happening at that time, where women were starting to develop their own identities and have careers and lives for themselves. And she’s still in the process of carving that out. So I do see that she has a future in journalism and her dream is to be a big journalist. And so I see personally her moving to the capital, and, you know, getting the headlines there and being part of the scene there. Because while Grantchester is just lovely, it’s small. And I think she wants to be in the big pond and, you know, with the big fish.
Jace She’s going to work for a broadsheet. She’s gonna be a big journalist.
Jace I mean, it’s one of those things where watching this, I’m like, oh, Ellie, I wish you weren’t living in 1957, but 1975. Things would be so much better for you in 20 years. But she is a pioneer in that respect. Now it is the mid 50s still. And while Big Mac MacMillan might be claiming that things have never been better for Britain. Things are still not great for women. And I think we see that this season through Ellie. The struggle to find independence, to find a career, to try to juggle everything. I mean, as a modern career woman, what do you feel her views are on marriage? Is it sort of a dead end to her career or something that would be reserved for the very distant rather than near future, if at all?
Lauren I think yeah. I don’t think she’s opposed to it. I don’t. I mean, marriage is still a religious sort of institution at that point. And she’s not religious. So I don’t think it’s what she’s setting out to do. But, you know, the marriages that existed. Like, you know, the Geordie and Kacey’s characters, they…she’s having a career in this at this point, so she’s able to do it. And I don’t think that she writes off marriage as something that would never be for her. But I think it’s not her priority right now. And that there are far more important things that she needs to do as a woman and to establish herself first as a single woman without having to worry about having children or settling down. That has kind of overtaken her want to be married. So I don’t think she’s against it. I think she’s a very live and let live kind of person but equal opportunity is big for her. So I think she wants to give it the best chance. And I don’t think marriage at this stage would help that.
Jace Without spoiling, where are things going between Will and Ellie for the rest of the season? Is there any chance at reconciliation or are these two ultimately too different for it to work out between them?
Lauren I think that all comes down to Will’s character. I think he’s got a lot of repressed darkness that he’s running from and that needs to be addressed before he can consider having a relationship with anyone. They are different people at the end of the day. But they do have a lot of fun together. And I think that no matter what, I think they will always be friends. But, yeah, I think he definitely has to look inside and work out what he needs from his life before he’s able to commit to somebody else.
Jace And they are so different. You know, it’s not just the faith issue or the sex issue. It partially is, I mean. He comes from a posh upper class background. She comes from a working class background. He is religious. She isn’t. I mean, how much of the tension between them is the sort of opposites attract notion? Are they compatible? Or does their compatibility sort of come from overcoming those diametrically opposed backgrounds?
Lauren Yeah, I think it definitely is. The thing of opposites attract and as you say, they are from completely different worlds, but they end up in the same place and they see a lot of the same things. So there’s definitely a shared experience there. And, you know, a big part of what draws Ellie to Will is how much she cares about people and the pastoral care that he gives to the people of Grantchester. So I think that it goes beyond the fundamental differences of where they came from. And just as people, they are both drawn to each other, especially Ellie to Will, just in what he does. But, yeah, they are, as you say, really different. And her career comes first. And she’s not religious. And would that pose problems further down the line, you know? But it was a time that people were able to kind of try things on and try new things and create opportunities for themselves in every aspect of their life. So I think it’s good for them to explore that with each other and work out where the attraction comes from.
Jace Why do you feel viewers have become so invested in the Will-Ellie dynamic? Is this a sort of Ross-Rachel situation where we root for the star-crossed lovers to make it work?
Lauren Yeah. Yeah. I think it is the dynamic from the off. She’s not one of the guys that sits in the sermons and sort of fawns over him. She’s very straight talking from the often and says it how it is? And I think that’s a really nice dynamic. And the fact that it isn’t just a oh, I fancy you. Let’s go out. They have to overcome their differences to even have a first date. So I think that’s what’s really nice about them, because I think that relates to a lot of relationships in, you know, in the real world. And you sometimes find that you can meet somebody and pigeonhole them as somebody. And then when you get to know them or you see a different side to them. And I think that’s what’s really nice about this series is that it has this space for them to make snap judgments about each other, be at each other’s throat a bit and then learn what actually makes them tick. So I think that’s one of the reasons that the audience probably enjoys seeing that dynamic evolve.
Jace Everyone involved with Grantchester describes working on the show as they are, quote, happy place. Is there a moment from filming this first series that fulfilled that description for you? A moment. We thought. This is my happy place.
Lauren Yeah. You knew what it was then. The scene in a boxing match when I was sitting next to to Robson and he has a pint and he takes a sip of it and then I steal it from him. But during one of those tapes, he spilt it down himself and just looked at me with kind of dribble down his chin. And then I started laughing and then I couldn’t you know what? The camera’s were on the fight. So it was fine, but it was just this bizarre out of body experience that I had, that there was a crowd of of, you know, supporting artists roaring at this match that was going on. And then Robson Green is just looking at me with beer all down himself. And then after the scene cut, I was drying my tears because I was literally howling. He just said, “You’ll never forget that moment where we just laughed.” And I haven’t. And I won’t. And yeah, that that moment where I just was having such a good time that that really encapsulates the whole experience for me.
Jace You grew up in the Midlands. Did you always want to pursue acting professionally?
Lauren Yeah. I’m from Nottingham and I was part of the Television Workshop, which is a drama group in Nottingham that trains you for stage and screen. So since I was 11, I had my eye on on this career and I saw a lot of my peers going into the industry. So, yeah, it was definitely something that I wanted from an early age. And especially being from the Midlands, I feel really lucky to have been a part of that because, you know, the hub of it all is London, though it is starting to stretch out into the north. Now that I was given opportunities that I know a lot of people would have struggled to have not being from London. So, yeah, I do feel really lucky that I had the upbringing and and the opportunities to get into the industry. But yeah, it’s always something I wanted.
Jace I mean, there there have been some newer schemes like Open Door aimed at making world class arts training available to actors in Nottingham and elsewhere. Why is it harder for actors in the Midlands rather than, say, Manchester or London to secure a place at drama school?
Lauren Well, yeah, it’s a really interesting question. And I think it comes down a lot to opportunities being there, but also money and, you know, to get into drama school in London, you have to pay 50 pounds to audition and then, you know, you have your records. But if you’re not living in London or you have to travel, then you’re also looking at fifty pound for a train and taking time off work, which you might not be able to afford to do. And then if you’re auditioning for multiple drama schools, you’re looking at hundreds of pounds before you even you’ve even got started. So yeah, I think definitely organizations like Open Door are really helping to bridge that gap and to to fund people to help them get into an industry that has really reserved for people that have got the money to be able to to do it. I think it’s a big problem.
Jace Is there an actor out there whose career you’d most like to emulate?
Lauren Oooh…that’s a good one. I mean, I’ve always looked up to Meryl Streep as sort of someone who has overcome a lot. I just remember that she this there’s a photo of her on the tube home from an audition for King Kong that she didn’t get because she wasn’t pretty enough. And I just remember looking at that and thinking, well, gosh, who cares how pretty she is? She’s so brilliant an actor and so versatile. And is somebody that isn’t afraid to kind of throw herself into each role. So I think she definitely is is one of my favorite actors. I mean, yeah, we have so many legends from this country. I mean, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, I’d love to be able to keep working and I really admire the women that are working, that there isn’t such an emphasis on their appearance, which when I started out was was quite a big thing and I felt like I was getting put up for a lot of pretty girl roles. And it really took away from the character itself. So I’m definitely drawn more to roles and to actors that play roles that, you know, whatever they look like as a byproduct. But you actually see the human behind the roles. And I think Meryl Streep does a lot of that.
Jace So Dame Lauren Carse in the future, is what you’re saying.
Lauren That’s it. Speak it into the universe, yes.
Jace Speak it.
Jace Lauren Carse, thank you so very much.
Lauren Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Jace Each season of Grantchester has a central, driving message — even if at first glance, the message isn’t so obvious. That’s the work of series creator and head writer, Daisy Coulam.
Will God gave us Eden. He gave us perfection. And what did we do with it? We destroyed it. We sinned. We grew prideful. And vengeful. And angry. We surrounded ourselves with snakes who only want the worst for us. And who do we blame for that? We blame God.
Jace Regular guest Daisy Coulam returns to the podcast on Sunday, July 12 to break down Grantchester’s explosive fifth episode.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Rebecca Eaton is the executive producer at large for MASTERPIECE. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.
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