Viewers of this intricate family drama might still be searching for answers, and Flesh and Blood star Lydia Leonard could easily put the mystery to rest in a new podcast interview. Fortunately, the talented actor keeps viewers and listeners on their toes in a new conversation, leaving a few tantalizing crumbs as clues.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Recently widowed, the stylish and independent Vivien tumbles into a late-in-life romance with dashing surgeon Mark Kinneally, resulting in a surprise wedding in Gibraltar. Vivien’s thrilled to have found love again — but her three adult children are less than pleased to have a new step father.
Natalie I can’t believe she got married the day before dad’s birthday. What was she thinking?
Jake It’s a deliberate kick in the teeth.
Jace And as the possible murder investigation surrounding her mother’s birthday party continues on Flesh and Blood this episode, Vivien’s youngest, Natalie, finds herself wrapped up in her own personal trial: will the married man she’s been romantically entangled with for five years really leave his wife?
Tony Ok, hear me out. I know you’re going to have it, whatever I say or do. I just…well, I know you. So, Nats, can you give me a week?
Natalie A week for what?
Tony I just need to sort myself out, make some big decisions. Carla, the girls. My head’s a mess right now. I’ve got…I’ve got to do the right thing, by the kids at least. And by our kid.
Jace Plus, Vivien is trying to sell the family’s beachside home — and her new husband Mark could walk away with most of the profit.
Natalie Ok well, look , how about, what if I came and I looked after the whole place while you were away and then that way you don’t have to sell it –
Helen Or what about Jake? I mean, he’s homeless at the moment.
Jake Excuse me, I’m not…I’m not homeless, Helen! What are you talking about? I’ve just put the rent down on somewhere else. I’m not some homeless tramp on the street –
Helen Have you?
Vivien No, listen! Listen, all of you! You’re not listening to me: I’ve had enough of this house, and I want to make a fresh start.
Jace Actor Lydia Leonard brings a flinty and unexpected grit to the character of Natalie, and she joins us to discuss the latter half of this thrilling series, Wolf Hall, and the challenges of playing real people in fictional worlds.
Jace And this week we are joined by Flesh and Blood star Lydia Leonard. Welcome.
Lydia Hello. Hi. How are you?
Jace I’m good. How are you doing?
Lydia I’m very well, thank you.
Jace Flesh and Blood is a domestic drama, a family thriller, a psychological who done it. What was it about the project that initially attracted you?
Lydia I think it was the tone. You know, it’s exactly it’s all those things you just said. But it’s certainly not it’s not a comedy in any way. But there’s a slight archness or lightness to the storytelling, which I thought made it seem like something I would enjoy watching. And then they got together such a great cast. So that made it even more appealing.
Jace The family’s neighbor, Mary, describes Natalie as, quote:
Mary Natalie was the baby of the family. First, she was going to be a dancer, then an actress, then an artist. But it all came to nothing. She ended up in just an ordinary office job.
Jace What do you think makes Natalie tick?
Lydia Well, I think what’s interesting about as she sort of lost track of what makes her tick herself so. She’s, you know, living not according to who she really is, because you know this the situation with her boss is just not such a natural, easy place to be existing for Natalie in the world. So I think we can all recognize that, that when life goes awry. And so. at this moment. She’s lost. And one hopes as an audience that she will find her way out of it.
Jace Natalie’s affair with her married boss, Tony, creates a lot of conflict for her. But she’s the one who’s most willing to give Mark Kinnealy the benefit of the doubt initially because she finds Vivian and Mark’s relationship to be, quote, romantic. Is she blinded by her own situation?
Lydia Yeah, I think she’s intrinsically, she’s a kind, good person, that’s why all the sneaking around and illicit relationship stuff just doesn’t sit well with her, so. So, yes, she’s a romantic. She’s very close to her mother. I think she’s genuinely happy to see her mother happy. Perhaps she was young enough to have a less complicated relationship about losing their father than sort of that Jake does or so, I think yes. I think her own relationship does play into it as well, because it’s the light at the end of the rather dark tunnel that she’s in with her own rather unromantic situation.
Jace Though she is that sort of unrepentant, romantic, despite that sort of mess of a love life that she’s in. I mean, after five years, why do you feel that Natalie lives in hope that Tony will leave his wife? What’s kept them bound so closely together until this point?
Lydia I think the situation between them has crept up on her, or on them both, and so the five years have sort of flown by. I think, I, you know, I blame Tony for maintaining this sort of carrot at the end of the stick…Not in an entirely Machiavellian way, but just because he wants his cake and to eat it, I think. So you know it’s draining, draining for Natalie just to get the crumbs from the table.
Jace That carrot that you mentioned comes with stables of its own. Tony surprises Natalie with a house in the first episode.
Natalie Well, what’s this about?
Tony Us. You and me, living here. I’ve been on the look-out for ages. I haven’t found anywhere I thought you’d like, until now.
Natalie So, you mean…you are actually finally going to leave Carla? This is for us?
Tony You’ve been so patient, Nats, all this time. If you like it, I’ll put in an offer on Monday. I promise.
Jace He says he wants to make it their family home. He’s going to leave. Carla, what does the house symbolize for Natalie? Is this, as you say, sort of the light at the end of the tunnel? Her? Yeah.
Lydia Yeah, I think it’s the romantic, the fairy tale happy ending. But it’s almost seems too good to be true because it’s so, which is quite Tonyesque, just a lot of bombast and a lot of talk and we’ll see whether it can really be filled out to reality instead of just a fantasy.
Jace She begins calling Tony repeatedly and then finally tells him on the phone that she’s pregnant with his child. Is this an intentional attempt to lay a claim to Tony and force his hand and force him into leaving Carla?
Lydia Yeah, I think she’s unraveling a bit at this stage, and it’s desperate, desperate attempts to keep him, or to just to know for sure that they’re on the right path, they want the right thing. And it’s obviously not the right way to go about it. But she’s run out of cards, really.
Jace And there is a dangerous edge in this episode to the triangle between Natalie, Tony and Carla. Natalie begins to spy on Tony’s family. Carla retaliates by running Natalie off the road. Are things escalating to the point of obsession on both sides? What is motivating Natalie’s behavior here in this episode?
Lydia She’s hooked. It’s become as toxic. Before it’s like it’s an addiction. It’s the worst place of where a relationship can get to. And when you’ve signed over your identity and sense of self, to someone else who hasn’t lived up to it or stepped up to the mark to meet her in a you know, in a healthy relationship. So, yes, psychologically, it’s a dangerous place. She’s out of control.
Jace And just how much does that happy family scene where Natalie spies on Tony and Carla and the kids playing the pool actually sort of kill Natalie?
Lydia I think it absolutely is like a dagger in the heart. But maybe what she needs to see it, you know, you see it there played out, no more so than pretending behind closed doors. I mean, they’re separated that her Tony’s life’s real, that’s Tony’s real life there with his family.
Jace I mean, I love Natalie, but at this point, I sort of want to shake her and say snap out of it. Like leave this guy. Like, you have got to get out of this. The aftermath of the road rage scene is this sort of intense heart to heart between the two of them.
Tony Ok, Nats. Look, be strong. I’m going to be out of there within the week, I promise you.
Natalie Five years I’ve been waiting for you, alright. How much longer do I have to wait? Until your wife kills me?
Tony Nats, for God’s sake –
Natalie Oh no, then you’d never have to tell her you were leaving her, would you?
Jace I mean, has the excitement of their sneaking around petered out now that her life might actually be on the line?
Lydia Yeah, the veil has been lifted on the reality of the situation. So there’s a lot of anger. When you’ve spent that long lying to yourself, you know, it takes two to tango and that she needs to go to learn her own part and why she turned on that fantasy. And I think perhaps those, you know, daddy issues and all sorts of other things as to why that particular one was so clung to in the face of such overwhelming odds that it wasn’t gonna work.
Jace Does Natalie believe at this point that Tony is in on it, that he is sort of stringing her along, that he knows that Carla is sort of aware?
Lydia I mean, it’s amazing it took her this long. It seems to me to be aware of go realize that he’s not that it’s. You know, that must’ve been very convincing behind closed doors that must have to go on that long. She’s beginning to realize that. And he’s not going to be
Jace Half a decade, half a decade.
Lydia Yeah! We’ve all been there.
Jace Natalie asked Vivien about the woman her father had an affair with, and whether Vivian knows what happened to her. ‘I don’t know. And I don’t care,’ Vivien says simply. Is this a cautionary tale for Natalie, the fate of this thrown over other woman?
Lydia Exactly. And also just the confusion of where she stands morally on her own thing. You know, in her own because she hates this other woman. But she is the other woman. So it’s a reckoning with her own. Moral self.
Jace There’s friction between the siblings about everything from Vivian to their dad to money. Natalie and Helen sometimes seem close. But the true rapport in the family is between Natalie and Helen’s husband, George. What does George represent to Natalie? Is he just sort of a convenient outlet? Or is there sort of more of a bond there?
Lydia I think there’s a genuine warmth and they really get on. So she and Helen love each other, but they’re just not very good at communicating which lots of sisters are like. So maybe subconsciously that’s not in a way of talking to Helen, but there’s a comfort in those bonds, sort of round and about of sort of primary ones that you’re trying to get at.
Jace Natalie becomes the framework character in episode two as she’s interrogated by David Bamber’s D.I. Lineham. How did this shift the action for you, moving the focus from the domestic sphere of the past to the criminal investigation in the present day?
Lydia Well it was fun filming the interview stuff, David Bamber’s so brilliant and also there’s a you know who done it, isn’t it? So we’re all obviously playing the truth of our characters and what has happened individually for us all, but incorporating an element of mystery around it all. So that’s the sort of craft of it, to try to keep the ball in the air and the questions in the air and not sort of encourage your audience to come down too firmly anywhere at this stage in the story.
Jace Natalie to me was one of the characters that I was most interested to see when she would come into the criminal investigation because she’s presented in such a different way in episode one than she presents herself in episode two when she sort of becomes the narrator of a sort. narrating the episode.
Lydia Yes, you hopefully get a sense or you hope people are excited about what happens next because of that. As you say, the difference she’s she’s a pretty easy going, apart from the mess she’s in romantically. She’s a pretty easy go and kind person. So that edge that you see in the police interview room, as an audience we know, will be a result of events which are yet to unfold.
Jace Vivien and Mark end up getting married in Gibraltar on Natalee’s dad’s birthday. How much of this is a shock to the siblings, and does the selection of the day seem intentional on Mark’s part?
Lydia I think yeah. It does seem rather thoughtless of Vivien because the day feels very poignant, particularly to Jake, takes a lot of offense, but also I think to all of them feel that fact they weren’t consulted, even though Natalie’s been supportive of the relationship. And the romance of it. I think you feel isolated from your mother, not be included at all, a decision like that. And then on the anniversary of one’s father’s death, it seems that their mother is moving forward too quickly in their minds.
Jace Natalie seems to be the only one of the three siblings willing to give Mark the benefit of the doubt. She thinks that Jake is crazy to suggest he made up a daughter. Vivien says the wedding was her idea, not his. Is Natalie trying to remain rational when faced with the insanity of this situation?
Lydia Yeah, I think she’s adopted from her young age, probably that sort of, she has the peacekeeper role in the family is the younger, slightly quieter one than her brother and sister. And you see that acting out now with all of these sort of you get a sense of what they were like as children being so present in the way that, when you’re spending time with one’s family, you would sort of regress into those roles. So I think you see that playing with Natalie.
Jace Before this next question, let’s hear a quick work from our sponsors….
Jace At this point in the series, we’re aware that Vivian’s neighbor, Mary’s love for the family, has gone beyond just neighborly and into the territory of obsession as she goes through Vivien and Mark’s belongings. How would you define Natalie’s relationship with Mary?
Lydia Mary’s lived next door since forever, so she’s just sort of part of the furniture for the family. They love her, but they…she’s also, as I said, almost invisible. But she’s just always been there. So she doesn’t think deeply about her. So seeing from the perspective of Mary, that’s why it’s quite a good juxtaposition that happens next to each other ,just Mary’s obsession with them and their sort of relative love and fondness for Mary. But really, she’s just part of the furniture for them.
Jace She’s a chair.
Lydia Mm hmm.
Jace She’s comfy chair, a comfy chair. Despite that aura of obsession that hovers over Mary. There’s also this this real sense of loss and sadness about the character we learned from Natalie in this episode that Mary had a baby boy who died and her husband left her. Does that loneliness explain her fixation on the family next door that she would sort of attach herself?
Lydia I think Vivien was probably kind to Mary when that happened and there was a bond of loyalty that was forged there for Mary particularly. And Jake being the same age as the son that she lost, I think she feels particular fondness to Jake and also to all the children. Yes, I think that made her vulnerable.
Jace So I love the scene between Natalie and Mary when Natalie tells her that Vivien and Marc have gotten married and she asks Mary to keep an eye on Vivien.
Natalie Mary? Can I just ask you a favour? It’s about mum.
Mary Is she, is she all right? Well, she’s still in Spain with the boyfriend, isn’t she?
Natalie Yes, er…only he’s not the boyfriend anymore. He’s now the husband.
Natalie Yep. They just got married in Gibraltar. I know. We all feel the same. Look, do you mind just keeping an eye on her when she gets back? Erm, we’re all just a bit concerned because it’s happened so fast.
Mary Course I will. Of course.
Natalie Yeah, just er… call me if…if anything’s not quite right. Thanks, Mary.
Jace It’s a small scene that pulses with emotion between these two women. What was it like working with Imelda Staunton on this project?
Lydia It was genuinely a really, really great experience working with Imelda Staunton. I’ve always been a fan of hers. I’ve seen her countless times on stage, I’ve been I’m a huge fan. You know, I think she’s actually brilliant as well, most people do. But she really lived up to everything I would’ve thought she would be as an actor. Her attention to detail. She’s very funny on set, but incredibly focused and. And I learned a lot, I think. Yeah. Just from just from the few scenes being being near her.
Jace So she’s the one making everyone else corpse?
Lydia She is, she, and her Russell Tovey. I was a really fun shoot, the whole thing. We were down in Eastbourne in the sun. Yeah, there were a lot of laughs. But that’s the thing about Imelda Staunton, as she can make you, exactly, corpse and have fun, yeah, she’s really fun to be around, but at the same time extremely professional and brilliant. So it’s good to have. Not everyone can get away with making everyone laugh that much.
Jace It’s Mary who plants the seed in Natalie’s mind about what Mark’s first wife died from. Is Natalie aware of any ulterior motives Mary might harbor? Or does she see her as someone who just has the family’s best interests at heart?
Lydia She sees her as someone who has the family’s best interests at heart, and doesn’t think beyond that. As I say, she’s very much….that’s where the sort of intrigue for Mary’s character, for Mary lies is that she’s operating sort of in plain sight. Yeah. So Natalie, no, she would never attribute sort of any slyness to Mary.
Jace The second episode ends with Vivien’s new car, a present from Mark going up in flames just after the question of his first wife’s death is raised. Is this fire an accident, or a sign that the series is heading somewhere more malevolent?
Lydia Well, it’s pretty odd, just bursting into flames, isn’t it?
Jace Spontaneous combustion.
Lydia Yeah. I think it’s as you said, it’s a sign that we should be prepared for the series to take a dark turn.
Jace Looking at the bigger themes of Flesh and Blood, all of the characters, especially Natalie wrestled with the notion of truth in this second installment, what are your thoughts that the role of truth, lies and self-deception play within the series?
Lydia Yes, the whole series really is about truth, and lies, and the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell other people about who we are and specifically within a family. And I think everyone can recognize that, you know, they’re a lovely family, especially from the outside. But yet there’s so many layers of secrets that you feel you need to withhold parts of yourself from the people closest to you. And that’s where the sort of drama and the possibility for misunderstanding lies.
Jace In very broad terms of what can you tell us about what’s coming up for Natalie in the final two episodes of Flesh and Blood?
Lydia Well, the story itself reaches a dramatic conclusion in episode four. And for Natalie before then, I want to give anything away. But she continues with this personal journey of discovery. Yeah. Yeah. Beyond that, there’s not much I can say without giving it away, you’ll just to have to keep watching.
Jace What role did Herrod play in your current day career?
Lydia Oh, yes, I played Herod at the Nativity Play at my local village school Nativity play. And it was probably the greatest moment of my career thus far. I had a song, which I won’t sing for you now. I had forgotten about, actually. Yeah. That probably was the first time that lit the excitement of standing on stage and. Well, I suppose I have in my mind everyone was clapping, but it was probably just my mum.
Jace One of your breakthrough roles was as Anne Boleyn in the RSC stage production of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which often meant performing five and a half hour, two part marathon performances three days a week. What was this production like and how exhausting or exhilarating was it?
Lydia It was a wonderful experience that was a huge cast and these books that meant a lot to a lot of people. And it was an epic journey because we did it for five months in Stratford-Upon-Avon at the SC and then five months in London on the West End and then five months on Broadway. So it had a long life and I’m extremely close, still a lot of people in that play. Playing Anne was, it’s a wonderful, wonderful role and getting to immerse yourself in that period of time and in Hilary Mantel’s books was almost one of these sorts of reasons why I became an actor. So it was thrilling and doing the length of the plays…yes, it was tiring. But doing plays is tiring. But overall, really exhilarating. Particularly in New York, we did three two show days, but we had two days off consequently, so we were able to really enjoy being in New York as well.
Jace You’ve played a lot of real-life figures, including the aforementioned Anne Boleyn. Virginia Woolf. Jacqueline Onassis. What are the challenges involved in constructing a character around a real-Life person?
Lydia Well, Jackie was hard because she’s such an image and people have an idea. Obviously, people don’t know how Anne Boelyn talked and when I played Anne Boeyln, I was playing the Anne Boelyn in Hilary Mantel’s books. So you can, obviously you go and you read everything you can on Anne Boeyln, but it’s not always that, I mean is useful. It’s wonderful to know it all. But at the end of the day, you might have someone else’s interpretation of Anne Boelyn. It doesn’t matter because I’m paying Hilary Mantel’s Anne Boelyn. So that was actually very easy because there’s so much characterization all there in Hilary’s brilliant writing. So you didn’t see many of the choices. It was just a gift.Again, I’ve never had to paly anybody that ou have to sort of really study and do an impression because people get get you know, you don’t really know how, about from actually, Jackie, I did, but Virginia, you know, no one knows how she talked, well you do know how she talked but it would sound very odd if you talked like that now. I just start by reading everything I can about them and everything about their work and then that connects to some inner instinct, I think, that drives them. Once you’ve got that, you can flesh it out.
Jace You played Anne Lister’s former lover, Marianna Lawton, in period drama, Gentlemen Jack, one of my favorite shows from last year. What is it like working with Sally Wainwright?
Lydia Oh, fantastic. Sally is brilliant. I loved working with her and we’re doing a second series, which we start filming in a couple of months, that’s exciting. In which you see a lot more of Marianna, actually, it sort of goes into that relationship with her. And yeah, working with both Sally, who I’ve long admired, I love all the things she’s written, I loved Happy Valley. I thought Gentleman Jack was a brilliant script. And she’s a real joy to be directed by because she just knows her characters inside out and she’s so clever and just chill. I just really think she’s terrific. And also Suranne Jones of course, who plays Gentleman Jack, I learned a huge amount from I’m playing a lead role in a TV series now and don’t know if I’d be able to do it in the same way had I not had the chance to work with Suranne so closely so recently and just seen her work ethic and her commitment and the boundaries you need to have in place when you’re doing a long running series like this. So Suranne and her focus and talent and dedication was inspirational as well.
Jace Lydia Leonard, thank you so very much.
Lydia Thank you. It’s been really nice.
Jace The slow simmering criminal investigation on Flesh & Blood continues next episode, when troubled son Jake is the flashpoint for police questioning.
Jake Can somebody just please tell me what’s going on at the hospital?
DI Lineham The patient is still unconscious, I’m afraid. The next 24 hours will be critical. And we’re still waiting for toxicology reports.
Jace Series star Russell Tovey joins us for his own interrogation, too, here on the podcast October 18th.
MASTEPIECE 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 for MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.
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