Meet the Cast & Characters of Flesh and Blood
Their characters’ lives may be messy and chock full of drama, but off-screen, the Flesh and Blood cast are a talented and lovely bunch! Get to know to know the stars of the all-new series, where you’ve seen them before, and how they came together as a unit both on and off screen.
The Character: Former Cranford star Imelda Staunton is back on the MASTERPIECE screen as Mary, the quirky, somewhat nosey neighbor of Vivien. Mary feels deeply connected to Vivien and her family, and sometimes pays a little too much attention to their family business. When Vivien shakes feathers amongst her family with the arrival of a new boyfriend and plans for moving on from the family home, Mary has some opinions to share.
The Story: For Staunton, the series’ storyline of a strong attachment to one’s childhood home was one she could personally relate to. “I was raised above a hair salon in north London,” she explained. “I regarded that as home. We moved when I was 10 or 11. And for most of my adult life, probably until I had my own house and family, I dreamt about that house all of the time. Because I wanted to be there.”
Cast Connections: As for her cast mates, it was a mix of reunions and long awaited introductions for Staunton. “Francesca and I were both in Cranford in 2009 but we didn’t meet. Stephen and I did something 25 years ago in Budapest called Citizen X, where he was a Russian detective and I was his wife. He is a remarkable actor.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Staunton is best known for her roles as Miss Pole in Cranford, as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter, the Nurse in Shakespeare in Love, and Vera Drake. She also recently had a major role in the Downton Abbey film, alongside her husband, Jim Carter (Mr. Carson).
Read our special feature all about Staunton here to learn more fun facts about the leading lady!
The Character: Francesca Annis, another Cranford star among the cast, plays Vivien, the widowed mother and matriarch of her family. When she introduces her three adult children to her new boyfriend, and shares with them her intentions of selling the family home and moving on with her life, they don’t exactly take kindly to…well, any of it.
The Story: As Vivien spends time throughout the series reflecting on her age and her life, Annis, too, spent time while working on the series reflecting on age and time. “What strikes me now is how varied one’s life and time can be. Which is wonderful,” she said. “You are not the same at 70 as you were at 50. It keeps changing. I always think that every decade there is a change in you. You change, your attitudes change, you change physically, you change mentally. That’s why it’s so important to live in the moment. There’s no good thinking ahead, it’s too abstract. And there’s no good thinking about the past because it’s gone.”
Vivien’s central role as a mother is one Annis shares — she, too, has three adult children. But after a recent trip to Brazil and to the Amazon inspired her to declutter her home, she found it difficult to get rid of her children’s things during her cleaning process. “It’s very hard getting rid of my children’s things because it’s their stuff,” she said. “But that’s fine. When I pass on, anything that’s left here they can either just dump or sell or whatever. And they can sort out their own stuff. Because I will have decluttered all of mine.”
Cast Connections: Flesh and Blood was an exciting one for Annis, one with “lots of twists and turns…that made me laugh. And a couple of things that made me gasp.“ It helped, too, to have co-stars and peers she’d worked with or encountered before, and was happy to reunite with.
“[Stephen Rea] is someone who I’ve hugely admired and our paths have crossed many times. But we’ve never actually worked together until now. So that was fantastic. I’m an enormous fan of his. The casting is wonderful in this series. Lydia Leonard, who plays one of Vivien’s daughters Natalie, has played my daughter before, on stage at the National Theatre.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Annis’ filmography includes roles in the 1984 film Dune, Lillie, and MASTERIECE classics such as Reckless (alongside Grantchester star Robson Green), Home Fires as Joyce Cameron, Cranford as Lady Ludlow, Jane Eyre as Lady Ingram — plus many more. Annis’ career includes over 100 credits to her name, with an on-screen career dating back to 1959.
The Character: Veteran actor Stephen Rea plays Mark, Vivien’s new boyfriend, who shakes up the peace of her (somewhat dysfunctional) family with his arrival and their fast moving relationship. When the children and Vivien’s neighbor raise some concerns about him, the question arises: who is Mark, really?
Cast Connections: Like many of the cast, Rea had the happy chance to reunite with an old co-star in Flesh and Blood. “Imelda Staunton and I played husband and wife a long time ago in a film called Citizen X,” he said, referring to their film with Donald Sutherland, who won a number of awards for his performance, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe. “I love Imelda. She’s absolutely fantastic, hilarious and just good fun the whole time. That’s the thing about actors. We’re the biggest bores to the outside world. You might not see somebody for five years but you pick up with them again very easily. Imelda is one of those. She’s just great.”
In fact, Staunton and co-star Annis being involved were part of the reason that Rea was attracted to the project. “Francesca Annis and Imelda Staunton were already attached to this. Actors who I am very impressed by, fond of and know,” he explained. “The character of Mark was interesting and it had an intriguing surface of a functional family that turns out to be completely non-functional. I have a personal belief that most families aren’t functional. So, I’m quite happy to contribute to that propaganda.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Rea is best known for his work in such hit films such as The Crying Game; V for Vendetta alongside Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman; Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles alongside Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt; Citizen X, and more.
The Character: Claudie Blakley plays the oldest of Vivien’s three children, Helen, who is desperately trying to be as put together as she’d like everyone else to believe, and is trying to hold onto a career, marriage and family that are all shaken up at once.
Her Cast Mates: For Blakley and her two on-screen siblings, played by Russell Tovey and Lydia Leonard, it didn’t take long to get into a groove with them and bring real-life sibling dynamics to life realistically. “There was quite a bit of laughter during filming,” she admitted. “A number of our scenes together involved bickering which just made us laugh. We also had a method during filming of jumping on each other’s lines or finishing each other’s sentences. Not letting each other speak. That’s quite difficult to do if you’re not in tune with the other actors. You really have to know all of the lines well and when to cut in. But we got it instantly… The three of us just clicked. That’s quite rare.”
The Story: Part of her storyline as the grown child of a mother who trying to declutter and move forward hit close to home for Blakley. “When I first moved to London I remember going home a lot because I just felt safe and secure. It always smelled the same. I think everyone can relate to that… But Vivien is always asking them, ‘Can you come and collect your stuff from that cupboard?’ And my mum is always saying that to me. ‘Please come and get your stuff from the garage, Claudie.’ And I still haven’t. It’s terrible.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Blakley is known for her roles in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice as Charlotte Lucas; as Mabel Nesbitt in Gosford Park; and for her other MASTERPIECE roles, such as Agatha Redmond in Season 2 of Grantchester, Cynthia Lennon in Lennon Naked, and in Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford and more.
The Character: Russell Tovey plays Vivien’s only son Jake, who has strong opinions on his mother’s relationship, but whose own relationship with his wife and children is rife with complications. He’s trying to get his life on track, but it doesn’t always come easily.
His Cast Mates: Playing a family unit, on the other hand, came much more easily, according to Tovey, especially with his “screen sisters” Claudie Blakley and Lydia Leonard, who he calls “friends for life.” He even dubbed the trio “The Three Sisters.”
The entire project came together, Tovey said, thanks to a combined effort from the cast and director Louise Hopper. “The best thing about this job is we are all very instinctive actors and in tune with each other,” he said. “We were given the freedom to talk over each other… Louise Hooper, who is an awesome director, wanted it to be real. So we were able to squabble, improvise a little and speak over each other. As people do in a family. It felt great to do those scenes.”
The Locations: Tovey’s love for the project didn’t end there. The filming locations were another one of his favorite parts of filming the series. “We filmed a lot of the drama in Eastbourne,” he explained. “The family home is on the beach, so you can walk up from the sea into the house. It was an amazing location. Eastbourne is lovely. I had no idea. Really beautiful.
“We filmed in the summer for a drama that is set in the summer. On many occasions you film dramas that are meant to be set in the summer and it’s actually winter when you are shooting. You are on a beach with shorts on and it is freezing. That’s when you really have to give it some serious acting.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Tovey is best known for his roles in Quantico, Being Human (alongside Poldark star Aidan Turner) and in past MASTERPIECE productions such as Sherlock as Henry Knight, My Family and Other Animals (in which he starred as Leslie Durrell, and none other than Imelda Staunton played Mother), and as John Chivery in Little Dorrit.
The Character: Lydia Leonard plays Vivien’s youngest daughter Natalie, who while being the most supportive of her mother’s new relationship also has her own reservations about the situation. Not to mention, her own love life is somewhat of a mess, leaving her to wonder what it is she really wants.
Her Cast Mates: Leonard, like her screen siblings, thoroughly enjoyed the on-screen squabbles and off-screen giggles between them. She also enjoyed one cast mate reunion, in particular. “It was also wonderful to work again with Francesca Annis as their mother Vivien,” Leonard said. “She played my stage mother in Time and the Conways at the National Theatre [in London] in 2009. I’m very lucky she has played my mother twice now. I’m extremely fond of her, she is a brilliant woman and a wonderful actress.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Leonard is best known for her roles in Last Christmas, The Fifth Estate, and Gentleman Jack.