Sanditon Cast Interview: Crystal Clarke

Sanditon actor Crystal Clarke shares insights about playing Georgiana Lambe, Jane Austen’s first and only black character; describes the on-and-offscreen friendship that made her Sanditon experience so rewarding, and more in an interview with MASTERPIECE as seen on PBS.

MASTERPIECE: Viewers might be surprised to learn that you’re American! What’s it like being an American working on a classic British period drama?
CLARKE: I never really think about that aspect, probably because I lived in the UK for eight years. When I’m on set I don’t feel out of place, but I do always feel really proud of myself! Cause it’s so rare for Americans to make it into classic British period dramas, and I’ve done that—which feels really cool.

MASTERPIECE: Georgiana Lambe is super relatable in that, like many young people, she takes bold steps and makes mistakes. What were some of her most relatable moments for you?
CLARKE: Feelings of isolation, being the odd one out, never totally belonging in a place or group of people. For a few years of my childhood, I moved with my family from a very diverse urban neighborhood to a very homogenous suburb in Tennessee. It was very difficult. We ended up leaving, but that feeling is a common one for so many kids of color in small towns across America and the UK. And when you’re mixed race or biracial, there’s a whole other set of identity terrain you’re trying to understand how to walk along. So, I connected with Georgiana in a very deep way. Her deepest struggles are, unfortunately, timeless ones in a white world.

At the end of the day, you must find your power and stand it—no place or person can achieve that—only you can do that for you.–Crystal Clarke

MASTERPIECE: How did you prepare to play Georgiana? In preparing to play her and working with [director of episodes 1-3] Olly Blackburn, was there anything in particular that you learned or discovered that might have provided a key into understanding and inhabiting her?
CLARKE: Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker was a great read that Olly recommended and which we discussed. It gave me some wonderful insight into what Georgiana’s life would have been like, growing up on a plantation in Antigua. The dynamics between the slaves and owners in the West Indies differ in certain aspects to the dynamics we know of in the American South. It was still slavery—don’t get me wrong—but there seemed to be more active socializing with slaves which wasn’t frowned upon, which I found interesting. I think the key to inhabiting any character is finding the parts of them that you connect with personally. Georgiana I felt I understood—right away.

MASTERPIECE: What’s the experience of portraying Jane Austen’s first and only black character been like for you? Was there a sense of responsibility or pressure or honor or gratification or trepidation (or something completely unexpected) to be portraying a person of color in Austen, and perhaps helping to move the needle on representation in period drama?
CLARKE: Oh, it’s a responsibility, and I felt that—there are no two ways about it. However, it never felt like a burden and I never felt pressured in any way. All I wanted to know was that the parts of Georgiana I connected with most, shone through. I didn’t want her to just come across as this whiny brat with all this money. I wanted it to be clear that all the money in the world can’t protect you from racism, xenophobia, and ignorance. However, at the end of the day, you must find your power and stand it—no place or person can achieve that—only you can do that for you. I just hope that comes across!

MASTERPIECE: Was there any way that the friendship between Georgiana and Charlotte mirrors the friendship that you and Rose Williams developed, or vice versa?
CLARKE: Oh, 100%. Charlotte becomes a true ally to Georgiana, the only person who comes to her saying “I can’t fully know your experience, but I am fully here to support you.” Rose did that for me from the moment we got in touch. As the first black character, the only black lead, and quite often the only person of color on set – Rose understood that could sometimes be isolating or sometimes I may not feel heard or understood – she made sure I knew that she had my back. I can’t thank her enough.

MASTERPIECE: Can you describe your favorite offscreen moment or experience making Sanditon?
CLARKE: Within the first two days in Bristol, I was on a little night out with the Turlough [Convery, Arthur Parker], Theo [James, Sidney Parker], and Mark [Stanley, Lord Babington]—but we all had dance rehearsal the next day and were so hungover. It was painful. It was also a really lovely early bonding moment—our suffering was hilarious.

MASTERPIECE: A quirky and delightful element of Sanditon is Arthur’s pursuit of Georgiana as a friend. Did you enjoy filming those scenes as much as fans are enjoying watching them?
CLARKE: Yes! Turlough is just so full of energy—it was refreshing to get breaks from Georgiana’s sadness and be able to play comedy sometimes—love comedy!

MASTERPIECE: What are you taking away from the experience of making Sanditon?
CLARKE: British beaches are very windy.

MASTERPIECE: As you think about Sanditon‘s ending, what would you, personally, wish for Georgiana in her future?
CLARKE: For our dear sweet Georgiana, I would hope she really takes her time in Sanditon to become the strongest version of herself. I imagine her traveling the world with Otis, returning home to beautiful Antigua, and making use of her large fortune to fund the abolitionist movement in the West Indies. What a dope season that would be!


For more from Crystal Clarke, listen to her in-depth MASTERPIECE Studio interview.

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