Sanditon Cast Interview: Leo Suter
What would Jane Austen be without a love triangle? Read an interview with Leo Suter, the actor behind Young Stringer, 1/3 of Sanditon‘s love triangle. You’ll no doubt remember him from his heartbreaking role as Drummond in Victoria, and you’re sure to love his bad-boy turn in the upcoming Beecham House! Now get his take on Austen, integrity, Team Stringer, cricket, and more about Sanditon, as seen on MASTERPIECE.
MASTERPIECE: Sanditon is airing in MASTERPIECE’s usual Victoria time slot—Is there any message that you want to share with Victoria fans, about Sanditon?
SUTER: Well, first of all, hello to all of them, and many thanks for their enthusiasm for the series! I’m still in touch with lots of that Victoria team, who are very special. So why would a Victoria fan love Sanditon? It’s another period drama set a little bit before Queen Victoria has come to the throne. We get to see what life of people, rather than royalty, was like around that time. And it’s got all of that same energy and excitement that Victoria has, and its creativeness and boldness—but we’re now down at the seaside, which is quite nice.
MASTERPIECE: Are you a Jane Austen fan?
SUTER: I am, yes. They are beautiful books and she writes an amazing novel, and she writes about young love very compellingly. And I have a sister who knows, I think, word for word the Pride and Prejudice film, and takes joy in reciting it. So I’ve been surrounded by Jane Austen and by Andrew Davies adaptations my whole life. I think it’s quite hard not to be a Jane Austen fan in some way, shape, or form.
If you’re a believer in companionship and friendship, then you should be Team Stringer, I think.–Leo Suter on Sanditon’s love triangle
MASTERPIECE: Did you do much research for the role?
SUTER: I did. There’s a house of architect John Soane, which was turned into a museum in central London, in Lincoln’s Inn, and it turns out that the set design was based on that house. I went along to visit because I was interested in seeing what architecture looked like at that time and what an aspiring architect’s research would be like because Young Stringer has these aspirations to become an architect. So that was a world that I got into. But as well, I knew what I was getting myself in for because I’ve done Victoria. I’ve done Beecham House. So I know my way around a period drama.
MASTERPIECE: Did you and [director] Olly Blackburn talk about and work on developing your character together?
SUTER: We did, we had some rehearsals. I had my first rehearsal with Kris Marshall [Tom Parker] and we talked about that dynamic between boss and employee, which is…not an easy one because he’s not the best boss in the world and not very on it, in terms of finances. So Olly was instrumental in that early on, and is a fountain of knowledge—I think his undergraduate degree was in history and he’s got that real passion for history and figuring out the details. My favorite fact that he told me was about the folk music that Jane Austen had in her collection. When she died and they went through her belongings, they found loads and loads of English folk music and that inspired and solidified Olly Blackburn’s choice in using quite a lot of English folk music in our version.
MASTERPIECE: Was there opportunity in Regency England for a man of ambition to transcend the boundaries of his social class, the way Young Stringer is game to?
SUTER: Yeah, I think it’s the dawning of that period in which a degree of meritocracy began to allow someone with good skills, and with good ambition and entrepreneurship, to rise up. But we’re not yet fully in the industrial revolution, so I think there are still definitely constraints and barriers that make it harder for someone like Young Stringer to rise up through the world. It’s what he wants to do, but I think it’s still going to be a challenge for him to do it.
MASTERPIECE: Young Stringer is a universal character in so many ways, yearning for more, standing up against injustice—
SUTER: He’s the good guy. I think he’s fundamentally a better individual than Sidney. I think he’s dignified and sensitive to the needs of others. And through a moral lens, yeah, he’s sort of admirable and likable.
MASTERPIECE: What do you like most about him? Is it those qualities, or just his amazing sideburns?
SUTER: His hat, let’s not forget his hat. His cricketing prowess. His rowing skills. He’s a man of many talents! No, I think his integrity is very charming, and his goodness. Those people do exist, but they’re quite rare. And so when you see them and get to play one of them, it’s quite charming. It’s quite nice.
MASTERPIECE: Can you make an explicit case for fans as to why he’s a better match for Charlotte than Sidney Parker?
SUTER: Here goes my pitch: He’s better at cricket. A good Englishman needs to be good at cricket. There we go—he’s better at cricket.
MASTERPIECE: So, which was more fun for you to film, the cricket match or the regatta [in Episode 7]?
SUTER: Well, two of these things I was very pleased about, because I used to be quite a serious cricketer, and I also row. So when I got the script and I heard about it, I was very excited because I was like, “Yes, these are two skills that I can use.” An interesting fact: Regency cricket is very different to modern cricket, so it wasn’t really a cricket match, all the rules are slightly different and twisted. But my favorite was the regatta because the boats are beautiful and original. And it was raining, and testosterone sort of took over and we weren’t acting—the two boats were genuinely racing each other! We’d look over with angry, competitive looks between the boats, and we all had to calm ourselves over a cup of tea afterwards, remind ourselves that we were acting. Filming that was quite funny as well because the cameraman has to be wedged in between these, I think they were, 150-year-old boats. You’ve got to A) concentrate on rowing in a straight line and B) concentrate on looking good while doing it.
MASTERPIECE: Was the cricket match in the Regency style?
SUTER: It was a Regency style because—this is very esoteric, and I think American readers might switch off—but there’s something to do with the throwing of the ball. The rules changed about a hundred years ago.
MASTERPIECE: And were you like, “Wait, I’m not as good at this as I thought I was?”
SUTER: Yeah, completely! It was very frustrating, but it was a good, fun day down at the beach where the whole cast could get together. For Stringer, those moments of big group scenes were really fun to do because they’re a chance to hang out with the rest of the cast. He operates within a different social world, so things like the regatta, things like the cricket match, the ball at the end of the series, those chances to work with all those other great actors were very nice.
MASTERPIECE: Of all your scenes in Sanditon, was there one that was your favorite to film?
SUTER: Yes, I very much enjoyed the private scenes with Charlotte, with Rose. All those big group scenes were good fun and boisterous. But the little scenes with Rose were chances for her character to really reveal things to my character, to Young Stringer, that she doesn’t to anyone else. And so therefore, they felt quite precious and personal and private. So those were my favorite ones.
MASTERPIECE: The series seems to want us to believe that Sidney is Charlotte’s Mr. Darcy, her Mr. Right, but do you think it’s possible that it’s really Stringer?
SUTER: I think it is very possible. I think there’s certainly compatibility between them. It’s interesting—I think Andrew Davies is exposing what makes a good match: Is it two opposites that balance each other out, which would be a case for Sidney and Charlotte? Or is it about companionship and teamwork and loyalty and friendship? That’s Stringer’s side of the argument. And both philosophies of a relationship have their merits. But if you are a believer in companionship and friendship, then you should be Team Stringer, I think.
MASTERPIECE: Well, I’m Team Stringer for sure.
SUTER: It’s great to have an advocate!
MASTERPIECE: As you think about Sanditon‘s ending, what would you, personally, wish for Young Stringer in his future?
SUTER: I’d wish for him to be a little bit more hardened and a little bit more world-weary, such that he could begin to stake his claim and his voice would grow a little louder and a little stronger. Because he’s got all the good heart and everything inside is right—he just needs a little bit more strength and a little bit more confidence in his voice. I think that’s the key that unlocks the lock. Once he’s done that, then he’s off. Then he’s running.