In our series of interviews before the Barnes Film Festival, we’re honoured to have Anna Burnett join us today. She’s a film, television, and theatre actress currently studying English Literature at King’s College London.
She began her career as a teenager in two plays at the National Theatre. She was then cast in Carol Morley’s mystery drama The Falling in 2013 (as a side note, this film was much loved by Dr. Mark Kermode from the BBC’s flagship film review show!).
She’s since returned to our screens in Victorian detective drama Ripper Street for its final three seasons. She appeared most recently in Joe Wright’s Oscar-nominated film Darkest Hour, and is soon to feature in Manhunt on ITV.
Hi Anna! First of all, thanks for your time – could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your career so far?
Thanks for having me! I grew up in Hammersmith, so it’s great to be involved in a film festival so close to home. Acting is something I’ve always loved, and through a Saturday acting class (ESTA) I started auditioning from the age of 9 or 10.
My first job was a play at the National Theatre when I was 11 called Burnt by the Sun, and a few years later I was in another play there called Men Should Weep. When I was 15 I signed with my current agent, Scott Marshall, and since then I’ve been working predominantly in film and TV. My first film was Carol Morley’s The Falling, and after that I worked as a series regular on Ripper Street, a Victorian detective drama.
Which film role have you enjoyed the most?
I think the role of Susan in The Falling. The character is complex and develops a lot throughout the film, almost changing her personality (or at least trying to). I loved figuring out her intentions for the change, and tried to show that this doesn’t come from a place of nastiness but from a feeling of inadequacy.
And, also, who were the actors that inspired you towards your career?
I’m not sure who inspired me when I was younger, but nowadays I’m really motivated by women like Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who are brilliant actors but also write and create really exciting work.
And, of course, for your role in the Darkest Hour – what was that like? Has being in an Oscar winner changed your career outlook at all?
My experience on Darkest Hour was amazing. Being a small part of a film so huge was predictably awe-inspiring.
I think my favourite moment was being on a built set of the House of Commons, with the director Joe Wright leading 450 cast and extras as they sang Hey Jude between takes! It was great to have an insight into how films of that scale are run, and actually how little is different to smaller scale productions.
It’s a key moment in Hollywood’s history, with the #MeToo movement proving so effective. What direction do you see the industry heading in?
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s great to see positive change start to happen in the industry. I think the key to further change is more women in roles behind the camera, because people make films about what they know.
With more female writers, directors, producers and crew making work, there would be an improvement not only in women’s representation in film, but also in their treatment and the respect they’re granted behind the camera.
What about the future, what have you got in the works?
The next thing I’ve got coming out is a 3-part ITV drama called Manhunt, which follows the investigation by Colin Sutton into a series of murders in Twickenham from 2002-2004. Martin Clunes plays Colin Sutton, and I play his daughter, Kat.
For our readers, some career advice would be great. Liam Neeson, in an interview, said a few years ago that 80% of actors are unemployed and should pursue a different career. What would your advice for actors be in a famously competitive industry?
I would say to put everything you can into acting, but also to find other things that interest and excite you too. If you get all of your creative or intellectual fulfilment from acting, you might end up disappointed or frustrated because of the lack of work. It’s an amazing job when you’re working, but finding other things that excite you too can only be a good thing.
For budding actors out there reading this, could you offer any further advice for them? Perseverance will be key, of course, but other skills you’ve picked up?
Enjoy it! Get involved in drama societies if you’re at school or university, and make work with friends.
You’ll be judging some of our competition entrants for the Barnes Film Festival. What will you be looking out for?
I’ll be looking out for films that are slick and concise, and where the script, direction, cinematography and other aspects align to create something that works as a whole.
As an actor, do you think your education was essential? Or can acting come from the heart?
It depends on the person, but for me my education has been really valuable. I’ve found that my interest in literature and learning has fed my interest in reading scripts and analysing characters. School and university have also both given me a way to act and put on shows with friends, which is always fun.
And in terms of your career, can you ever see yourself directing (or any other film roles)?
Yeah, I’d love to direct! It would be great to have more creative control over the work that you’re a part of, and I think that carrying out a specific vision for a piece of work would be very creatively fulfilling.
For students, what are the key skills you can suggest in four words that will make all of their hard work worthwhile?
I think key skills would be curiosity, open-mindedness, determination and perseverance.
And finally…. what’s been your favourite film of 2018 (so far)?
My film of the year is definitely Lady Bird. It’s so inspiring to see a funny and truthful account of female adolescence, because it’s a subject matter that isn’t often depicted in film. The exploration of what it’s like to mature as a teenage girl and the strict school setting both remind me of The Falling, actually!