Based on JG Farrell's 1978 novel of the same name, ITV's upcoming six-part drama The Singapore Grip follows a family of wealthy Britons living in the titular country following Japan's entry into the Second World War. Not without its controversy because of its satirical take on the period, the show looks to be one of the most talked-about of the year.
Australian actor Georgia Blizzard takes on the role of Joan Blackett in the series, the daughter to a ruthless father, played by David Morrissey. We got the chance to put some questions to the young rising star all about the show, as well as the strange new world we've found ourselves in and her plans for the future...
What can you tell us about your new ITV drama The Singapore Grip, and the character you play in the show?
The script has been adapted by Christopher Hampton from J.G. Farrell’s novel of the same name, and is a satirical look at Britain’s colonial past, set in Singapore during World War Two. My character Joan is dangerously charming, intelligent, witty, ruthless, and utterly amoral, and we follow her and her father Walter (Morrissey) as they plot, scheme, and fight to protect their thriving rubber business while their world quite literally crumbles around them.
What was the experience like of shooting on location in Malaysia?
There were certainly logistical challenges - neither searing hot temperatures nor raging thunderstorms are exactly conducive to a fast-paced film set! - but the experience of living and working in Malaysia was extraordinary and I woke up every day flooded with gratitude.
After spending three months in Kuala Lumpur we moved to Penang (which is still full of colonial architecture that doubles perfectly for 1942 Singapore), and I was completely enthralled by the entire Georgetown area; the amazing food, the variety of cafes and speakeasies, and the glorious street art that met you around every corner.
How would a typical day on the set of the show play out?
Every day was different depending on what we were shooting, but I always started with an hour or so with the glorious hair and makeup team and spicy noodles for breakfast (oh how I miss breakfast noodles!).
There really was no ‘typical’ day as we shot such a variety of things. I look back on the last couple of weeks with such fondness because it all feels like some kind of mad dream; we were on night shoots filming The Great World from episode two - a big sort of amusement park - so the sets were extraordinary and there were tonnes of extras and dancers and people on stilts.
We were hit by some very unfortunate weather that meant we’d arrive at four in the afternoon but often not start shooting til three in the morning, all huddling in shaking trailers amidst the most tremendous storms. Again, not conducive to a fast-paced film set, and sometimes I wonder how we got it all done, but it was such a bizarre experience and I just remember those nights being filled with so much delirium and laughter as we had no choice but to relent to Mother Nature!
As you mentioned, the story's set during World War Two; how did you prepare for the role to get into the mind of somebody who would have experienced the chaos of that time?
I think a lot of the humour in our show comes from the fact that the Blackett family remain almost oblivious to the dangers approaching, forging ahead with garden parties and anniversary celebrations and stacked social calendars as bombs are literally dropping around them. A lot of my preparation for Joan was less about studying the horrific realities of World War Two, but building out her backstory and understanding the kind of privilege and affluence she had been raised in that would allow someone to think even a war wouldn’t touch them.
The outfits of course will be a lot different to what we'd see in a show set in the modern day; was it fun to get dressed up in 40s attire?
Different to modern day certainly, but also very different to what I envisioned when I thought ‘WW2 period drama’. Our costume designer, Ann Maskrey, had such an exciting take on the looks and really focused on how one’s environment influences the ways in which they dress. Being set in such a hot climate, the colours are bright, the patterns are bold, and even in the English characters’ costumes you can see elements of Asian influence in the designs.
As Joan is a very glamorous character, my initial costume-fitting was 11 hours long. I had around 25 looks all made from scratch, and every single one was exquisite; taking them off each day was almost painful!
You star alongside the likes of Luke Treadaway, Jane Horrocks, David Morrissey and Charles Dance OBE in the show; what were your fellow castmates like to work with?
The cast for this show is extraordinary and full of actors I’ve admired for so long. Something I was really excited about was the fact that my character traverses a lot of different storylines, so I was able to observe the different ways in which everyone approached the work. I loved all the two-handers, but there was a really fun energy when we’d shoot garden parties or family dinners and suddenly have eight or so cast members all bringing their own process to the table.
In general though, I’d describe it as a really fun set; a lot of the situations Joan finds herself in are quite scandalous and outrageous so the scenes were hilarious to play with, and I think the fact that all of us were away from home and exploring this new environment together meant there was a real sense of play and adventure on and off screen.
How has your life and career changed in the past few months with the global coronavirus pandemic?
I moved from Australia to London at the very end of February, so it’s been a very bizarre experience to have landed in a new country only to have it lock down just a couple of weeks later. At times I’ve felt in quite high spirits, following my curiosities and plunging into learning new things, being creative, and grounding myself in gratitude, and at other times I’ve felt pretty homesick and overwhelmed and, y’know, like I’ve moved to the other side of the world amidst a global pandemic!
It’s been nice having The Singapore Grip coming out and taking this opportunity to reflect on what was a really special experience in my life; so much of an actor’s life is the pursuit of trying to obtain the next job, and with that possibility off the table for a bit, it’s been a rare chance to give this show the space and appreciation it deserves for everything it taught me.
What do you think will have to change moving forward in the industry to ensure safety for actors?
I suppose within every industry vigilance about hygiene and avoiding unnecessary contact is top priority, but unlike a lot of industries there is a lot of necessary contact on a film set. Long-term I’m not sure what the solutions will be, but my feelings and the feelings I’m hearing echoed around me are that we’re all so keen to get working that we’ll happily abide by whatever measures are put in place.
Productions are slowly recommencing here in the UK so I think everyone’s got a close eye on them to see what is and isn’t working; these are new challenges so I’m sure there’ll be some learning curves along the way.
How have you been spending the past few months adapting to this new world?
I have just been trying to stay creative and dive into learning new things. A lot of knitting, crochet, calligraphy, journaling, and playing guitar, studying geography, linguistics, and French, and immersing myself in film, TV, music, and books. Everywhere around me I see people taking solace in these things, so this time has been a really touching reminder of how much humans need art.
Finally, what should we expect from you in the coming months and moving into 2021?
It’s been a very quiet and uncertain time in the industry but things are slowly starting to get moving again, so I hope to be back on a set soon, kitted out head-to-toe in one of the many, many outfits I’ve knitted over the past six months.
The Singapore Grip will air from Sunday September 13th on ITV at 9pm.