Here is an overview
Professional Photos > Jenna Coleman > 2016. Jon Gorrigan (The Guardians)
“I don’t like that word,” says Jenna Coleman, wrinkling her nose. “People describe me as that a lot, and it makes me cringe. It feels dirty.”
In the garden lounge of a London hotel, we are talking about the word driven. “Something about it feels ruthless, which doesn’t sit well with me.” It would be impossible to describe the gentle, slightly reticent presence next to me as gimlet-eyed. But it’s also hard to describe her rise without sensing that ambition and determination must have played a part. Her first job, at just 19, was wild child Jasmine Thomas in Emmerdale. Intended to be a small role, she grew into a series regular, and Coleman set aside thoughts of drama school to play her for five years. She followed this with acclaimed BBC series Waterloo Road, original dramas by Julian Fellowes and Stephen Poliakoff, and then the big one. In 2012 she was anointed Clara Oswald, the sparky and instantly lovable companion to Doctor Who, beamed into millions of households across the world. These things don’t just happen.
She’s about to return in a leading role, playing Queen Victoria in ITV’s high-budget chronicle of the formidable monarch. It’s rare for British actors to hold the public’s attention, or enjoy quality parts, after abandoning an established soap character. Sarah Lancashire did it; arguably Martine McCutcheon did it, for a while. But on the whole, the less familiar you are the better. Jude Law’s start on daytime soap Families is now forgotten, likewise Ioan Gruffudd’s five years on Welsh-language Pobol y Cwm. (Most implausibly, Sir Ben Kingsley spent two years on Coronation Street in the 1960s, having an affair with Ken Barlow’s wife Val.) So how did Coleman travel from farm to castle in such a short time? Presumably having a Tardis helps.
The stories you need to read, in one handy email
“A lot of interviews talk about Emmerdale and then Doctor Who – but there were six years between those,” she protests. “You should have seen me when I was trying to get an agent. It was like, ‘I’ve only worked in soap, I’ve not been to drama school, I’m 22 years old and haven’t worked for a year. I’m a great catch!’ ” She’d stayed longer than she wanted to on Emmerdale; despite having been nominated for best newcomer at the National Television Awards, it took her a long time to be considered for significant roles afterwards. “I’m northern, and working class, so people put you in a box. It’s crazy.” She would be sent scripts for supporting characters with northern accents, “and I’d be pointing out different parts, saying, ‘I think I can do that.’ It took a long time to get any meetings. I had to take a job at a pub in Hampstead.”