Laura Haddock has woken up to a snowstorm in a bitterly cold Montreal where she’s filming a new TV series. ‘We shot right across the winter and the conditions are really harsh,’ says Laura (it’s minus 10°C the day of our interview). Filming was not so brutal for her role in Downton Abbey: A New Era – the second film spin-off of the hit upstairs-downstairs drama – which hits cinemas this week.
Wigged up in a peroxide waved bob, Laura, 36, plays Myrna Dalgleish, a 1920s silent movie star who’s filming at Downton Abbey, which has been transformed into a bustling movie set. ‘She’s had a very successful career but, halfway through filming, the studio decides the film will be a talkie,’ explains Laura. ‘Slight issue: Myrna doesn’t have a particularly nice speaking voice. We lean into the comedy of that situation but a lot of actresses of that era had the same issue and their careers ended. It was this real fall from grace.’
For Laura – who most recently starred in BBC deepfake drama The Capture and the Ibiza-set Netflix thriller White Lines – joining the already established and much-loved world of Downton was an unusual experience. ‘You already know the characters so well, you can picture the locations, so you’re reading the script in a different way.’
While the existing cast (the core Downton stars, including Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery, returned for the second movie) made Laura feel very welcome on set, Myrna literally ‘sticks out like a sore thumb,’ says Laura. ‘We wanted her to really stand out in the palette of Downton. The costumes are usually quite soft and natural, to compliment the environment. So in the opening of the movie Myrna wears this bright turquoise coat – we wanted her to walk in and be brassy and brash.’
It was around this time last year – on International Women’s Day 2021 – that Laura got the call to say she’d landed the part of Myrna. ‘It was a huge day for me: I had the call from the director, my best friend had her baby, and it’s also the day that I walked my two children to school for the first time after the second lockdown. All of us parents were punching the air like, “We did it!”’
Laura lives in London and co-parents her two children – Pip, six, and Margot, four – with her ex-husband, The Hunger Games actor Sam Claflin. The couple separated in 2019 after six years of marriage and, while she won’t talk about the split, Laura’s open about the challenge of juggling filming schedules with family life. ‘I’m navigating some things that I’m finding way more difficult than I did before I had kids. It’s a lot to organise logistically, and sometimes it’s a bit tricky on your heart, too. I just have this huge pull to be in one place.’
There are two more weeks of filming before she can head back from Montreal to the UK and she’s firm that any potential production delays can’t impact her plans. She has the confidence to push back with producers and studios. ‘It has been really important to me not to shy away from the fact that I am a mother. I think I’ve really found my voice when it comes to that,’ she says. ‘If the end date of a project gets pushed, I’m not afraid to challenge it and say: I need to move on at this time, because I need to go home to my kids.
‘I don’t know if a man would feel as comfortable presenting that argument. Whereas I’m incredibly comfortable doing it because I know how hard I work. When I’m on the job I give it everything. But I also have boundaries. I know that it’s OK to say: I’ve done everything I can for you, and now I have to go back to being mum.’
She agrees it’s not always easy to have these conversations at work. ‘You have to be brave about it. It’s still a scary territory to enter into. It shouldn’t be, but it is.’ Laura often turns to a trusted group of girlfriends who all work in the industry to help her summon up the courage to set those boundaries. ‘We’re all freelance, self-employed mums, so I can go to them and say, “Can we talk through this?” and they understand. We’ve got each other’s backs.’
'It has been really important to me not to shy away from the fact I am a mother'
One of the women in that inner circle is writer and producer Eve Hedderwick Turner, who wrote last year’s acclaimed TV drama Anne Boleyn, starring Jodie Turner- Smith. For the past few years, she and Laura have been developing a TV series, Surviving June, based on the month that a teenage Sylvia Plath interned at Mademoiselle magazine in New York in 1953.
‘Eve and I geeked out about Sylvia the first time we realised we’re both fans. I don’t think we stopped talking for about six hours,’ says Laura. ‘With the show, we wanted to focus on a time in her life before she met [husband] Ted Hughes, before the suicide attempts. Before the Sylvia that I think most people know.’ Lockdown and other commitments put Surviving June temporarily on the backburner, but Laura plans to carve out more time for writing when she’s back from Montreal ‘and can re-acclimatise to normal life’.
Having worked fairly solidly for the past 15 years, a regular on our TV screens with parts in everything from Renaissance romp Da Vinci’s Demons, to cult hit Luther, you get the sense that, at this point in her career, Laura is very clear about what she does and doesn’t want from her work. ‘Often, it’s just go, go go. I am really feeling that I want to work on things where there’s time to properly look after the story.’
She's ticked off thrillers, period dramas and blockbuster franchises (starring in 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight), now Laura wants to add a romcom to her repertoire. ‘A Nancy Meyers, Nora Ephron- style film. Comedy but with real stuff that people feel every day,’ she says, before reminiscing about her go-to romcoms, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle. ‘I hope there is a world where we can still make films like that, where you can spend time on the little intricacies.’
When it comes to picking the right projects, experience has helped her to hone her instincts, too. ‘I think I came into the industry pretty green and naive – I was just grateful to be working,’ she admits. ‘Now I’m in my thirties and I’ve been in the industry a bit longer, I’m really listening to my inner voice. That’s something I might not have listened to and denied for a long time. I’ve learned to trust myself.’
‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ is in cinemas from 29 April
Top image from left to right: Dress, £1,420 Tod's; Dress, £1,790, Tod’s; Jacket, £1,130, trousers, £560, and shoes, £560, all Tod’s. Second image: Dress, £1,790, and shoes, £680, both Tod’s
Photos: Nick Hartley. Styling: Michelle Duguid. Hair: Federico Ghezzi at One Represents using Sam McKnight. Make-up: Naoka Scintu at The Wall Group using Armani. Nails: Tinu Bellu at One Represents. Photographer Assistant: Oscar Yoosefinejad. Stylist's Assistant: Tim Brooks.