TBB Talks to … Call the Midwife star Leonie Elliott

Leonie Elliott joined Call the Midwife in series 7.

Having appeared in Black Mirror and Holby City, Elliott got her big break when she was cast as Lucille Anderson in BBC’s Call the Midwife. Lucille is a Caribbean midwife, making her the first black character to get a regular and featured role in the popular period drama series. TBB Talks caught up with her to find out what we can expect of her character in the new series.

Introduce yourself

Leonie Elliott – British Actress.

You will be reprising your role as Lucille Anderson in Call the Midwife, a character based on the many Caribbean nurses who moved to the UK in the 1960s to help with shortage in the NHS. How did you initially hear about the role, and what made you say yes?

I heard about the role through my agent and I instantly felt a connection. I knew this was a special programme and I also knew what a significant impact the Windrush generation had on the economy, culture and identity of Britain at that time and particularly the NHS. So, to play such a role felt impactful and important.

Your aunt moved to the UK to train as a nurse during this time, did you speak to her about her experience and did what she say feed into your character?

I asked my aunt about her training and how important it was to assimilate in a new country with its own history, culture, and ideals. I also used my grandparents as a point reference. I would always check whether lines, phrases, and storylines rang true, they would always point me in the right direction. Even if it was just to understand some of the harsh realities of what it was like being an immigrant at that time. H

Who is Lucille and what was the process for you bringing her to life? 

Lucille is forthright, tenacious, loyal and empathetic. She is the one you want on your side. Bringing a character to life is always a wonderful process for an actor, I always start with the voice. Lucille is from Manchester, Jamaica. My family being from St Elizabeth (the neighbouring parish), I used this as point of reference. Class of course plays a part. Lucille is middle class and I began to use my cousins from a similar background as the starting point. I then refined this with a dialect coach. Then you begin to find likes, dislikes, habits, rituals, gestures and build from there.

Being transported to the 60s, and playing such a groundbreaking character, do you feel the importance of having a character like Lucille in a period drama especially, and also a character who represents an often overlooked and under-celebrated people in the African and Caribbean nurses of the NHS? And how important is it for audiences to understand their plight?

Having a character like Lucille represented on a period drama is so important. She represents a generation of courageous women and men who contributed so much to the UK and it’s institutions. In a world where at times we constantly see one narrative of the African diaspora represented, Lucille has been a pleasure to play.

Being an immigrant at that time wasn’t easy. The initial reaction (In Britain) was not always welcoming as many were alarmed by the prospect of a visibly different population. Many left their families behind on the prospect of employment and opportunities. However, when they arrived things were not so simple. A common site for Black families on the front doors was to ‘Keep Britain White‘. I want people and viewers generally to understand the plight of these tens of thousands of people; but more importantly in the face of adversity the huge contributions they made to Britain and its major industries, not just the NHS but also the construction sector and public services.

For that, I feel very proud of my own family and their contributions and also to play Lucille, who to me represents a generation of unspoken heroes who helped to rebuild an economy weakened by the war years in (at times) a very hostile environment.

What can we expect from the new series, how has your character and her storyline developed?

In this new series, we move into the spring of 1964 where life poses some significant moral dilemmas, advocacy for womens rights and some new faces. Series 8 has been the best yet for Lucille, life in Poplar still provides some new challenges. Her work forces her to make some new choices, some even conflicting with her faith and traditional ideals and there is the possibility of romance.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Series 9 – Call The Midwife

Do you have any New Year resolutions?

No new years resolutions but to continue with gratitude, work hard, break barriers and live life to the fullest.

The new series of Call the Midwife begins Sunday 13th January on BBC 1 at 8pm.


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