THALISSA TEIXEIRA HAS BEEN STEADILY MAKING A NAME FOR HERSELF IN BOTH THEATRE AND ON TV.
Choosing roles that not only showcase her talents as an actress but highlight her ability to take on any part and make it her own.
Her latest role is in Channel 5’s highly anticipated three-part drama series Anne Boleyn which stars Jodie Turner-Smith playing the titular role.
The series examines the downfall of Boleyn through the prism of a psychological thriller retreading the demise of King Henry VIII’s second wife. The series also shines a feminist light on the final months of Boleyn’s life, re-imagining her struggle with Tudor England’s patriarchal society, her desire to secure a future for her daughter, Elizabeth, and the brutal reality of her failure to provide Henry with a male heir.
We spoke to Thalissa Teixeira who plays Anne’s lady in waiting Madge Shelton …
Please Introduce yourself…
I started acting probably when I was quite small. When I moved back from Brazil I joined a drama group in the village I grew up in to make friends. I never really thought I wanted to pursue it as a career until I was older and actually realised it was a job. I wanted to be a Horticulturalist. When I was doing my A-Levels someone suggested I should apply to drama school and I said ‘what is that?!’. I was very fortunate to get in and went to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, which was brilliant. I think coming from Brazil, there’s a fluidity of performance and expressionism and just the festivals in general in the cultural language. People celebrate everything with dance, music, performance there that it was in my language in terms of expressing myself from quite an early age.
What word or sentence best describes your life right now?
In transition and pause, I suppose. In some ways, we have been quite lucky to stop for a bit and let the world breathe. It’s horrendous that the arts have suffered so much and it’s heartbreaking to see lots of my friends and lots of theatres and venues that I respect really struggle, but also to remember and understand that the arts are really important for mental health. It’s what everyone has been doing in this time, connecting to human stories. It reminded me that the community around what I do is quite important, and I’ve felt very fortunate to be working in this time.
You have taken on the character of Madge Shelton in Channel 5’s new three-part drama Anne Boleyn. Madge is quiet and timid and often overlooked. What drew you to the character?
I think there was a sisterhood, an instinctive sisterhood, between Madge and Anne. Obviously historically they are cousins so there is a familiarity, but I think Madge’s character is very similar to who Anne was before she married Henry VIII – she was a lady in waiting herself and Anne had a capability of something beyond the life that she was leading. Madge was the carrier of that information for Elizabeth, who – spoiler alert- becomes the Queen of England.
So I think there was something quite beautiful about playing someone who is timid but when it comes to the crux of it, she is there for Anne. She speaks out and shows the emotion that Anne can’t show in her public persona. Madge is transparent, she is allowed to express emotion; she is also younger and starting to get to that age where she is starting to learn to do things herself.
Her dedication to Anne seems quite strong but if you read the history books it’s implied that she becomes Henry’s mistress. From your development of the character, what do you take from this?
Yes, so Madge was used as a concubine by Anne Boleyn, I guess Anne would have wanted someone she trusted to sleep with her husband. It’s the tragedy of Madge’s story that she made this sacrifice for this tyrant. Anne was such a powerful woman, she spoke out, she was the wife that refused Henry her body before marriage. Her currency was her femininity and her sex. Madge was sort of under the guise of that currency that Anne had. But it was a profession – you served to the extent of utter sacrifice. Even of your maidenhood.
There is no avoiding the question of Jodie, Paapa, yourself, and other cast members taking on the roles of white historical figures. There has been some resistance – on social media anyway, when the news was first announced, how were you all able to move past it?
No one when making this series felt that we were making a 100% historically accurate performance because that’s impossible no matter who you cast. What I think is beautiful about what we can make in this day and age is a piece that goes beyond the story of Anne Boleyn. We are actually using her story as a carrier to talk about status, dynasty, femininity, and hyper-masculinity. We’re telling multiple stories parallel to each other. When I went to my audition I even asked ‘Why am I here? What story are we telling?’ and Kharmel Cochrane (the Casting Director) said to me that she wanted to cast people who could offer the best representation of the human story here.
This type of casting is usually seen in theatre where gender roles are also often switched. What impact do you think it will have on audiences on screen?
I think it’s interesting that you mention gender roles on stage, as everyone understands in that context that this is poetic license or a metaphor for something. I feel like when you put an actor who’s Black in a role that is historically white, we are afraid of talking about the fact that this is also a poetic concept on who that person was; what other stories we can conceive in this interpretation on this telling of the story.
We have been doing this in the theatre for so long, we can suspend our belief, tell hundreds of different interpretations of the same story in Shakespeare for instance. Whereas with television these unwritten rules in storytelling hinder us sometimes. I’m just really pleased and excited about this and for Fable’s incredible work (such as Rocks). We are using history as a marker here to highlight in a way how little has changed in the kitchen sink dramas of history.
Can you share a favourite moment or two working on Anne Boleyn and what you’re excited for the audience to see?
I mean I must give a huge shout-out to Mervyn, the Castle Keeper at Bolton Castle where we filmed a lot of the scenes. We were filming in Mary Queen of Scots actual bed chamber at one point and he was telling me all these stories about seeing ghosts in corridors in the middle of the night and when I had time off on set he’d take me on ghost tours. So a huge shout out to Mervyn. I’d worked with Paapa before, I think he’s phenomenal, and the same with Isabella Laughland. I’ve just got huge love for the cast. We all felt so grateful and lucky to be there together in that community.
Let’s talk about your acting career to date, you have had a number of roles in theatre and your first TV role was in 2016 in The Musketeers. Since then it seems that you’ve been consistently booked, has it been a smooth journey for you?
Well, that’s a lovely word to use, thank you. Not sure I would have said ‘smooth’ but it’s been a ride. I started with a lot of theatre and I absolutely love the community and rehearsing and being in a space trying to make a spectacle and putting ideas into a story altogether. I suppose I have pulled that through to my work on screen and I have played some parts I absolutely adored. I have felt really pleased that I have been able to play parts that have been really authentically me in that sense, being able to tell stories that I believe are really important. Which is the whole point I guess.
Your ‘big break‘ as a lead was in the BBC comedy-drama Trigonometry where you played Gemma who is in a polyamorous relationship how was the experience of telling the story of a subject that is very much still taboo?
It’s interesting as we never used words like that and a lot of people have mentioned it’s a ‘controversial’ way of being in a relationship. I actually think it’s one of the most ancient ways of being and actually monogamy is very modern and new in comparison. Ariane Labed, Gary Carr, and I were just playing the fact that it was an absolute coincidence meeting two people and falling in love with them both at the same time. And even more so those two people also fell in love at the same time. Athina Tsangari was magnificent at capturing the difficulties, the heartbreaks, the joys, the true heart. I think the show was talking about bravery in all senses, rather than sticking to what people perceive to be ‘the norm’.
You also played the character, Ness, in ITV Drama Too Close alongside a great cast. Can you summarise what that experience was/has been like
It was really great to do a psychological thriller and the cast was wonderful. I have made some extremely close friends from my time on set. I saw that Emily Watson’s name was attached to the script, she’s totally exquisite in everything she does so was so pleased to watch her work.
Usually, at this point, I would ask if you have any upcoming projects but I already know that you have been cast in AMC’s new drama Ragdoll. It is completely different from your current role how did you prepare for it?
We have only just started shooting. I’ve worked with Henry Lloyd Hughes before, we did a short film together so it’s great to be working with someone I know, and Lucy Hale is just so experienced, it’s been gorgeous to work with her too. I’m looking forward to playing someone that’s morally incorrect. Freddy Syborn has written an extremely intelligent, humoured, and riveting script. I think he’s fantastic. It’s going to be a mission commenting on the police force in a time like this, but I’m sure nothing Toby McDonald can’t fly with. I’m really impressed and excited.
There is always a likelihood that as an actor you can get typecast, but your characters have all been quite different is this something that you did consciously?
I think because I started in theatre there’s a lot to be said for working in different environments, different approaches. People may have seen me in very different things – but I think they are all just different versions of myself and it’s easy when you are telling a specific story and looking at the bigger picture of that world and where your character sits specifically within that.
What will you be doing outside of lockdown this summer?
I think I just need to be a good daughter and look after my mum and hang out with her. That’s my main plan.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
- A book you have to have in your collection? The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Baby – Gal Costa
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? The Sopranos (Obviously)
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance, or concert)? I think it may have been a dance piece by Grupo Corpo, a Brazilian dance company when I was really little. I still hold the greatest reverence for dancers. I weep at the discipline.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? There were a lot of emotions flying about on set today when I wore my Crocs into work. Some necessary. I was asking for it really. Rinsed. All-day. But I can guarantee everyone buys a pair by the end of the shoot. Gosh, I’m obviously still het up about this. And secretly glad that I was brave enough.
Watch Thalissa Teixeira in Anne Boleyn on Tuesday 1st June, 9pm Channel 5. Watch Trigonometry via BBC iPlayer here.