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I TALK TO Ria Zmitrowicz

There are a host of young actresses doing really well in the UK at the moment, and one of them in particular is Ria Zmitrowicz who you're bound to have seen if, like me, you love your telly.

Just this year, she has appeared in The Midnight Beast, Mr Selfridge, Youngers, and soon she'll appear in Nightshift for Sky Arts.

This week I caught up with Ria, shortly after what she described as a 'nerve-wracking' audition, to find out how she first got into acting, what it was like playing Jodie in Youngers, what it was like working with The Midnight Beast boys and what we can come to expect from next year's series of Mr Selfridge.


First of all, how did you get into acting?

I started when I was 16, doing National Youth Theatre, then went to do my A-Levels. Then I did a show with the National Youth Theatre at the Soho Theatre called Tits/Teeth and that's kind of how I got my agent so it's through NYT really.

That's lead into lots of TV roles for you including Youngers - What's in store for Jodie this series?

She's over Jay, as you saw in the first episode. She's got a new boyfriend, from Mandem on the Wall and she's working at the Damilola Taylor centre but she's a bit frustrated doing that, so some new opportunities come along for her to get a new, more exciting, job. I can't say what... but she gets a new exciting job and goes a bit power crazy towards the end of this series.

Even more than she is already?!

(Laughs) Exactly! But it's not big enough yet. She wants to take over the world in the music industry and things!

Do you enjoy playing a character so out there and over-the-top like Jodie?

Yeah, I really do. I think it's just great fun to be able to play something that's quite over-the-top and really push that. And obviously working with the other really talented actors gives you loads to play off of all of the time.

They didn't reject how big I was playing her, they embraced it, so I really got to push her to the max and have lots of fun. The director really encouraged it as well so yeah I really enjoy playing her.

How did you choose to play her? Was there anyone in particular that you based Jodie on?

No. I think the writing was so strong that I thought, I can't just play this softly, otherwise it's not going to make sense. So no, it's not based on anyone in particular even if we do know people like her - a bit grinding, a bit annoying! (Laughs)

What is it, do you think, about Youngers that has really captured people? Because it does incredibly well in the ratings...

I think it's traditional storytelling, but juxtaposes the urban setting, and usually when it's urban and about young people, they're kind of demonised a bit, and made to be scary, alienated members of society.

A lot of urban kids have had that kind of upbringing don't have that life of drug-dealing or knife crime - it's actually quite aspirational, and normal, but in a city. And I think maybe that's why Youngers is doing so well, because it's showing young people in a way that they can relate to.

Obviously there's a place in the industry for Top Boy and things like that - they're amazing, and brilliantly done - but Youngers is not trying to be like those programmes. It's a traditional genre, and the way that it's told is traditional, but it happens to be urban, and it happens to be about young people.

I suppose it's more aspirational, and positive about young people, and I'm really proud to be a part of it because of those reasons.

I went to the launch of Youngers in Hackney the other week and you all seemed to be such a close-knit team who genuinely got on. Is that what it's like on set?

Absolutely. Everyone gets on really well. Obviously it's the second series now, so a lot of us have got to know each other better. I think everyone kind of knew each other before we even started filming, just through being young people in the acting industry and even if we didn't know one another, we had a mutual friend or something.

So yeah, it's kind of like a big family now doing Youngers and there's a lot of banter on set as well as a lot of respect for one another as creatives and all of the crew as well. We had the same make-up team come back as well. It's like a big family really.

Another thing you're about to star in is Nightshift for Sky Arts as part of their Playhouse Presents season - What can you tell us about that?

I'm working with Ashley Walters and Danny Mays and the amazing thing was that I have always been a massive fan of their work and I got to work really closely with Danny in particular, which was just a masterclass in acting really, working with him.

It's basically about two police officers who work the night shift, written by Jimmy Gardner who wrote Cops. He actually passed away (in 2011), and this was one of the last scripts that he wrote and never got produced.

So his wife set up a production company - Cajun Pictures - and got it made, so it felt really special bringing his voice to life again. I've always thought he's an amazing writer anyway so it was really cool to be able to work with his writing - it's really truthful.

What can you tell us about your character Hayley?

I play a character called Hayley Rolls, who's basically being drunk and disorderly and the police get called - so that's why Danny and Ashley's characters, come down.

But then you realise that she's actually met Guv, Danny's character, before. They've had an encounter before but you don't know where and then it gets revealed as the night goes and he is looking out for her basically.

He's one of those people who know the streets and know the people that he's dealing with, he's quite personable and he really has a soft spot for Hayley and looks out for her because he knows she's had a tough time. There's a reason why she's out there drunk and disorderly. It's not because she's just decided to, or she's a bad person, its because of everything that she's been through.

What do you think about the Playhouse Presents season as a whole?

We had a screening for it the other week, along with another one called Timeless, and I think it's nice to create just one-offs that don't have that pressure on them to have a series. Although there is talk of Nightshift being turned into a series but it hasn't been given the green light yet.

These one-offs attract really high-profile actors because they're always really well written and it's not a big time commitment, big actors can go in and just do one week working on it and then can go on to their other projects. It's nice because you can be really creative with it, which is why I think a lot of the actors and directors get involved in it.

With Nightshift being a one-off - Did you find it harder to find your character than in say a series like Youngers?

Well actually we got some rehearsals for Nightshift, which is kind of rare for TV, but the director, Bruce Goodison is an amazing director and really pushed for us to have some rehearsal. We didn't have ages, but just having that bit of time to get to know your character really helps! I wish we always had rehearsals (laughs).

Another show we've seen you in recently is The Midnight Beast. What was it like working with them?

Oh it was brilliant. They're such nice lads. I didn't know what to expect because they've got such a huge following and I was like - "Oh my god, are they going to have big egos or something?" - but it was the opposite and they were so nice and polite. They were like - "Thank you." - and I was like - "No, thank you guys!" (laughs).

It was such  joy working with them and I think they're so talented. That was one of my funnest jobs I have to say. I really enjoyed working with Esther Smith who played my sister in that, and the director Al, who's got a really good sense of comedy so he really gelled well with the boys. It was lovely, I loved working with them.

We've got to talk about Mr Selfridge - Miss Ellis is back for series three, and I know it's early days, but what can you tell us about the new series?

Yeah, I started filming a couple of weeks ago. And at the moment, because it's written as we go along, I know that I'm in episode one and episode three and then there's potential that I'll be coming back. At the moment I'm coming back, but these things could change, so we'll see.

I get distracted on set, because I just keep looking at these really intricate props, because in the loading bay or Mr Groves' office, there's loads of paperwork and it's all been written.

It's been really great going back. I'm back in the loading bay, the boys are back from War so it's a bit tense because obviously we've been running the gaff for four years and they come back and don't think we should be there anymore and should be back in the kitchen. I don't know how much more I'm allowed to say! (Laughs)

Mr Selfridge and Youngers are clearly polar opposites in terms of style and subject matter. Is there one you prefer doing over the other?

No. I guess because they're so different, I can't really compare. I love both of them, I think they're both really unique characters and as far as female characters go, Jodie is really outgoing and loud, and not afraid of the boys. She isn't a shrinking violet. And then there's Miss Ellis who's quite critical and pioneering for her time because she's going out there and working and she's not afraid to stand up to the upper-class. So I guess I like playing parts that are strong women.

Youngers airs Wednesdays at 7:30pm on E4

Nightshift airs Thursday 22nd May at 9pm on Sky Arts

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