Harry Richardson

Harry Richardson is Frank Gresham

Q: Tell us about your background?

“I was born in Australia but moved to London when I was two and went to primary school there. I played the snowman when I was four in The Snowman and after that I was hooked. I moved back to Australia for my high school years then returned to Britain when I was 18. I did a short course at RADA and fell in love with drama school, thought I needed to study and then somehow found myself at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth. I graduated from there in 2014 and have been bouncing around chasing jobs ever since. I was visiting family in London when I auditioned for Doctor Thorne.”

Q: So how did this role come about?

“On my last night in London I got an email from my agent, with the script for Doctor Thorne, asking me to attend an audition in the morning before my flight back to Australia. Knowing it was Julian Fellowes and Trollope I knew I had to do it! I read the scripts overnight, attended the audition in the morning and then made it to Heathrow for my flight with just an hour to spare. A month later I was asked to return to London for a final audition and a chemistry read with Stefanie Martini (Mary Thorne), I listened to the audio book on the plane and learned all my scenes. I landed at 4pm for a meeting with the director at 7pm, followed by the chemistry read at 8am the next day ‐ all after a flight from Australia. There was a lot of adrenaline and excitement. I found out a week later that I’d got the part and I was over the moon.”

Q: Who is Frank Gresham?

“Frank is the heir to the family home of Greshamsbury and a young man coming of age. He is under a huge amount of family pressure to marry for money and so save them from ruin, rather than follow his heart and marry for love. Frank is a caring young man with a conscience trying to find the honorable path to take. Frank is madly in love with Mary Thorne, played by Stefanie Martini. Mary is the niece of the family doctor so they’ve known each other since they were very young and have grown up together. Mary is also trying to do the honorable thing and is full of shame and doubt. She is not part of his family’s class and keeps batting him away but Frank is determined to get her to face the love that is real between them. Doctor Thorne is about love versus money, class distinctions and the changing society. The theme is change. This is a period where everything was uprooted. Suddenly people are able to stand up for what they believe in.”

Q: His family want him to marry rich heiress Martha Dunstable, played by Alison Brie?

“Frank’s mother and aunt conspire to try and get him to marry for money in order to save the estate and the family’s name, so they thrust him in the direction of an American millionairess called Miss Dunstable, who is very strong minded and outspoken. Frank has to try and woo her but soon realises she is very switched on and funny, and turns out to be a good friend who has great advice as to following his heart and doing the right thing.”

Q: You filmed dancing scenes. How was that for you?

“It was incredible. The most beautiful dresses I’ve ever seen and all the men got to wear tails and gloves and dancing attire. I had a waltzing class before we filmed the dancing for Frank’s coming of age ball and I thought it was going to be OK. I wasn’t going to worry about it until I discovered I had to open the ball in front of 100 people. Even though we’re on set together and you know it’s all about the camera, there are still 100 people around watching you try and dance. There was a lot of tripping up, which kept it really fun. We all ended up going around in a circle having a brilliant time and then someone would go down and it would be like a Tour de France crash where everyone just piles on top of each other. It brought us all together. But I didn’t fall down too much.”

Q: Did your costumes help you get into character?

“Acting in those costumes is just cheating. It’s the easiest thing ever. They put so much work into every little detail that as soon as you put them on it’s hard not to get into character. It makes you understand the etiquette very easily. You realise things about how people dealt with each other, that the physicality is either restricted or enhanced by what they’re wearing. It does force you to behave when you’re in three‐piece tails and a bow tie.”

Q: And how was the horse riding?

“I loved it. I had done a little bit before but I was very cautious. I had no idea how to canter or how to look like an Englishman on a horse. They’re film horses, you touch them and they go backwards or they’ll turn around and do U-turns. They’re easier to drive than a car. It’s great fun.”

Q: Tell us about the locations you filmed in?

“It’s been the most beautiful tour of the English countryside. We lived in a castle for a week at one stage and slept in big four poster beds, all of that allows you to really live in that world. We had a scene while in Bath, a political debate between two of the main characters. There were about 100 supporting artistes all in period attire, and Ian McShane, as Sir Roger Scatcherd, was making a big speech. You look one way and there’s the camera and crew. Then you turn around and suddenly you’re back in the 19th century. It’s really special. Every day is an experience, so far from my own life. It’s been magical. A real fairytale.”

Q: Living in Australia, did you know much about Julian Fellowes?

“I watched Downton Abbey whilst I was at drama school when we were all learning received pronunciation, it’s a great example of class interplay, subtext and juicy conflict. Julian is the best. He is very knowing and full of subtext and totally exciting and terrifying at the same time. He brings such detail to a script and knowledge of the whole world, the details of how things were done back then, including etiquette, how people hold themselves and deal with the clothes plus tone and class. You don’t feel too terrified to play in this world that feels so far from home because we all trust his knowledge and vision.”

Q: Frank’s family are in debt and face losing everything. Has there ever been time when you were down to your last few pounds or dollars?

“At acting school you’re always short of money. Nine till six at drama school means no‐one can get a job. I can relate to Frank in other ways too such as family pressures to follow certain paths and then having to overcome that. So that made Frank a really nice character to explore.”

Q: Why do you think audiences love period dramas so much?

“In Britain there is this fascinating obsession with period dramas. People love them. It’s a really beautiful platform to be able to discuss things that are relevant but at a distance. You dive into something else to explore what your life is. It’s a fascinating time when etiquette and rules were so different, so it’s interesting to see how people lived back then. This is a period of expression, exploration and change and some brilliant literature, like Doctor Thorne, was written then.”