Blundell of laughs

She’s starring in a new vampire series and she’s the vampire next door on stage. But in real life, Fleetwood actor Rhian Blundell says she'd much rather sink her teeth into her homegrown tomatoes

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Fleetwood-born Rhian Blundell plays Meredith in the new TV adaptation of Vampire Academy, a fantasy horror series based on the novels of the same title written by Richelle Mead.

Blundell made her screen debut in the feature film Nobody Girl, directed by David Shillitoe, and trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Despite landing roles on the small and big screen, the down to earth actor is still drawn to her stagecraft, and this month stars as the lead in Let The Right One In, adapted from the cult Swedish novel and film by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist.

In this candid interview she talks about feeling self-conscious of her accent outside the North, how Pete Postlethwaite is her acting hero, and why she’s more like a little old man than a 25-year-old woman with a promising career ahead of her.

Tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up choosing this line of work.
I am originally from Fleetwood, just outside Blackpool. I grew up there all my life. My mum was a civil servant and my dad was a truck driver. When I was in high school my mum went back to university so during my teen years I watched my mum go to night school, get her GCSEs and A levels and then she went to university and became a teacher.

I think that was probably the main catalyst for me, because acting was always something that I loved doing but we were never really in a position where I could do a lot of the paid drama groups, but I loved doing the amateur groups and local church groups when I was a kid. That’s where I started, doing anything I could get my hands on. I always thought I will do something serious when I get to A levels. I took English, which was wonderful, but there was always this nagging feeling at the back of my mind – that doesn’t quite fit, though – so when my mum took herself back to her studies I thought, you know what, she’s doing something that I knew she deemed as unrealistic for herself – her going back to university was such an impossible thing she was trying to do – and I just remember thinking if I don’t give this a go I’m never going to forgive myself.

Your mum’s bravery inspired you, then?
Yes, 100 per cent. The whole family has always been incredibly supportive of me. The whole family is very working class and I think everyone just always thought they will let me do this for as long as I needed to, but then let’s figure out what you are going to do next. I don’t think they thought I’d really pull it off. I don’t think I thought I’d pull it off.

Blundell in Vampire Academy: holding her own on the fighting side but smart and sarcastic with it
Blundell in Vampire Academy: holding her own on the fighting side but smart and sarcastic with it

There can sometimes be fear in working-class families about jobs in the arts, like you need to get a real job now.
Literally! Let’s make sure there’s a backup plan! I had a bit of a lull when l was a teenager because I think everyone just thought maybe it’s time to move away from this now. I didn’t really have much opportunity and then I decided to take drama alongside more serious subjects when I hit GCSE and A level. When I left sixth form I spent a good chunk of time working full time so I could afford to do the drama school auditions. Something I don’t think that everyone knows is when you go for the proper drama school auditions most of them you do actually have to pay for, so I worked full time in a clothing store for a while just to fund them.

And now you are in LA – what are you up to there?
I’m only here for the week to do press for this show. I’m heading back home today and then doing a bit of press in London. Then I feel lucky that I’m getting to do a play in Manchester at one of my absolute dream theatres, [Let The Right One In] the Royal Exchange. It was one of the only theatres I had access to when I was younger and even then it was one that really inspired me. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait.

What do you miss if anything about Blackpool? 
I miss nobody turning round when they hear my accent, I miss blending in a bit more. The accent was a trigger for people when I moved to London. I feel like Blackpool gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes but it’s always so alive – it’s such a lively place. It’s one of those things where I get very defensive, it’s like a sibling – I can critique it, but you can’t.

What can we expect from your character in Vampire Academy?
Meredith is a Dhampir – half human, half vampire. The Dhampirs have been created by the Moroi, who are the more fully fledged vampires, to be their guardians because by being half human half vampire they are really strong and fast and can go out in the sunlight. They are able to do the sort of things that the classical idea of vampires can’t do.

What I love about Meredith is that she can hold her own on the physical and fighting side of it but she’s very much the smartest of the group and she’s aware of it and she’s sarcastic with it, which was great fun to play. She is a very loving character, though I think she enjoys being the smartest one in the room.

How similar are the character traits of Meredith to your own personality?
A lot of the time I probably am far more sarcastic and brutally honest than I should be, and Meredith loves her friends with everything she has – she will do anything for the people she loves. These are two things I connected with deeply.

How have these roles changed your life?
Joy. It’s just been pure joy. One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I never lost the sense of what a privilege this is. It’s been very hard, and I’ve had a lot of support from a lot of wonderful people to get where I am, but it is a privilege that I am able to do what I love so I try and savour the joy from every opportunity and think, yes, it was hard but I am really blessed and really lucky to have done it.

How nervous do you get before filming and what do you do to stay calm?
Preparation is always key for me. The best thing is just feeling like I can go in and have fun rather than trying to work it out whilst I’m there. Also, I permanently have one headphone in, I make my own playlists and I use music to get me through whatever circumstances I am in.

In regards to preparation, how do you keep yourself disciplined?
I love what I do. I get just as excited about the preparation for things as I do about doing it so that’s something that I’ve always found very easy.

What is the toughest part of your work and why?
I can get very much in my own head and in my feelings about how people perceive me. I find this very difficult. When I’m working, I am at my best but it’s the bit now, of what are people going to think, that I can get a bit emotionally attached to.

What’s been the most enjoyable role that you’ve played?
I would say this one, and it’s not just because we are here doing this now. It’s because it’s been one of the first opportunities I’ve had to work with so many people from all over the world. The cast is made up by people from Australia, Canada and America. Another thing is I walked on set the first day and they’ve got wonderful British actors there like Jennifer Kirby, who I knew from Call the Midwife, and Angela Wynter, who I knew from when I was growing up, so it’s just been the absolute pleasure of being part of an incredibly diverse cast.

Who is a person that you look up to and how has that person shaped you?
A great question. I think there are two answers. I very much have a professional and a personal distinguishment. Personally, it’s my mum and dad. They didn’t have to let me run as wild and free as I did but they did and they are so supportive of me at every step. For a professional one I remember one of the first actors I saw that had a massive impact on me was Pete Postlethwaite. When I was a kid, I watched James and the Giant Peach, and he was the narrator at the beginning. It was just a moment of wow; this guy came on and he could tell stories. Even at a young age it just hit me so he’s been my big professional inspiration in everything going forward.

You were awarded the John Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts, also known as the Golden Quill. How did it feel to receive such a great honour?
It didn’t really hit me then and it still hasn’t. I felt like I’d come from a place so far outside of the industry. I had no connections to it growing up so to have that moment of affirmation from this thing that I’d fought so hard to just get into was just the most uplifting thing. It was wonderful, a real moment.

After winning the award did you feel like you had to try harder because your career was gaining momentum?
Yes. My job is the one thing in life that makes me happy, so I never feel pressure with it – it was more pressure in the sense of, you are doing this now so concentrate, don’t drop the ball because it took you a hell of a long time to get it.

Was there a certain amount of pride that came with it as well?
There definitely was but I have a hard time telling myself well done. Maybe that’s just a northern thing. I’m very happy that people around me will do it for me.

If you weren’t acting now, what would you be doing?
I would like to think I would still be doing something creative, like running a theatre, because I love new stories. I love stories from places and people that you don’t really expect.

What do you like doing like in your spare time?
My dad always jokes that I am a little old man. I love gardening, going for walks in nature. Also I love just watching a Netflix show for 12 hours. I am boring.

Not boring at all. Have you grown anything wonderful this year? I’ve grown some nice roses.
I have! This is the first year I’ve got a better crop of tomatoes than my grandad, which is a source of pride, and I don’t say that lightly because tomatoes are his speciality.

Do you live in London now?
No, I came back home during Covid. I felt like when the pandemic was happening that the most important thing was to be close to my family. Then I booked this job as we were coming out of the second lockdown, and I was ready to head back to work. I ended up in Spain for eight months and these last few months I have been a bit of everywhere. I don’t know where my roots are going to be. I haven’t figured it out yet.

Wherever your tomatoes are?
Wherever my tomatoes are! They’re coming with me.

What is your most annoying habit?
Overthinking. Everything and anything – I will overthink it.

If you were an animal, what would you be?
I’d want to be a cat, but I don’t think I’m that cool.

What’s your favourite TV series?
Dinner Ladies written by Victoria Wood is one of the best series, the canteen is in Manchester. It’s so funny the way she writes dialogue and the way she has people throw things at each other. It’s brilliant.

What are your ambitions in your career and your life?
I would love to do a good horror film – that would be fun – but if I’m honest I just want to work. This is such a hard job and so many people try to do it and so many people have ups and downs in it so if I can just work then I am grateful. n

Vampire Academy is streaming now on Peacock, available as part of Sky and Now. Let The Right One In is at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre 22 Oct-19 Nov. Look out for our preview of the production in the 17 October edition of Big Issue North 

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