Jenna Coleman has all the time resisted typecasting. At 19, the now 34-year-old Blackpool-born actor made her display screen debut as a troubled younger lady in ITV’s Emmerdale (1972 to current). A flurry of high-profile roles adopted: as a tricky schoolgirl in Waterloo Street (2006 to 2015), a time-travelling adventurer in Physician Who (2005 to current), the younger Queen Victoria throughout three seasons of Victoria (2016 to current), and a mom trying to find her lacking child within the Australia-set collection The Cry (2018). Now, her newest venture has whisked her off to a different time and place — ’70s Bangkok, the place the French serial killer Charles Sobhraj focused vacationers on the Asian hippie path.
In The Serpent, an eight-part collection based mostly on Sobhraj’s real-life crimes, Coleman stars as his French-Canadian lover, Marie-Andrée Leclerc. Adopting the aliases Alain and Monique, the pair befriend western vacationers, drug them, and steal their passports and cash. Those that struggle again are quietly disposed of by Sobhraj (performed with icy conviction by Tahar Rahim) and his affiliate Ajay Chowdhury (Amesh Edireweera). Sizzling on their heels, nevertheless, are Herman and Angela Knippenberg (Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber), a Dutch diplomat and his spouse who’re investigating a string of unsolved murders, in addition to Sobhraj and Leclerc’s suspicious neighbour Nadine Gires (Mathilde Warnier). The result’s a globetrotting nailbiter with spectacular ’70s fashion besides.
Because the present continues on BBC One, Coleman tells us about assembly the true Knippenberg and Gires, studying Leclerc’s diaries and the tacky playlist that helped her get into character.
‘The Serpent’ is predicated on an unbelievable true story. When did the venture first land in your desk?
“I used to be despatched the script whereas I used to be doing All My Sons at The Outdated Vic [in 2019]. It was a narrative I’d by no means heard about earlier than. In addition they despatched me numerous pictures, Marie-Andrée’s real-life assertion and recordings of her voice. I used to be hooked. She was mysterious and sophisticated, and the extra I examine her, the extra addicted I grew to become. It’s a narrative that’s seductive and intoxicating, but additionally darkish.”
How a lot does the true story of their crimes diverge from what we see on display screen?
“A whole lot of it’s clearly our interpretation [of events]. For instance, we don’t know and should by no means know to what extent Marie-Andrée was an confederate or a sufferer. However a lot of it’s based mostly on information. A pal messaged me the opposite day saying, ‘Was the monkey actually poisoned?’ So, I texted [one of the show’s writers] Richard [Warlow] and [director] Tom [Shankland]. They replied, ‘Truth!’ There’s a lot within the present that you just wouldn’t imagine, however that did really occur.”
How did you need to steadiness these two sides of Marie-Andrée — the sufferer and confederate?
“It’s one thing I needed to wrestle with. I’d by no means encountered anybody like her earlier than when it comes to her psychology, and her background was actually fascinating. She was from a non secular household and when she writes about her life [in her diaries] there’s a greyness and banality to it. She was a romantic and her shallowness was low. She meets Charles Sobhraj and inside three weeks she was drugging folks. We don’t understand how a lot she really knew about what else Charles was doing, however he nearly grew to become like her faith. She allowed her ethical compass to be completely buried.”
Is it true that you just met the real-life Herman Knippenberg and Nadine Gires throughout filming?
“They got here to set and I feel it was unusual for them. I requested Nadine if Marie-Andrée and Charles have been actually in love. She mentioned, ‘To start with, sure, and Marie-Andrée all the time.’ However, she additionally mentioned that she’d requested Marie-Andrée in the event that they have been going to have youngsters and apparently she’d replied, ‘I couldn’t. He can be a monster.’ So, she was conscious of that and but she wouldn’t depart him.”
Marie-Andrée is, after all, French-Canadian. Did you be taught French from scratch for the present?
“I did! It was loopy as a result of I used to be doing the play and we solely had just a few weeks earlier than we began capturing, so a number of it grew to become in regards to the muscularity of the mouth and the sounds. It was a language I’d by no means realized, however there was no method I wasn’t going to do the present. I’ve additionally lengthy been a fan of [French-Algerian actor] Tahar Rahim [who plays Sobhraj]. I noticed him in A Prophet  in my early twenties. And so, inside just a few weeks, I used to be on set with Tahar talking French.”
The ’70s vogue within the present is so glamorous. How did Marie-Andrée’s look come collectively?
“We had numerous reference pictures and spoke about wanting a darkish [Brigitte] Bardot vibe. In my thoughts, Marie-Andrée was obsessive about magazines, significantly Vogue Paris. The thought was that she wished to shed her French-Canadian identification and remodel into any individual else. There’s a floatiness to her look and I introduced the thought of her carrying kimonos round the home. The sun shades are unimaginable too, after which there’s what she wears in Paris. We checked out pictures of Mick and Bianca Jagger, and that’s the place we acquired the thought for [Sobhraj and Leclerc’s] fits. I used to be additionally part-wigged as a result of after we first meet Marie-Andrée she has fairly massive curly hair.”
What different sources helped you to get into character?
“Tom Shankland, the director, despatched me a Marie-Andrée playlist. We performed with this concept that she’s acquired unhealthy style in music and preferred tacky romantic songs. The playlist had John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Aircraft, ABBA’s Mamma Mia, Elton John’s Tiny Dancer and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. There’s additionally a scene the place one thing horrible is going on, however Marie-Andrée is within the subsequent room listening to Charles Aznavour’s She (Tous les visages de l’amour) to dam it out. We see that she desires to maintain taking part in this romantic heroine that she has in her head.”
The present hops from Bangkok to Kathmandu to Paris, however was it principally filmed in Thailand?
“It was primarily in Thailand, however we travelled round lots. The Dal Lake scene, for instance, was shot close to Myanmar. We have been meant to fly to Budapest to shoot the Paris scenes, however that’s when Covid hit. We have been flown residence and there was a six-month break. We couldn’t actually journey after that, so we shot the remainder of the collection in Tring in Hertfordshire, which acts as a part of Mumbai, Karachi and Paris. It’s been such an journey, particularly in Bangkok with the markets, the site visitors and the warmth. Our Thai crew have been wonderful, and the set was this melting pot of languages and cultures. It actually captured the hedonism of the ’70s. Now, to have the present come out in any case that, is thrilling.”
By way of what you may have developing subsequent, is there any extra information on ‘Victoria’ season 4?
“Not in the intervening time. I do have one thing else developing, however I’ve signed an NDA so I can’t say extra, after which hopefully just a few indie movies as properly as soon as all the things begins getting again to regular.”
How have you ever spent your time in lockdown whenever you haven’t been filming?
“It looks like a lot time has handed. I noticed somebody submit an Instagram about banana bread the opposite day and I believed, ‘Wow, we’re again to banana bread once more!’ [laughs]. I’ve been studying French nonetheless, cooking, gardening and I began doing a images course with Leica. The spotlight of my social life has been assembly associates for walks. Zoom quizzes acquired boring in a short time.”
What did you be taught from 2020 that you just’ve taken with you into 2021?
“We have to decelerate. There’s a sense that you just all the time have to be reaching one thing or pushing ahead, everybody’s diaries are chock-a-block and we attempt to multitask on such a stage that we neglect the great thing about simply surrendering. I’ve appreciated the stillness, and in addition the kindness. I really feel like there was a lot of that round at first of lockdown. I hope that continues.”
The Serpent is now airing on BBC One and out there to stream on BBC iPlayer
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