Interview With Faye Marsay

Faye Marsay may never discover what it’s really like to be a professional actor, with all the attendant years spent worrying about the next paycheck, or waiting on tables and going to endless auditions before experiencing the inevitable knock-backs. Because Faye Marsay seems to lead something of a charmed life.

Since leaving drama school, she has won the top award for student actors, and been cast in a lead role on series on BBC, ITV and Channel 4. But it is her role in Channel 4’s award-winning comedy drama Fresh Meat that could bring her to the attention of a whole generation of her peers. She plays Candice, a home-schooled, naïve, socially awkward fresher, who ends up in the wrong house at the right time. Here, she explains more.

You’re in the new series of Fresh Meat. You play Candice – what’s her story?

She is a home-schooled girl, she’s a fresher who’s just starting University, she’s been home-schooled her entire life, and she doesn’t have a clue about how to act in social situations. She’s never done drugs, she’s never had sex, she’s never kissed anyone. So she’s come into the house properly up for it, but she doesn’t have a clue about the social etiquette or anything like that. So she meets JP and all of them, and it turns into a bit of a mad one for her.

How does she get on? Is she accepted by everyone? Does she have a strong relationship with anyone in particular?

The first person that really takes her under her wing is probably Oregon. She and Candice are both doing English, so she sees herself as being in charge of her, and acts all proper cool around her, which ends up making Oregon look like a dick as well. Vod doesn’t really get Candice for quite a while. Howard is a bit awkward himself, so it takes them a while, but they actually end up forming quite a strong bond later in the series.

What’s it like for you coming into a show where everybody else already knows each other?

It was mad. They’ve been doing that for three years. I was absolutely shitting myself when I first started, but they were really welcoming, everyone was really lovely. They’re a really nice bunch of people. I’d never done comedy, it was only my third job, and the other two had been period dramas. I thought “Well, I’m not funny!” I didn’t feel like that would ever be my thing. But I loved it. It took me four or five auditions to get the job. It was really hard work, and a completely different discipline to what I as used to. It’s a different type of concentration for comedy. It was pretty hard-core, but I loved it.

Your character is coming into a situation where she’s the new girl, and all the others know each other very well. Were you able to use that feeling in your performance?

Oh yes, man! In a massive way. Every day, especially at the beginning of filming. For the first five or six weeks. Not that anyone made me feel like the new girl, but I just felt like the new girl. I felt like Fresh Meat in every sense of the word. I totally used that feeling when I was filming.

Were you already a fan of the show before you were cast?

I was – that’s what made it even worse. I used to sit down with my girls and a bottle of wine and watch it, so when I first got there I felt like I’d just won a competition on the back of a Kellogg’s cereal box to go and get a tour around the set. I’d be in the living room in the studio and just think “What the hell am I doing here?” But it’s weird, you meet them all in real life and they’re all completely different to their characters. Like Zawe is nothing like Vod at all, she’s so sweet and lovely, and Vod is just a bit of a nutcase.

It looks great fun to film – a bunch of young people away filming a very funny show. Is it?

Yeah, it was great fun. The hours are ridiculous, but that is true of any job, to be honest. We shot so much every day, it was really hard. But it was hilarious as well, because it’s just all about being funny and daft. And Jack is such a comedian on and off set, he was an absolute clown. So yeah, it was loads of fun, definitely.

You were one of the leads in The White Queen. Do you get recognised a lot now?

Do you know what? Not so much. At the moment I look nothing like I did in The White Queen. It’s been pretty sound for me, I can just mooch about, it’s all good. But The White Queen was wicked, I was so lucky to be able to do that straight out of training.

You only graduated from drama school last year, since when you’ve had major roles in series on BBC, ITV and Channel 4. You must think this sort of thing just happens to everyone when they leave drama school.

I expected to just sit in my knickers for at least five years, just waiting for the bloody phone to ring. I don’t know, it’s just mad, man. It’s been absolute class.

What’s been the biggest surprise to you working on these TV shows?

I didn’t expect to ever do a period drama, speaking in RP [Received Pronunciation]. I had it rammed down my neck at drama school, so I could do it okay, but I just never expected to get a job like that. You just feel dead lucky. Doing The White Queen, knowing that I was a northern lass, was amazing. I’d always assumed I’d be playing Northern, working class characters, chain-smoking and pushing prams. You just never know in this game.

Do people get surprised if they meet you now, having seen you in The White Queen, and then you open your mouth?

Yeah, they’re like “Hang on! Where’s that accent come from?” They find that quite funny. But I’ve just found the whole experience amazing, I’m thrilled to have done the work I have, and I don’t take it lightly.

You won something called The Spotlight Prize last year. What’s that?

That is a competition, the 21 drama school that are affiliated send one student to this evening where you do a three-minute monologue and you have judges there (we had Amanda Redman and Rosamund Pike and Daniel Mays and so on). Everyione does three minutes, and there’s loads of free wine, which is always nice. And it’ full of agents and producers. And the judges vote on who they think should win the prize. And you win £2,000.

That must have been an amazing feeling, winning something like that.

It was weird. I remember phoning my pal just before I went on stage to do it and saying “You know what? I’m the weak link here, I need to run away.” It was a good job I didn’t run away.

Have you found the experience of filming each TV show very different?

Yeah, I would say so. Like I say, there are different types of concentration needed for different things. And luckily the things I have done so far have all been dead different, from period drama to comedy. I really like it that way, I think it would be quite boring if it was the same every time.

You’ve been doing a lot of TV over the last year. Does that leave you hankering after the stage?

Yeah, it has done. Although I feel like I wouldn’t know how to do it now, to be honest with you. I mean I would, I’m sure I’d be fine. The thing I’m doing at the moment, there’s a lot of wicked stage actors on it, as well as TV and film. And that’s just made me think how much I need to get on with that side of things.

Fresh Meat is obviously about students. Does it reflect your own student life at all?

It does. My house at University looked pretty much like that house, with shit everywhere. But I wasn’t like the character I’m playing in the series. I was probably more like Vod. Not as mental though. It was good fun to film, because you remember all the mint times you had with your pals when you were there. It was great to go back to that, if only for a little while. Not many of us get a chance to do that.

Series 3 of Fresh Meat continues on Channel 4, Mondays, 10pm