Bethany Antonia radiates the kind of bubbly effervescence that, when experienced in real time, is as magnetic as her big screen personas.
Her on-the-button enthusiasm is equally captivating when she’s recounting childhood mischief as it is when she’s unzipping the idiosyncratic natures of the characters she’s portrayed. And that’s just one of Bethany’s fetching facets— she’s naturally engaging in a way that makes you want to invite her over for crumpets and a chat.
Having already starred in the hit Netflix series Get Even (2020), PIN CUSHION (2017), and STATH LETS FLATS for E4, the Birmingham native is deliciously down-to-earth, and ready to swap vegan recipes with you at the drop of a hat. At the time of our conversation, it’s one week before Christmas and she’s gushing with excitement about tree shopping with her mom and the nut-roast that she’s preparing for her family’s holiday feast.
Adding to her exhilaration is that she’s set to star alongside Cush Jumbo, Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt in Netflix’s suspenseful series STAY CLOSE. Multi layered and packed with surprises, the storyline pivots on three characters whose dark secrets of the past threaten to debunk the comfort and stability of their now pristine, picture-perfect lives. Haunting and gripping, the series is guaranteed to keep viewers at the edge of their seats. Just in time for the show’s release, 1883 sat down with Bethany Antonia to unpack the psychology behind the new Netflix thriller, her unrelenting pursuit of claiming her seat at the industry’s table, and the quirky path to perfecting her American-accented English.
What an exciting holiday season this is for you, Bethany Antonia. Are you home for the holidays?
I’ve just got home for Christmas…from working in London. I live in Birmingham, so I’m going to spend the holidays with the family in Birmingham.
Do tell what were you filming in London…
Actually, I shouldn’t have even said that, because I’m not allowed to talk about it. [Laughter]. Just a little project that I can’t talk about yet.
A little project, or a big secret?
Big secret. [Laughter]. I got home yesterday, and I don’t even have a tree yet. This is the most unprepared I’ve been for Christmas.
Well, speaking of big secrets, I’ve recently watched Get Even, the Netflix series in which you costar. I’m curious, how did you prepare to play the role of a tech savvy American-accented school girl?
So we had quite a lot of time before we started on Get Even…I just spent my days speaking with an American accent everywhere I went to, everyone I spoke to…Every conversation at home was American [accented]. And I just tried to get into the head of Margot Rivers, and hope that it paid off.
Did you watch any American television, or newscasters to pick up on the inflections, or tonalities? We stress certain words— for instance, when Americans ask questions, you can see the question marks, whereas for British English, you can hear the question mark. So how did you come to nail that?
I think we grew up with American television— I grew up with American television. Now there’s a lot more British drama that we can watch and have access to, but when I was growing up it was American tv that we watched, and American films…And I hope that I just kind of had that in me, and when the show came along I just had to perfect it. But you watched it, so you tell me?
I think you were great, and totally believable…In the U.S. it’s a thing now where little children are speaking with British accents because of British tv shows…but is it the reverse in the UK— on trend to speak like an American?
Actually, no…I don’t remember any American kids shows…but definitely programs that your parents are watching, or older friends and siblings…Fresh Prince is always on, so you’re going to impersonate those people— I wanted to be ‘Ashley’ from Fresh Prince. So we would speak—as kids— in American accents to each other. And in school, in drama, we would always do American accents, and that was the thing. And we grew up withHigh School Musical— and that was the thing when I was eleven, twelve, thirteen. From that, it was like game over! If you want to be an actor, you have to be able to do an American accent.
The series, Get Even, is based off of the book by Gretchen McNeil. Did Gretchen coach you all—as far as character -isms on set?
No…they were so specifically written…there were eighteen different characters, and they hadn’t been that altered that much from the book. She wasn’t on the production team, at all…But this was her baby, her book, her love child. So she was just there if we wanted any tips, or any guidance. And her being American was the reason that I reached out in the first instance…And she was so brilliant and involved, and when the show came out, she was so hands-on and excited about the project, which was really cool.
Whenever I watch shows/dramas centered around high school, it feels like I’m watching an interesting anthropological experiment play itself out. How was it for you—as an adult now, just a few years out—to revisit the high school experience?
It was so strange. So I was 21 when we did Get Even…so I’d been out of school 3 or 4 years. I think specifically, since I was playing Margot, who was having a terrible time in high school, it was really strange stepping back into that world. My high school experience wasn’t like that— I really liked school and had quite a nice time…It was nothing like the extent of Margot’s time at school. So I actually found it really hard, and sad to step into that world because I know that it is like for a lot of people. And part of the dynamic in filming was that we were all there….For most tv shows, you’ll do four days of filming, and then you’ll have four days off…but because most of the scenes were school scenes— canteen scenes, or school assemblies— it meant that every actor was in [on set] every day… So for the whole three months, we were all pretty much in, so that made it feel more like school as well…We were all living together in one hotel in the middle of nowhere, so we were all living, and boarding and breathing this high school experience. And the second you put adults in school uniforms, they reverted back to teenagers in school.
I believe that…You know, I read that you and your family moved from the UK to France when you were 6 years old, till the time you were 11— when you moved back to the UK. How did this experience shape your socialization?
It was completely surreal. For context, when I say we moved to France, we didn’t move to urban, diverse Paris. We moved to the South of France, where there was no one who looked like me, in a tiny village called Sablon Sur…It was such a whim…Looking back now, I am so grateful for the experience, it was so formative for me…We moved to an area where nobody spoke English, and there wasn’t a brown person in sight, and I just had to get on with it, at six [years old]…You have to learn the language, or don’t speak to anyone. And it just gave me skills for life, and taught me to adapt in any situation— especially in this industry, where you’re constantly meeting new people, constantly working with different crew members and actors from different walks of life. I think if you can adapt in France, you can adapt anywhere. [Laughter]…But I really believe that it is the reason that I am an actor— because where we lived in France, and French school culture… it’s like “let’s go into the woods and make a play”, or “let’s go into the forest, and find what we can find, and come back and paint it”…It’s so creative-minded…especially when you’re a kid, they really don’t care about academics— they want you to be a well-rounded human.
Sounds like the experience really cultivated your creativity?
Yeah, it did. And I came back at eleven, and went into the British school system, which is like— seven sessions a day…exam every week. And I’m like, “where’s the theatre?!”.
Yeah, where’s the drama?! One of my favorite scenes in Get Even is when your character, Margot, stands up to her bully, Amber, and reclaims her seat at the lunch table. When was the last time you had to confront an insecurity, or claim your seat at the table?
I think, generally, just being in this industry that I’m in, I have to claim my seat at the table every day. Just choosing to show up is me choosing to claim my seat at the table…And every day where I think five steps forward, I’m reminded of something that’s pushing me back, and I have to just choose to be here. And I think having the confidence to just enter a room on a daily basis is me claiming my seat at the table.
I love that answer— it’s inspiring, and empowering…So let’s talk about you and your role in the upcoming thriller, Stay Close.
The show is basically a thriller series that follows four people that are living really comfortable lives, and we think that everything is fine and then we find out that they’re all concealing really dark pasts…It’s a question of how well do we really know the people that we’re living with, how well do we know those that are around us, and how good people are at concealing the things that are really inside of them. One of the people we follow is Megan, a suburban mother of three, and I play her eldest daughter Kayleigh, who starts to spot little cracks in her mom that give her the impression that not everything is as it seems. And she takes it upon herself to go on an investigation and find out what secrets her mom is hiding. And she gets involved in a world that most sixteen year olds should not be involved in.
Were you that precocious when you were sixteen years old?
Absolutely not. No. Kaleigh’s so cool. [Laughter].
Well, you mentioned that you don’t have very much in common with Margot, in Get Even; but in what ways do you relate to Kayleigh’s layers, your character in Stay Close?
Actually, in the beginning, I thought that I had nothing in common with this girl. She’s so cool, and that’s what I wanted to be when I was sixteen…And by the end, I realized that I had a lot in common with her: she’s so stubborn, and so caring about the people around her. And the whole time, her intentions are to keep this family together and the idea of anything going astray is too much for her, and she realizes by the end that she’s taken this family unit for granted. And what started out as an adventure— “oh, I’m just going to spy on my mum, and see what she’s doing”— actually turns into, “I need to make sure that the unit stays around me because this is all I have and this is the reason why I am who I am”…She’s a great leader, she has amazing qualities, and is just trying to do the best for people, and yet she’s just so silly, and does silly things.
Like a sixteen year old. When you first read the script, did you see the whole script, to know how everything plays out, or did you learn everything step by step along the way how it all unravels?
I learned step-by-step, along the way, which is such an interesting way of working because this is a thriller, and so much the show is set in flashbacks, and then flash forwards, and then times before the characters are even born…So the same way that the audience gets to follow this journey, is the same way that we as actors got to follow this journey. We were shooting in blocks at a time, and getting scripts for those blocks. So when I started, I episodes one and two, and had no idea of the journey that Kayleigh would go on.
So you had no idea of what episodes 6, 7, and 8 were like?
No…I had episodes one and two, of eight. I had the surface level…So to watch this character peel the layers back as we went was so much fun. And we shot for a really long time— it was a six month shoot. So it really did feel like getting to now someone in the six months.
Was this your first thriller?
What would you say surprised you most in taking on this thriller-type role?
What took me the most by surprise was how invested as an actor—despite the fact that you are the actor [acting] in these scenes— how invested in them you still become. I love watching thrillers, and they really consume me. But you assume that when you’re in them, and you have the words, that you’re just going to treat it as a job. No, no, no, no— you get just as hooked! I was so excited to go to the read throughs to find out what would happen, let alone to find out what I [my character] would be doing. What took me by surprise was how excited you become, like, “Wow! What am I going to say?”, because that means what this character is going to go through.
So you’re pretty much at the edge of your seat with us, as far as happenings in episode 8?
Now I’m definitely looking forward to it. Any upcoming film projects on the horizon that include having an American accent?
Not on the cards right now, but hopefully soon. [Laughter].
We’ve gotten to see you in comedy, drama, and now a thriller. What would you count as your favorite genre to act in?
Out of the three you’ve mentioned, definitely thrillers. I think it’s a whole new level of out-of-body actor/character experience that I just love so much. And also fantasy— I’m doing a fantasy show right now.
What do you hope fans will take away from Stay Close?
I hope that they take away that you never really know the people around you, and don’t take what you get from someone on face value as who they are because people have a thousand different versions of themselves that they can present and switch and flip at any moment. And everyone around you is going through an internal struggle, and they are dealing with things that you couldn’t possibly imagine….These characters are relatable, and it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a glossy television drama. I think these people feel really real, and that’s why I’m excited for people to watch.
Stay Close is on Netflix
Interview Constance Victory
Photography (1&3) Michael Shelford