In Netflix’s Persuasion, Edward Bluemel adds depth and charm to a fresh take on the beloved character of Captain Harville.
To say Edward Bluemel has a good head on his shoulders feels like an understatement. The British actor is not only immensely charming, open, and funny, but also thoughtful, wise, and honest. In between quippy antidotes, he spoke about his characters, both past, and present, in a way that felt as if he were talking about his friends. Among other things, his talent has brought him into the mainstream as, Maeve Wiley’s smarmy brother in Netflix’s electric hit Sex Education, an 80’s loving vampire in Sky1’s A Discovery of Witches, assassin hunter, Hugo, in BBC’s Killing Eve. His latest foray onto the screen is in Netflix’s Persuasion, an adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel by the same name.
Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot and her missed opportunity to marry Captain Fredrick Wentworth. When she finds the one that got away back in her life, Anne must decide if it is better to put the past behind her or believe in second chances. The streaming giant’s adaptation of the romancing tale is a highly original take. In a world already rife with online arguments over which Pride and Prejudice adaptation is best, those looking for a word-for-word retelling may find that the new film is not their cup of tea.
Yet, it captures the heart and wit of the original story in a way that is sure to appeal to modern audiences of all backgrounds and ages. In the newest version, Bluemel dons the character of Captain Harville, an easy-going sailor, who despite suffering great loss does all within his power to ensure the happiness of those he cares for. Edward expertly breathes life into a character who is simultaneously the life of the party, the voice of reason, and the joyfully scheming best friend.
Ahead of Persuasion‘s release, Edward Bluemel spoke with 1883’s Sydney Bolen about the fun to be found in Jane Austen adaptations, which on-screen character he’d like to take to the stage, his outlook on dream roles, and more.
I’m so excited for everyone to see Persuasion. I absolutely loved it! It’s a very unique film in approach to the material. What originally attracted you to the script?
I think Jane Austen is cool. Plus, my mom has always been a Jane Austen fan. So, when something like this comes my way, I’m like, “Hey, do it for mom.” On a personal level, I think that her novels tell some really funny, very honest stories that, though some people might think of them as archaic or stuffy, have the potential to be great rom-coms because that is what they are. They’ve been remade so many times that it’s a fun challenge for a director, writers, and actors alike to find new ways to approach the material to see if we can bring new audiences into the world of Jane Austen. She’s such a cultural cornerstone in the UK. I do believe it is important to keep these stories alive. As time goes on, we have to break some rules in the adaptations. Some Jane Austen heads might be like, “oh, this isn’t how it was supposed to be.” or “that’s not how the character was originally written.”
But I think that’s all part of it. If you want to watch a direct retelling, there is a film 20 years ago, that’s exactly how the novel was written. There’s another from 15 years before that, that’s also how it was written. I think it’s really fun to take the source material and not be too loyal to it. That’s where the fun is. Jane Austen has brilliantly written, amazing stories that have so much detail. There are loads of opportunities to have fun with it. What originally drew me to the script was that it was fun. I auditioned for pretty much every male character. I was like, “Hey, if there’s any part going, I’ll do it.”
I love that. I’m a big Jane Austen fan. You said your mom was a big fan — so is mine. She and I listened to the audiobook of Pride and Prejudice together when I was around 15.
So many people know Jane Austen. I think you can get surprised by people suddenly being like, “oh, I love either the book or a certain film from the 90s, or some other adaptation.” There are a lot of people for whom Jane Austen is a hugely important part of their lives. I studied Northanger Abbey when I was 16. My mom was always pissed off. She was always like, “why Northanger Abbey? Why don’t they make you study Pride and Prejudice or Emma or Persuasion.” It’s interesting to see how many people have been deeply impacted by these stories in some way or another. It’s quite lovely.
There’s a reason why we’re still making Jane Austen adaptations today.
I like how everyone has a loyalty to a certain one as well. Some people love the Keira Knightley/ Matthew MacFadyen Pride and Prejudice, but my mom won’t go near it because she’s a diehard Colin Firth fan, which is really funny. I enjoy that a lot.
Tell her I said, “me too.” If we’re talking all adaptations, my favourite is Bridget Jones since it’s loosely Pride and Prejudice.
There’s loads of stuff like that. Clueless is Emma. The stories are timeless rom-coms. You can pull so much fun stuff out of them.
I’ve watched it a few times now, but after I finished it for the first time my first thought was “I need this creative team to adapt every classic novel.” So I was wondering, is there a book you would like to see made in this style?
Oh my gosh, that’s such a good question. I’m not sure it would work in this style, but the book that I would like to see adapted for the screen is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s one of the most amazing books.
I have not read it, but I have heard about it.
It’s so brilliant. I remember after I read it, I was looking it up and thinking, “why is no one made this?” Someone’s had the rights for ages, since the ’80s or ’90s. I think they tried to make it and then gave up halfway through. The pressure was just too high. In the world we now live in, I think it’d be the perfect mini-series. I think if somebody adapted it well, it would just be the most amazing series ever. That would be my choice.
Captain Harville is very much a driving force to the eventual conclusion of the story. One of the things he says is “what is meant for one will find one.” Would you say you believe in this sentiment?
I think it’s a very nice thing to say when people need to hear it. I don’t know if it’s 100% true. The sentiment itself alleviates responsibility. I think it’s a nice thing to believe, but I wouldn’t hang on to it myself. You’ve got to make your own luck. Harville knows Wentworth well. Plus, he’s a bit cheeky. What I like about him is that he’s sneaky. He’s a very quiet tiny puppet master who is trying to edge Anne in Wentworth’s direction with that advice. I think that attitude is useful at times, but you can’t hang your whole life on it just waiting for things to happen. They might not happen. I think Harville knows that as well. For a small character, he’s had a really big life at sea. Even though he is young in our version, he does have wisdom beyond his years. Generally, he is depicted in his late 30s or early 40s. But, I was really happy they took a chance in casting me and making him a younger man who is quite happy-go-lucky but has been forced to grow up fast. As far as small parts go, it was a really fun role because he has a very obvious game plan in a very caring way. He just wants his friend to be happy.
I really like him in this version. I think he works well with this Anne as well. I think if he were older, and how he typically is, she might not have given him the time of day.
Yeah, I think it changes the scene. It’s not an older man talking down to a woman. Instead, it becomes a conversation between people who are very much on the same level and would be in the same social group talking as equals and as friends. The scenes were written beautifully. They are very gentle and jovial. It’s very clear that Anne and Harville connect very quickly and have a mutual understanding.
If you could give him Harville one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell them to invite fewer people around for dinner. [laughs] That dinner scene was crammed. He’s got a tiny little house, so we filmed in this tiny room. It was crammed. It created a very lovely environment. But, I was just acting and I felt the stress of trying to do the scene. I don’t know how much has made the cut but there are lots of bits serving out food and Mrs. Harville pouring the wine while also trying to get lines out. It was a lot. So I’d tell him that he doesn’t always have to be the social butterfly. Keep some time for yourself. Spend some time with Mrs. Harville and just relax.
You’ve done theatre work in the past. I’ve read that you enjoy the live audience aspect of it. If you could take one of your on-screen roles and translate it to the stage, which one would you pick and why?
I think I’d like to do Sean Wiley from Sex Education on stage. I think that would be fun. Onstage you get the freedom to be bigger and bolder. You’re not worrying so much about the tiny things. It’s more about presenting a whole character. I think he would be a character that would lend themselves well to the stage. He would fit into one of those amazing plays like Jerusalem because he’s a good-for-nothing almost con man. It would be fun to expand him a bit and make him more outrageous. That’s a good question.
I would also be tempted to say my character from Killing Eve, Hugo. But he came from a character I played on stage. I played a salacious office intern in a play called Touch which was produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The producers of Killing Eve came to see that and already had that type of role in their heads, so when they saw me do it, they were like, “oh, this is something that could work.” So, that one’s already gone in the other direction.
I was reading your interview with Fabric and one of the things you talked about is how one of the challenges of being an actor is learning how to exist when you are not acting and knowing how to find peace in that and not feel like you are wasting time. As someone who constantly feels like time is being wasted if I’m not actively pursuing the things that I want to do whether that’s career-wise or personally, I was wondering what some solutions you’ve found are, if any?
For me, it’s about changing the way that I look at certain things that the world has convinced me to think of as a waste of time and redefining what it means to be productive. There’s a load of judgment that comes with so many things that people do when they’re not doing anything. Maybe it’s sitting down and watching TV for a few hours. The world may see that as really unproductive, but there have been so many times watching TV has inspired me to write something or inspired something to do with acting, or kicked me up the ass like, “fuck. I want to be in something like this.” I’ve learned to find those types of things in activities that I might have originally perceived to be lazy. Anything that clears my head and gets my brain moving, I have taught myself to think of as productive.
I think it’s really important to not be snobby about certain activities. If you’re enjoying yourself doing something, then it’s not a waste of time. In amongst that, I try to keep fit and I exercise and try to find hobbies or learn things. But it’s important to not put pressure on it. Don’t wake up in the morning and think, “okay, I’ve got to go to the gym. I’ve got to do a walk. Then I’ve got to read some scripts before I go to yoga. If I haven’t done that at the end of the day, it’s all a failure.” You can’t keep up with that. I’ve found being gentle with myself and allowing myself that time to rest is incredibly helpful.
Maybe I need to stop with my morning checklists and see if that helps.
Sometimes checklists are good. What I find hard is when there is nothing I need to do. That’s when I’m tested. I’ll know at the end of the day if I’ve succeeded or not. Sometimes at the end of the day, I’ll feel a bit sluggish and shit. Sometimes at the end of the day, I’ll feel energized and happy. Sometimes those days can look really similar on paper, but for some reason, you end one day feeling good and one day feeling bad. I think a lot of it is just about mindset and releasing the preconceptions of what is a good or bad way to spend time.
Another thing you talked about in that interview is how you are at a point in your career where you are just happy to be working and that you take pretty much any role that you’re offered if you can. Are there any roles you are particularly on the lookout for or any “dream roles” you have an eye out for?
No, not really. I really am up for anything. When it comes to being an actor my mantra is: you just don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t know what parts are gonna be written. I don’t know what parts are gonna come along. I definitely don’t know which parts I’m going to get. So I try to not think about specific parts I’d love to play because the odds are astronomically small for a) that part to come along and b) that if it did, I would be the one that gets it. I’ve found that if I fixate on something, it just hurts more when it doesn’t happen. I’m in an industry that is constantly battering your ego. It’s a constant game to figure out how not to hurt yourself.
For me, staying clear of preconceptions of what I want my career to be and what I want to be playing has been very freeing and has helped a lot. Obviously, sometimes I might see something on TV and be like, “oh, I’d love to play a part like that.” But then it doesn’t come up or if it does come up, I don’t get it. On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes I’ll end up getting a part that I never would’ve thought of. And it’s really fucking fun. Like I said, in the other interview, I audition for as much as I can. If I get something, then I will seriously consider it to see if it’s something that I would enjoy. A lot of the time I will do it because I just want to work, see if I can bring my all to the part, and what I can make out of it.
When I was perusing your social media to prepare for this interview, I noticed your playlist highlight: Mixtapes For Your Mom. That’s such a fun thing to do. What tends to make you curate a new one?
I used to do it once a month. It was the third Sunday of every month for like four, five months. I stopped doing that. Now, it tends to just be when I have a playlist-worthy amount of songs to share since I made the last one. There’s not a theme to them, but there are certain things that go on them and certain things I wouldn’t put on them. It tends to be a couple of songs that people know, but I try to put a lot of songs that people might not have listened to that I have somehow come across. I don’t claim to be a musical genius. It’s generally just what my fucking algorithm gives me. It’s fun. There’s something humbling about putting playlists online because nobody listens to them.
But there’s something also quite freeing about that. Generally, a few people will come out of the woodwork and message me that they’ve put one on while cooking Sunday dinner. It’s always on a Sunday. That’s the thing.[chuckles] It’s really lovely when that happens. That’s all I need. A few people have discovered artists from it. I also have known people who are musicians and I’ve put them on my playlist. It’s really fun to sneak them in. Once I got a message from a girl like, “oh my God, this was my favorite song!” I was like, “ha! Got ‘em. Now you’re a fan.” I love music. I’m a big playlist maker.
Do you make playlists for your characters then?
I have in the past. I don’t do it that often. It’s definitely something that I think is useful and sometimes I’m like, “oh fuck, I should do that. But weirdly it hasn’t occurred to me that much. I always want to know what the soundtrack might be like for something that I’m in. Generally, they can’t tell me because they work it out afterward. But, I read a script recently that had all the songs that they wanted in the script. So I was listening to the songs as I was reading it. That was fun. But, character playlists, I have done before. I did it for Discovery of Witches because my character was a vampire who loved eighties music. That was helpful to get into that world. I know actors that every character they play has a big playlist and they listen to it on set. But, I don’t do it that often.
Finally, to bring everything back to Persuasion, if your life was a period piece, which stereotypical role do you think you would fit into?
Quite offensively, my mom used to always be like, “oh Edward, if they do another Pride and Prejudice, you’d be an amazing Wickham. You’re made for Wickham.
I know. He’s such a cunt. I’ve always been like, “I guess that’s nice.” But it does sort of work in the fact that I’ve often played Wickham-type characters. I find them fun. In my life, I’ve maybe had some light Wickham moments, but never quite a full Wickham. He truly is terrible. But, he represents the Austenian fuck boy as a concept. Perhaps in my lifetimes gone by, I have resembled that character from time to time. In the end, I’m gonna go with my mom. I’ll say I’m a Wickham. I’m gonna own it because if I didn’t own it, then I would get depressed about it.
Persuasion is out now on Netflix.