In Apple TV’s The Buccaneers, Imogen Waterhouse brings empathy and depth to her divisive yet dynamic character.
For Imogen Waterhouse, working in film is where she feels most at home. As an actress, she’s starred in roles in The Irregulars, acted and directed in The Outpost, and is now lacing up her corset as part of the cast in Apple TV’s period drama The Buccaneers. Waterhouse’s commitment to her craft is evident in every role she plays — ensuring every character has a thread that ties them to her — and her role in the new series is no different.
Exploring themes of womanhood, friendship, traditional and sterioutypical gender roles in London in the 1870s and much more, The Buccaneers is based on the unfinished novel by American novelist Edith Wharton, published posthumously in 1938. Waterhouse, who plays American Jinny St. George, brings a warmth to a character who, to put it lightly, ruffles a few feathers throughout the season. On the surface, she seems cutthroat and uncaring, doing whatever nescessary to achieve her goal — to marry a British Lord. And although she inevitably gets what she wanted, it’s much more than she wished for. Waterhouse had the task of showcasing Jinny’s complexities while she struggles under the thumb of a toxic and abusive man, and she does so with equal parts grace and grit.
Following the season two renewal news, 1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes sits down for a chat with Imogen Waterhouse to discuss The Buccaneers, her dream day off in London, and more.
Immy, when you think back to your childhood, do you remember the first fairytale or children’s story that, when you look back, really resonated with you and inspired you to step into this world of make-believe?
I was big fan of Pingu [laughs], but that was probably when I was way younger. I always loved The Little Princess, I’ve seen it so many times, more than any other film. I would just sob every single time.
I was obsessed with that movie growing up, replaying it constantly on the VHS player.
Yes! You just feel this girl’s sadness so deeply. I think that was the first thing that touched me really intensely and made me kind of enter the world of storytelling.
It’s a great portrayal of girlhood, I feel like not many people talk about it.
It’s really dark despite being a kid’s film. The director Alfonso Cuarón is incredible too, he’s done amazing stuff.
How would you describe the way you’ve grown as an actress between when you first started in 2015 to now?
In the past, for me as an actress, I think you can have a bad day and it throws you right off. I think I’ve become a lot more confident on set and feel confident to ask for directions or being able to voice what I’m thinking if I’m not feeling right about something. I think that’s something that comes with being on set a lot. I didn’t have that when I was younger, I would just do whatever I was told. So that’s a way that I’ve grown. It depends on the project, but how I work with material changes, too…
Does the way you approach your characters change every time depending on the project?
I think I just like learning how to ground the character and make it a part of me by giving them parts of myself. That way it doesn’t feel so distant — it feels as natural as possible. That’s something that works for me.
And you directed some episodes of The Outpost, what was that transition — being able to be on the other side of the camera — like for you?
It was crazy because I was in one of the episodes as well so I was literally doing both things. I think as an actor, part of your job is to show up and say your lines and just do it because everyone has stuff to do and we’re in a hurry. It was so nice for me to be able to have a bit more say and a bit more control of the way things played out and what they felt like and looked like. Working with actors is something I love doing, I know each actor is very different and approaching them all differently is something I learned from watching other directors work with them. Without sounding too cocky, it felt like quite a seamless transition to be honest. It felt right.
Are you interested in writing projects for yourself?
Yeah, for sure. I think it’s such a mad industry. And, to be honest, the only thing that keeps me sane is writing things that I can either create or be in or direct. Anything that keeps you flowing in a way is great. Wow, I love control apparently! [Laughs]
[Laughs] Maybe something to ponder after!
Yeah, maybe I’ll have to talk about that with someone! [Laughs] But I write quite a lot and I hope to make something come to life soon. It’s a weird long process to get it from the page to the screen, but I do think there is something to be said for making it happen.
Now, to discuss The Buccaneers, I want to ask what was it about Jinny that attracted you to the role?
I read it and saw that she has a lot of baggage and personal stuff she’s working through — or not working through. She just feels like this ticking time bomb of anxiety and insecurity, she has always been the one who has to keep up the standards and present herself in a certain way. Jinny is not immediately very likable as a character like the other girls. She’s the one in the friend group who is a little bit spicy, like, “You know we love her because we’ve been friends forever, but…”. She’s had to put up with a lot. She’s learning hard lessons and growing into womanhood but she’s still really young as well.
She’s a character with so much depth and her arc has so much nuance — she’s navigating so much, she more or less loses her voice to make space for such a toxic, powerful man. I was reading different Reddit threads of people who were initially frustrated with her now having more admiration for her. How has it been to see people’s reactions throughout the last few weeks as the season progressed?
It’s been interesting. Some people have been more forgiving, some people definitely haven’t forgiven me for my betrayal. That’s okay. In the show, we don’t actually see what goes on behind closed doors and we can only imagine just how horrible and nasty it is. I think when people are in relationships like that, you do get isolated from the people who love you. You believe the things your partner is saying. She believes everything James is saying because she’s young and vulnerable and malleable. She’s being manipulated. I think she’s numb and because she feels like he is now the only person who loves her, she feels more alone than ever. She thinks she will never find anyone else because she’s ruined all of her other relationships. There’s such immense pressure, especially in those days, to make marriage work. And she will do anything to make it work.
Yeah, despite this being a period drama, the more negative themes, like toxicity and patriarchy, and the positive ones, like female friendship, are still prevalent today. Did the timelessness of the show jump out at you immediately when reading the script?
Yeah, and I think, as you said, many of us have been younger and in relationships with older men and there is a power imbalance there. When you’re young, you almost look up to this person who you think is cool or makes you feel more of a grown-up or more of a woman because you’re dating them. I think all the themes, especially in toxic relationships, is apparent in relationships today, too.
What I love about this show is that, despite it being framed around marriage, it’s about sisterhood and female friendship. Nan’s love for Jinny transcends everything that happened as she helps her escape her abuser. How would you describe the way Jinny’s friendships with the other girls grow, change, and develop over the season?
They change I think. I think at the beginning, Jinny’s so goal-driven that she’s being selfish as we all are when we have a goal. She neglects a lot of her friendships because of it, she takes them for granted. Perhaps it’s because she knows they are there and it’s not until she’s completely isolated from them all that she realizes that.
Lizzie is constantly there for Jinny and Jinny has a competitiveness with her, too. The moment where Lizzy tells her what she’s experienced, Jinny knows that she is telling the truth but she can’t even begin to believe it because that means the whole foundation of everything that she knows is true. That, behind closed doors, she is with this monster and Lizzy telling her that is reconfirming it for her. She’s just really young, she’s learning and she’s growing. Girlhood to womanhood is a really complex time and I think a lot of people do stuff that they regret. We see that she’s lost her voice at the end of the season and it’s made her even more vulnerable and in need of her friends. The fact that they’re also there for her [in the finale] is special even though she’s let them down.
I have such a soft spot for her because watching Jinny reminded me of my late teens and early 20s, making mistakes and navigating the world which we all do. Was that how you tried to connect with her and her motives?
Imagine if we all didn’t make mistakes! When I approached her, I wanted to come from a place of empathy and understanding rather than making her bitchy. She feels really deeply and she feels unseen and unheard by her parents and all these things that have been building and building. Now this is meant to be her moment. I really tried to understand where she’s coming from even if she has tunnel vision. You’ve got to see where she’s coming from.
Yeah, you have to understand why she is the way she is. She’s the one that they want to marry off to get money — it’s a lot of pressure.
It is a lot of pressure. I think also she’s been carrying a lot. Her dad is kind of tacky, and her parent’s relationship is not what she wants — seeing her mom get overlooked. She doesn’t want that, she wants to find a different man who’s not like her father. Then she’s living with the secret she knows about Nan. There’s a lot that I think has just been bottled up.
What was on your Jinny playlist to get into her head?
The perk of having my phone here is I can check! It’s a lot of sad stuff, there’s a song by The Shangri-Las called “I Could Never Go Home Anymore” and I’d listen to it a lot. Lots of Cat Power and Joni Mitchell, too.
Basically a sad girl playlist.
Pretty much! [Laughs]
One of my favourite scenes is when Nan declares “I love you, and I will choose you every time,” to Jinny in the season finale. When you look back on filming, is there a specific scene that sticks out in your mind?
I really enjoyed the scene when we’re walking to the church and all the girls are in the front and I’m behind just watching them serve! It was such a nice scene because I’m not reunited with them for a while, we are apart for a lot of the season. I’m ostracized from that. But in that scene, we’re all walking together and it was quite epic.
Knowing what you know about Jinny’s character arc, what advice would you give to her from you?
If I sat down with Jinny, I’d tell her to take the pressure off. I’d tell her not to worry so much about the future and enjoy the present. Try to keep your voice and stop comparing yourself to everyone because you’re your own person.
Now, if you had a free day in London, what would you do? What are some of your favourite places?
If it was a sunny day, which it rarely is, I would get the overground to the Heath and go for a swim in the woman’s pond. I’d go get a little coffee in the surrounding area and then… What else would I do? I work too much! [Laughs] Maybe go get lunch somewhere and then maybe in the evening, I try and watch a show and maybe go to the theatre.
Lastly, if you could manifest something for yourself in 2024, what would it be?
I want to make this film that I’ve been working on, I’m excited to see where it goes.
The Buccaneers is streaming now on Apple TV.