“Once the show comes out the imposter syndrome will go down a bit… I think, I don’t know.” Isabella Pappas tells me, describing the wait until her latest venture, ITV’s Finding Alice, airs on Sunday 17th January.
Talking over the phone, there is an excitement in the breakout star as she discusses working on a production that is not only her first foray into television but her first time working with such a star-studded cast of national treasures including Keeley Hawes, Joanna Lumley and Nigel Havers, to name a few. Furthermore, it signifies the hard work that Pappas has put into her career that she can now include herself in a production full of actors and actresses who she’s looked up to for so long.
Playing the character of Charlotte in the black comedy, which focuses on the death of the aforementioned character’s father, Pappas puts her skills to the test as she diverges from the over-played stereotype of an emotional teenager. Rather than slamming doors to blast loud music or committing petty acts of vandalism as a cry for help, Charlotte is a subdued character who serves as a crucial support system for her very emotional mother, played by Keeley Hawes.
It’s for one of these reasons that Pappas is excited to see the role on screen, to break away from stereotypes and give life to a character that is simply a person figuring things out the best way she can, like any teenager today.
Due to your mom’s career as an autism specialist, you lived in Italy and Japan until arriving in London. How has this experience living in multiple countries informed you?
Well I think it informed me a lot actually, it helped me become more appreciative of different cultures. I think it definitely influenced my fashion sense a lot because growing up in Japan, seeing all the Harujuku girls and taking in elements from that, I’ve always been interested in fashion especially how it informs a character so that was very helpful. In Italy I did opera, so the costumes for that were amazing and then I was in the ballet in Japan – they’re so different but so alike in other ways, they really embrace the dramatics of the arts. It’s really interesting growing up in those places, in Italy I grew up surrounded by my big Italian family and in Japan I was sort of in a new environment and had to meet new people and make new friendships. That helped coming to London…it was good that I had that skill already from Japan in terms of being able to put myself out there because I didn’t know anyone [in London].
It definitely did help me with gaining confidence, but confidence is always something complicated for me because I’m either quite confident or quite insecure. But performing has definitely helped me come out of my shell as a person so I’m really grateful that I get to be in a career where I get to express myself and grow personally, not just in my career.
You began your career at around 11. What was it that drew you to this career path?
Growing up, I always would put on shows for my family in the kitchen. For my ninth birthday I asked as a present to go on a theatre course over Easter in London. I did a course at Sylvia Young and then…I was called into their office and was asked to sing and then offered a place, which was a big surprise! I think it’s quite an odd thing to do when you’re 10, but I knew when I was offered the opportunity – to move to London and change my life, and my family’s life – in that moment I knew that this is what I wanted to do and I was willing to move from my hometown [in Italy].
It was definitely in the moments of rejection that I knew how badly I wanted this and I think that’s the deciding moment for a lot of people. I think rejection is so important because it gives you a thicker skin so when you need to take direction it becomes easier because you’ve already had the experience of being told you weren’t right for it.
You were included in the I Talk Telly list, TV Stars of Tomorrow. What what is it like to know you were included in this list?
It was insane! I didn’t really expect it, it’s a really weird experience seeing your name in a bunch of papers and seeing your face on the cover of a magazine. It’s oddly quite a humbling experience because, personally, I have a bit of imposter syndrome where I feel like this is happening to someone else! But at the same time, I can kind of ground myself in that in thinking ‘well it wasn’t a smooth road to here’ – this wasn’t my first audition and I just got the part. It was recalls and recalls and learning loads of scripts and lots of waiting for the job so I think that it’s exciting and I feel very thankful. I feel thankful for getting the part and being included in the different magazines, being interviewed by you, these are all things that I never thought would happen to me. It’s just a huge privilege.
How did this affect the trajectory of your career? What effect did this spotlight have?
It’s really interesting, I feel very lucky because since getting Finding Alice. Since filming that, I’ve had a lot of different auditions that I wouldn’t have really been put up for before, that are now considering me – which is amazing but also very scary. I’m going up against huge people that are actresses that I worship and I would never imagine being put up against, it’s just so exciting! I know that’s kind of the boring response but also, it’s great, it makes you think and replay those moments when I was younger and I thought I should just quit and now I look back on that and think how silly that was! There are so many amazing actors who didn’t start until they were 30 like Olivia Coleman, it comes at different times and that’s kind of part of it, you just have to trust the process.
What drew you to the character of Charlotte in Finding Alice and how did you prepare for the role?
It’s quite shocking in the sense that when you normally write a teenage character who is experiencing grief they’re normally, from what I’ve seen as a teenager, quite emotional. What drew me to the character is that she’s not overly emotional, she’s quite the opposite she has the least emotional reaction out of anyone in the show, except maybe her grandma. She and her grandmother are strikingly similar and I think it’s quite fun to play with this personality trait that has skipped a generation, because her mother is nothing like that. Charlotte also plays a maternal role in her relationship between her and her mother and while that seems strange, once you see it in action you realise it’s so common. She’s not the teenage stereotype, we’ve moved past that, she has depth and emotion because she’s a normal person and that’s what I really love about her.
My dad has a job where he’s away a lot so my mum and I live as just us two. So it was interesting reading the script whilst being a mother and daughter in this way, depicting the challenges but also the upsides that it brings – you’re so close but also kind of blurring the lines between having a sibling but also having a mum and a best friend.
Though Finding Alice tackles serious subject matter, there’s a comedic tone to the production. Do you think comedy allows us to process and relate to grief on a deeper level?
I think that comedy and grief go hand in hand because, especially nowadays, it’s the main kind of coping mechanism. It’s interesting that the show has been released because when we first started, Covid-19 hadn’t happened and then we had to break and then we came back. When we came back we were filming the last few episodes and it’s interesting, to me, to see this shift to a place where we all have a much better understanding of what grief is and it has really informed the storyline of the show. It’s coming at a good time and for me, definitely, it really does help. It’s laughing at a thing you shouldn’t be laughing at but that’s where you find the humour most of the time.
In Finding Alice you work alongside a star-studded cast including Joanna Lumley, Nigel Havers and Keeley Hawes, the latter of which produced the show, What was it like working with all these impressive actors, did they give you any memorable advice?
It’s crazy! I went into the show not knowing that much about TV because I predominantly worked on stage so every day I went on to set I gained so much information. It was more like a family than a cast and I know everyone says that…but this cast felt like a genuine family. That came from the fact we were spending so much time together but on the first day of filming, I found it was mind-blowing that I was working with all these talented people. I’m still kind of in shock, it’s kind of crazy that I can just write to them whenever I want to – talking about normal things!
One thing that Keeley [Hawes] really helped me understand and also set an amazing example of is to be a considerate actor. Being a considerate actor is so important, knowing that you should give your all, even if you’re not in the shot, because it helps someone else with their performance is so important, and it’s such a valid thing. What separates good actors from great actors is their consideration for everything, that’s what made it so amazing to work with these amazing people.
During filming of Finding Alice you also studied for your A-levels. How did you manage the stress of A-levels whilst filming? Did filming the drama help you focus?
I talked to Sharon Rooney (who plays Nicola) a lot because she’s kind of like my sister, I asked her about what I would write for my final piece for my English Literature course. We were filming the funeral scene and I would be talking to people offset especially Sharon, you get to switch it off as soon as the cameras turn off. It was a great experience and looking back I think it definitely did take away from the A-level stress, especially when you’re doing a drama A-level at the same time as doing a TV drama, it’s very helpful. If I needed to know things about lighting or set design, I would just go to the lighting crew and ask them for tips! I feel like I learned so much on that series it was kind of like school itself.
You have a lot of fun with your social media, particularly Instagram, posting photos where there’s two of you and cool edited clips. How important is it to have fun with social media and communicate with your fans?
I think it’s so important. I’ve met so many people, especially since Finding Alice was announced, I’ve gotten so many messages from so many different people and aspiring actors. It’s just amazing, sometimes I think ‘Why are you messaging me, I don’t know anything!” but then I think ‘You know what? I can give you the small facts that I know’. When I was starting out I was too nervous to message anyone on Instagram because I don’t think it was as accessible then as it is now.
It’s really important to have fun with social media because if you take it too seriously it then consumes your life. It’s a professional platform but also a place to show great art, things you love and your hobbies, I don’t only post work things I post silly things and have fun making them. Rather than something that controls you…you have to let Instagram be a creative outlet. I promised myself to never be someone who’s obsessing about social media or Instagram because once you do – Instagram doesn’t become fun anymore it becomes this sort of tool that’s taking over your life. It can be amazing when used in the right way.
If you could work with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Can I give two answers? In terms of writing – Martin McDonagh because he wrote one of my favourite plays but also one of my favourite films! He wrote The Pillowman and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Actor-wise, I would want to work with Hunter Schafer, she plays Jules in Euphoria, I think she’s so amazing, especially her Instagram! She’s an amazing actress but also an artist and a creator and she makes clothing. It’s so inspiring to see someone who pushes every kind of interest that they have. I think especially her performance alongside Zendeya was just beautiful, it was a love story that I hadn’t seen before, I think it’s so important to have transgender representation as well because that was something I never saw growing up and I have a few friends who are trans and I know how much it means to see things like that. I think TV is doing a good job at being more inclusive because that’s what the world is really like.
What’s something on your bucket list?
I would love to have one of the plays that I have written put on somewhere that would be a dream of mine. I’m writing two at the moment, I’m wiring one with my friend Alistair Hendry about what it means to have an adoptive family that you find within friends and then I’m writing another one with my friend Zoe Brough which is about what it means to be a young woman growing up in central London and navigating all of the different elements that come into your life, there’s so many interesting things that are so specific to where we are so I thought it would interesting to write a play. It deals with consent, age and what it means to be young and the pressure that comes with that. It would be really lovely to see them performed somewhere.
Finding Alice will TX on Sunday 17th January on ITV at 9pm for six weeks. The full series will be available on ITV Hub and Britbox.
Interview Eleanor Forrest
Photography Jack Lee
Styling Gaeul Oh
Make Up Maria Gomez