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Thaddea Graham

From hurtling through time in Doctor Who to trying to survive the night in BBC Three’s new horror-comedy Wreck, Actress Thaddea Graham brings authenticity and care to every role she embraces.

In a world that can forget to be kind, Thaddea Graham exudes positivity and passion that’s rare; her down to Earth nature makes one feel immediately at ease.  While speaking with her, you can’t help but feel as if you’re catching up with an old friend over a cup of tea.  She’s quick to laugh and tell a story, emanating a warmth that bleeds through in stark contrast to an industry that is notoriously tough. 

It’s hard not to be dazzled.

Hailing from the shores of Northern Ireland, she credits her parents, teachers, and the kindness of strangers for helping her get to where she is today.  Already making waves as Bea in The Irregulars, Bel in Doctor Who, and now Vivian in BBC Three’s new horror-comedy Wreck the actress is quickly racking up acting credits – and you can see why.  There’s an excitement and energy she brings to every role that’s infectious.  Her passion for storytelling is evident; whether it’s through the characters she plays or the music she writes.  She takes care to craft something memorable for the audience.  A rising star in her own right, she’s a talent to look out for.

In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Thaddea Graham discusses Wreck, overcoming the fear of horror, making music, the power of positivity, and more.

 

Hello, hello. Good morning.  How are you? 

Not too bad.  Did you just say ‘good morning?’

 

Technically it’s still morning in Toronto.

You’re in Toronto?  That’s so cool.

 

Have you ever been?

No, I’ve been to Vancouver. And I loved that. But I’d like to see the East Coast.

 

Yeah, please come on over. It’s awesome!

What’s your favorite thing about Toronto? Have you always lived there?

 

I’ve always lived here. I’m Canadian. Through and Through. I’d probably say like the CN Tower, Kensington Market. If you ever get the chance.

My friend was there! She’s from Northern Ireland and she and her boyfriend went over there for like two years but got stuck in the pandemic.  She used to go walking around where oh, who’s that famous rapper guy? [mentions Drake] Oh, yes. Yes.  She walked around that neighborhood to just see Drake’s house and stuff.

 

So she went to Forest Hill that’s the super-rich area of Toronto.

She wasn’t living there but she liked to walk around. And she told me about this amazing ice cream place, but it just looks so lovely.

 

Yeah, I think you’d enjoy it!  If you get the chance, please drop by.

Absolutely!  I’d love to do a job there.

 

Toronto is a hub for film and television – it could happen! So, to jump into it: horror and comedy work so well together.  Yet, it’s hardly ever explored in an episodic format which sets Wreck apart.  Without spoiling anything, can you talk about what audiences have to look forward to?

Without spoiling anything?  That’s so hard!  I think my favorite thing about the horror-comedy combination is that it constantly keeps you on your toes.  You’re terrified at one moment thinking that someone’s going to die.  And then you’re suddenly laughing.  And you don’t quite know when you can relax.  Which I like.  And I think that for our show, somebody said that it’s a horror slash thriller slash slasher and I thought that was a great description.  But also, the mix of comedy, I think also has a lot of heart. There are these characters that Ryan [J. Brown] has created, that are so grounded in reality and truth and they’re very relatable. And I think that once you start to care about them, all the other stuff gets even more heightened because you don’t want these people to die.  Well, hopefully, you don’t. [she laughs]  But also, it’s just a lot of fun. It’s so much fun. We’re on board a cruise, with its own ecosystem, frightened of a killer duck. Which, how can you not enjoy that?

 

I love that idea; being out at sea on its own is terrifyingOn a side note: do you have a favorite horror movie?

I’m terrified of horror.  I’m so bad with it.   I can’t watch any of them.  Even Cinderella when I was little, my mama used to skip the parts with the stepsisters.  I didn’t like the bad girls. They frightened me.  I’ve not ever been very good with it. But it’s so much fun to make.  The scariest thing about horror is how imagination just runs wild.  And when you are out in the middle of the sea, where are you meant to go? How do you get off?  You’re stuck, there’s nowhere to hide.  And I think that’s one of the scariest parts of this [Wreck] because they can’t just leave.

 

[Both laugh]

How did you overcome that fear to make the show?

I think the reality of any working set is scarier than what you’re shooting.   The long hours, the hot and cold temperatures. The pressure to get everything done, I think is a lot scarier than a killer duck. And also, because we get to see the reality of it when we see the person inside [the mask] take the head off and go ‘oh my god it’s so hot I’m literally sweating.’  All the stunt sequences, of which there perhaps are.  It’s all very choreographed and so that kind of fear comes from, I suppose emotion. It’s all driven by: do I care about this person?  Am I afraid of what the consequences are? I think the emotion is a lot scarier.  But it’s just a lot of fun to make, it’s a lot of fun to get to chase someone around.  Hopefully, we in real life will never find ourselves in these circumstances.  I get to play pretend and make-believe every single day.  I’m basically just a child.

 

You teased a little bit about Vivian on Instagram; how she’s not one for friendship.  She seems a little guarded. Over the course of the show, will we be discovered why?

Episode one straight up. Vivian and Jamie, played by Oscar Kennedy have a lovely little moment where they delve into why they’re there.  Vivian’s a lone wolf. And I don’t think this is a spoiler, but she told her parents she’s gay.  And they go: Okay. That’s fine.  Just don’t tell anyone else.   And basically, lock yourself in your room.  And she’s like: to hell with that.  Max’s out her dad’s credit card and finds herself on the ship. So, she’s run away and she finds herself in this world where nobody cares who you are, what you are, or where you’re from.  The only thing that matters is, you’re standing in front of me right now, are you going to help me or are you going to run after me with a knife? There are a lot of bigger things at play.  I think she sees something in Jamie that is very similar, they’ve had, not exactly the same experience, but I think when you find someone that’s been through some sort of trouble or who’s had to hide parts of themselves or he’s gone on a journey to figure out who they are, I think there’s a moment of you know what, you get it, and I don’t have to explain it and you’re not asking me to.  I can share if I want to but you’re not pushing and I think they find something beautiful. It turns into a kind of soulmate situation, which we need more of in TV between men and women.  It’s not all always ‘are they going to have sex?’  In our case both characters are gay.  That’s off the cards and squashed pretty early on.  I think that is a very beautiful thing that unfolds.

 

We need more platonic relationships; we don’t see enough of that portrayed in the media.  That being said: the series has been branded as a ‘super gay horror comedy’ which is refreshing and it’s awesome to see queer representation in this genre. It’s usually centered around trauma or hyper-fixated on the character’s sexuality.  What is the hope you have for the show?  For the people watching?

I hope that even if it’s just one person, who watches one little snippet, I hope that somebody feels seen.  Not that you need someone else to validate your own experience, but I know from my own experience watching something and feeling like that person is somehow telling my story it’s like: oh wow, I’m not alone. Takes off this fear of being isolated and lonely.  And I hope that somebody somewhere feels that.  Even if it’s just one person. I think that’s our job done. And I think that Ryan throughout this whole show, and this whole process of making it, the overwhelming feeling is that every single person involved, really cares.  And it’s not just ‘I’ll do the job and go away’ but people have invested their time and their heart into this project and I think you can that on-screen especially as the series develops. It’s such a joy to watch that kind of happen, and very organically happen. But Ryan cares about representation and cares about giving queer characters space to be quote on quote, normal.  They don’t have to prove anything. It’s not just about the trauma.  Everybody on that ship is running away from a killer duck.  Your sexuality does not have a play on that.  The duck.  Does not.  Discriminate.

 

[Both laugh]

What are you as a viewer of the show looking forward to?

That’s a really good question.  As a viewer, I’m excited to see the scale of the ship.  Because we didn’t shoot it on a real ship.  We had an incredible design department that crafted these incredible set builds in an abandoned tire factory on the outskirts of Northern Ireland.  Which is freezing, but they made it look so real, so I’m excited to see all of the FX elements and to see the scale of the ship, because it is massive.  And I’m also excited – and this may be a bit morbid – but I’m quite excited to see the kills! Obviously, all of our actors are very safe, and everyone is fine, but I want to see how that unfolds.  We shot the very choreographed version, but I want to see what it looks like on screen.  I think because you, as an actor, obviously only see the bits that your character is in.  But this show is so much more than just one person. It’s such an ensemble, I mean you find people from all walks of life on a cruise, and I think that’s perfectly shown in the show.  We [the actors] didn’t know each other before the show, we all got very, very close, and I think they’re all very brilliant – even from just the read-through.  So, I’m excited to see what my friends have been up to while I’ve been having off days [laughs] while I’ve been relaxing.

 

I did a little bit of deep diving; so I took a peek at your Instagram and I was blown away by the song you wrote in honor of the show’s premiere. [Thaddea laughs] Oh yeah, I went there.  Was that a spur-of-the-moment composition? Or had you been toying with that idea for a while?

I find singing a lot easier than speaking a lot of the time, and I use music as a way to kind of process life. So I think I wrote it in five minutes.  I started writing it as a joke.  Just to let people know the show was coming out, and then I thought the sea shanty kind of vibe is good and is also quite Irish. Ireland loves writing songs in minor keys about death and depressing things but to quite catchy tunes – I’ve gone back to my roots there.  And then I was just going to upload it as a little video, but I thought who wants to see my face? And the concept art and the key art for the show is so brilliant.  I wanted to put everyone in.  And then it all just kind of came together.  The look of the show as well, the aesthetic of the entire thing. I think is so captivating.  I love the color and the use of light and Ryan Kernaghan, our DOP was just absolutely phenomenal.  And even seeing it on the ground – I thought this looks incredible for quite a small production, the things that he was doing with what he had, just felt so much bigger.  And Chris [Baugh], our director as well as Brain [Phillip Davis] our editor, and Mimi [Spanos] our exec, I think they’ve just taken something that could’ve been good and small with the budget that we had and just exceeded it.  I don’t know how they’ve done it – a lot of talent, I suppose.  And a lot of patience.

 

It looks beautiful.  Can’t wait to see it all come together!

Oh, good!  I hope we don’t disappoint!

 

To change gears a little: when can we expect an album?

[Laughs] I don’t know.  I would love to do it.  I’d love to do a tour someday. But not of massive venues.  What I love about music, is that I feel like it’s a form of storytelling, and my big kind of inspirations are Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Brandi Carlile.  Who obviously – great instrumentalists, but at the heart of it is the lyrics and the story, and how they make you feel and how they can just take you to a moment in time.   Taylor Swift as well in that regard.  They just paint these little moments and that has always been what I’ve used music as.  It’s a way to process life and tell stories and say the things I can’t articulate or I’m too scared to say. Because then if you see something in the song, and it is true, I can go ‘no, no, no, it’s just a good little tune, don’t worry about it’ but I’d love to eventually go on a tour but of small venues, intimate gigs where it’s just me and a guitar.  No microphones, no sound systems just sitting and sharing music.  I think that comes from where I’m from in Ireland.  It’s a massive part of the culture – there’s music everywhere.  And that’s how people connect.

 

You stated in The Big Issue in 2021 that you were keen to break down barriers and show the young people of Northern Ireland that it’s possible to make it.  Who was your inspiration to keep you going?

Wow.  It’s kind of a boring answer.  But I think the people around me, have always been my biggest inspiration quite tangible inspirations. The people that I looked up to were my teachers in school.  My music teacher in school – Mrs. Birch.  She changed my life in so many ways. And I’m so grateful to her that I will never be able to fully articulate to her just how much she’s helped me.  And I think even then going to drama school, my head of year, Gareth Farr, and my agent Rebecca Pomfrey; the reason that I’m here today – because I was adopted from China when I was 13 months old and I was found when I was three days old – I wouldn’t have survived those three days had it not been for the kindness of strangers.  Someone was walking along, found me and picked me up, and said ‘oh a baby, maybe we should do something with this.’  And then everyone who took care of me in the orphanage and my parents in Northern Ireland.  Who have given me opportunities that I could never have even dreamed of and opened doors constantly my entire life I’ve been given opportunities by strangers who then evolve into something else a lot of the time.  I think the kindness of strangers is probably my biggest inspiration and the people that have helped me and encouraged me and have seen something in me that I often didn’t.  Those are my inspirations.

 

I love that.  The kindness of strangers can go a long way and I think it’s something we sometimes undervalue.

One hundred percent.  And we’ll never know the full outreach of what we say or the impact of that.  Just even having a conversation in the street with someone, or holding the door open, or saying ‘thank you’ or ‘oh, I like your jumper’ could mean something so much bigger than you’ll ever know.  And I think it’s quite a nice reality check.  Because you think:  I don’t know who I’ve reached, they don’t know who’ve they reached, we are little parts of a much bigger thing.  And I think sometimes that can feel daunting but also it can sometimes feel reassuring.  You always have a choice to look at things negatively or positively and I never think that I was abandoned.  I always think that my birth parents made a very tough decision and I look at it as if they’ve given me a second chance at life.  And I don’t want to waste that. I think yeah, we can always look at things negatively or positively and there’s enough negativity already in the world.  It keeps growing annoyingly.  So why not try the positive? And if it doesn’t work try again.   

 

Wreck is out now on BBC iPlayer here.

 

Interview Dana Reboe 

 

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