Interview Annabelle Davis (2024)

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Annabelle Davis is best known for her portrayal of Sashain CBBC drama, The Dumping Ground and more recently as Lacey Lloyd in Hollyoaks on Channel 4. Here she talks about everything from being a disabled actor and having a famous dad, through to inclusive casting and Harry Potter.

Interview by Tom Jamison

Annabelle made time to speak with Able Magazine between rehearsals…

You’re currently in a production of The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man. Some disabled people find the story problematic…
For me, I’d watched the (David Lynch) film as a kid. My granddad was actually in the film!

He played one of the people who was also being exhibited (with Merrick). I found the story really fascinating, from the point of view of seeing someone very visually different on the screen and how people were reacting to him in a very different time. I found it really interesting, although, obviously incredibly upsetting. It opened my eyes to how cruel the world used to be, and also how cruel it still can be.

For me, the importance of telling this story, is that we need to keep history like this talked about because in some parts of the world this kind of thing still happens. If we talk about these things, people like him will be treated better. And society will hopefully become more accepting.

It sounds very much like you’ve got a sense of responsibility or a duty.
Yeah. And that’s what I think I respected a lot about Steven (Bailey, director) when I met with him. As you watch the play, it will go from when it was originally set to almost the present day. For me, that brings all the issues that he’s facing up to date, so from the audience’s point of view, we’re not looking at history, we’re looking at what still happens today. Sometimes it’s a hard thing to watch but it’s holding a mirror up to society.

Interview Annabelle Davis (1)

What does it say about today?
I’m really privileged. I’ve grown up with a famous dad (actor, Warwick Davis). So, when I’ve been looked at in the street, I’ve always seen it as a positive, because people are genuinely very, very kind and very excited to meet my dad, and now me. But I have had a couple of instances where I’ve had more negative encounters when people have used words like ‘midget’ which you cannot say. Unless people see it, they are oblivious and will just continue to go on as they were. We need to tell them that this isn’t right.

Lots of younger readers will know you from The Dumping Ground. It’s often quite hard hitting; did it prepare you for taking on the role of Lacey Lloyd in Hollyoaks?
Yeah, to be honest, it was the best training ground I think, for life! It set me up for everything because I joined The Dumping Ground when I had just turned 17. So, it was my university experience if you will. It was my first time living away from home, and I was moving into a house with all the other girls, and it was amazing. It taught me everything about acting. I didn’t go to drama school, I sort of learned everything on the job. I was going up and down on the train on my own every week and I gained so much confidence in myself and as an actor. I stayed there for seven or eight years and I felt I came out of it grown up.

It was an ensemble cast and we were all so close and tight that it was just so comfy. It was really like literally, a family, by the end of it. You live with them, you work with them and it was really nice, really intense.

The stories were really important. There were so many that we were telling that not a lot of other kids TV shows would. We didn’t shy away from things and didn’t talk down to kids. And that’s what we’re really proud of. There are guys that come up to me and they loved it and watched it. And because all of us on the show were growing up and learning as well, we were learning with those storylines. So, it made everything so much more authentic.

Interview Annabelle Davis (2)

Your part in Hollyoaks (Lacey Lloyd) was originally written for an able-bodied person. How has that changed the way that the story works around her?
It’s a tricky one, because initially when you’re given a character that’s written for a tall person, whilst it is an honour, I think that’s where the industry needs to get to; the actor is found for the role, not necessarily the other way around. And it was really refreshing and I thought that this could be the start of something very cool in the industry. But there are also other things to be mindful of. I am me, and an element of me is because I am short. An element of my personality is dictated and has been created because of my height and I never want to shy away from that, because I use that to my advantage. At school I was always that little bit louder, I always tried to be a little bit funnier, a little bit bigger, just to hold people’s attention, to get noticed, to be in a conversation that’s held above your head. So, there are elements of that which I wanted to bring into Lacey. However, she’s also incredibly clever and wants to be a lawyer, so she’s studied a lot, maybe she’s, slightly more introverted in places. There are things I want to explore, such as in the workplace, because I’ve never had a normal job. I wanted to make sure that her job interview experience was what a lot of people actually experience.

Hollyoaks worked very closely with a person that my mum and dad found with their charity, Little People UK and in creating the storyline for Lacey. I wanted Lacy to be real and her thread to be influenced by as many other stories as possible. So, the whole job interview was talked about with Little People UK, along with other storylines along the way. So, the core version of her is very much the same, but I think sometimes her spirit comes from being short, and I think that’s really special.

Younger readers wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t ask about Harry Potter – and what it was like to work with your dad, Warwick Davis…
We’re a very close family. Whenever dad’s been at work, we’ve gone to visit him. Harry Potter was amazing. We’d visit after school, stay in a hotel nearby and then mum would drive us back to school at six o’clock in the morning. We were doing crazy miles but we loved it because we got to see dad and we were exposed to so many wonderful things on the set.

It was really, really cool. I had my 13th birthday there. Everyone in the great hall sang me happy birthday. As a 13 year-old I was very embarrassed but I look back and it was very cool. I didn’t necessarily want to be an actor though, I enjoyed it but it wasn’t until later on when I was 16 when I watched my dad’s play, See How they Run, and seeing how much fun they were having and the atmosphere in the auditorium. It’s a magic that you just don’t get anywhere else. I thought, I now know I want to do that.

Did you enjoy working on Willow?
It was very cool. Getting to play a father-daughter dynamic and being a real-life father and daughter is something that is really special. I never thought I’d get to do it.

Everything felt real, I didn’t have to act! Willow’s got a special place in our family anyway. I watched the film as a kid, I’ve seen Mims and thought she was amazing. And then getting to be Mims was mind-blowing. And lovely to see my dad in that role again.

It was really lovely for me to see him work like that. Growing up, whenever I’ve been on set there’s been a lot of costume work, like all of that stuff in Harry Potter. But I feel like Willow was very stripped down. It was just really lovely to see and very emotional for him. To be honest, it was the first time I said, “Dad, you’re bloody good! Wow!”

It made me want to up my gameeven more. It was amazing!

It was an ensemble cast and we were all so close and tight that it was just so comfy. It was really like literally, a family, by the end of it. You live with them, you work with them and it was really nice, really intense.

The stories were really important. There were so many that we were telling that not a lot of other kids TV shows would. We didn’t shy away from things and didn’t talk down to kids. And that’s what we’re really proud of. There are guys that come up to me and they loved it and watched it. And because all of us on the show were growing up and learning as well, we were learning with those storylines. So, it made everything so much more authentic.

Your part in Hollyoaks (Lacey Lloyd) was originally written for an able-bodied person. How has that changed the way that the story works around her?
It’s a tricky one, because initially when you’re given a character that’s written for a tall person, whilst it is an honour, I think that’s where the industry needs to get to; the actor is found for the role, not necessarily the other way around. And it was really refreshing and I thought that this could be the start of something very cool in the industry. But there are also other things to be mindful of. I am me, and an element of me is because I am short. An element of my personality is dictated and has been created because of my height and I never want to shy away from that, because I use that to my advantage. At school I was always that little bit louder, I always tried to be a little bit funnier, a little bit bigger, just to hold people’s attention, to get noticed, to be in a conversation that’s held above your head. So, there are elements of that which I wanted to bring into Lacey. However, she’s also incredibly clever and wants to be a lawyer, so she’s studied a lot, maybe she’s, slightly more introverted in places. There are things I want to explore, such as in the workplace, because I’ve never had a normal job. I wanted to make sure that her job interview experience was what a lot of people actually experience.

Hollyoaks worked very closely with a person that my mum and dad found with their charity, Little People UK and in creating the storyline for Lacey. I wanted Lacy to be real and her thread to be influenced by as many other stories as possible. So, the whole job interview was talked about with Little People UK, along with other storylines along the way. So, the core version of her is very much the same, but I think sometimes her spirit comes from being short, and I think that’s really special.

Did you enjoy working on Willow?
It was very cool. Getting to play a father-daughter dynamic and being a real-life father and daughter is something that is really special. I never thought I’d get to do it.

Everything felt real, I didn’t have to act! Willow’s got a special place in our family anyway. I watched the film as a kid, I’ve seen Mims and thought she was amazing. And then getting to be Mims was mind-blowing. And lovely to see my dad in that role again.

It was really lovely for me to see him work like that. Growing up, whenever I’ve been on set there’s been a lot of costume work, like all of that stuff in Harry Potter. But I feel like Willow was very stripped down. It was just really lovely to see and very emotional for him. To be honest, it was the first time I said, “Dad, you’re bloody good! Wow!”

It made me want to up my gameeven more. It was amazing!

Lacey Lloyd is a character you can take and develop over time. How do you adapt your working methods for a play?
Plays are a lot slower.

On Hollyoaks you get a scene, you rehearse it once, twice, you’ve got the crew in and then you’re shooting it. So, you’ll do that scene within a couple of hours. Whereas here, (in the theatre) you can really craft these things. You can find the nuances and you’ll visit them, and then you’ll leave it a few days, and you’ll visit it again. And it’s really nice, because there’s so many more levels and you’re able to go deeper. On Hollyoaks, you can only go so deep because you can only do so much preparation beforehand. One day you can be across 10 episodes and there’s only so much homework you can do beforehand. You can learn your lines, but that’s really all you’ve got time for and then you really rely on the director to give you that kind of map of where you’re going. Whereas we’ve got four weeks to really dive in, so that’s been really nice.

To be honest, I’ve had to train myself to slow down and to enjoy that process because I’m already thinking, wow, this is good, done!

Interview Annabelle Davis (2024)

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