Suffering for a cause
Suffering for a cause

Australian actress Adelaide Clemens knew she wanted the part of suffragette Valentine Wannop in the period drama series Parade's End as soon as she saw the script by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard.

It was to be his first foray into television for 30 years and she wanted to be part of it but the casting director did not want her.

Clemens was making the horror film No One Lives in Louisiana at the time and sent tapes to London as well as talking her way into a Skype interview with the director, Susanna White.

No, they definitely did not want her, she was told, but Clemens refused to quit and as soon as the film wrapped she flew to London and begged White for another chance, arriving for the interview in Edwardian costume.

But the arrival of Stoppard nearly ruined her final chance.

"Oh my God, I did not know that he actually planned to come to the meeting so I was thrown off my feet literally. I remember sitting on the couch trying to stand," she said.

"Until then I had never understood the expression 'weak at the knees' but that is what I was.

"But as soon as you meet him he is such a modest and humble man and very pleasant so all of the daunting concepts that rushed into my head vanished. He has a soothing quality about him."

Her persistence paid off and the role has proved a career-changer for the young actress, who began work in Australia on Blue Water High, before appearing in the acclaimed pay-TV drama Love My Way and then moving to Los Angeles as a 19-year-old.

She more than holds her own against the Parade's End leads, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), who plays Edwardian aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, and Rebecca Hall as his wife, Sylvia.

Parade's End begins in a socially turbulent England before World War I, with the upright Christopher marrying flamboyant socialite Sylvia even though he realises the child she carries may not be his.

Then during a suffragette protest he meets and falls in love with Valentine.

The five-part series is based on four books by Ford Madox Ford, written between 1924 and 1928.

It was a period Clemens initially knew little about but she threw herself into researching the role, an enthusiasm she shared with Cumberbatch.

"We had such an exciting time exploring the world of 1910 Great Britain and I think that is where he and I worked very well together," she said.

"He was constantly coming in saying I have found this new book about the (suffragette) Pankhursts or I found more about fauna and flora in England during the time. He is incredibly passionate and an incredibly hard worker. I learnt so much from him."

She said the show was absolutely authentic for the time, right down to her striking short haircut as Valentine.

"Valentine is an athlete and suffragette and of the upper middle class. The reality of her situation is they could not afford house staff so she did not have a maid to do her hair or dress her in the morning like Sylvia.

"Athletes in those days have this floppy 1910 boys' haircut. We had the pictures to prove it."

Clemens says that the way she navigates her way into each character is different. But the only way she can truly understand the way someone thinks is to learn as much about them and their world as she can.

"At the moment I am working on a series called Rectify and I am playing a young Southern Baptist woman so I have been going to church every Sunday when I am on location in Georgia."

Rectify is being made for the Sundance Channel and is being produced by Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein, who were producers on the Emmy- winning Breaking Bad. It is the story of Daniel Holden (Australia's Aden Young), who is released from jail after 18 years on death row.

"It is a really compelling piece and I had a similar reaction to this script as I did to Parade's End," Clemens said.

"Holden's family has fallen apart but my character, Tammy, sees the goodness in him.

"She has a similar spirit to Valentine, who was such a beautiful person to step inside. She was so independent and determined, intelligent and free-spirited, and who doesn't want to be those things?"

Parade's End starts next Wednesday at 8.30pm on Nine/WIN.

The West Australian

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