She's a period-drama princess who is definitely on the rise - meet actress Tamzin Merchant as she works the chicest shade of the season.
Tamzin Merchant had an unusual start in show business. At just 17, she picked up the phone and cold-called a casting agent to request an audition for one of the most hotly anticipated period dramas of the decade. "I was reading Pride and Prejudice when I heard they were making a film. I was desperate to find out who was casting," she laughs. A bold move considering she didn't have an ounce of acting experience ("I'd done a couple of school plays, but that's all"), nor a drop of thespian blood ("Dad's a civil engineer and Mum was a librarian, so my family had no connections in the industry whatsoever").
Did she ever fancy taking a more traditional approach to acting? "I looked around to a drama school once," she says, "but it wasn't for me." Not that it did her any harm. Tamzin's unorthodox approach paid off and she was soon auditioning for the part of Georgiana Darcy in Joe Wright's Austen movie, which led to her debut role alongside Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. Studying for her A-levels, she shot her scenes in the school holidays.
What followed was an impressive plethora of TV roles: Katherine Howard in BBC Two's The Tudors and this year, Rosa Bud in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in which she starred alongside real-life boyfriend Freddie Fox. Though she remains tightlipped on her relationship with the youngest member of the Fox dynasty, quite how loved-up they are was clear for all to see at the latest InStyle party.
Having grown up in Dubai, where her father worked for the prime minister, the family returned to England when Tamzin was 13. Her studies led to her nabbing a place at Cambridge, where, as well as spending many a happy night at "cheesy clubs", she was encouraged to be driven - "14 hours study in your room with your head in a book was the norm."
Still, she realised the importance of the odd treat: "During my finals, I bought my first Mulberry bag - an ink-blue Daria satchel. Ech day, for hours in the library, I'd come home, take it out of its dust bag and hug it". Today, when she's not admiring her now much bigger designer bag collection, she likes to raid her mum's wardrobe. "I love her vintage Ossie Clarke dress, plus she has some beautiful Japanese silk jackets that she inherited from my grandmother."
With so much going on for Ms M, we can't help but wonder if there's any end to what this 25-year-old is capable of. She reveals there is one limitation. "I can't watch myself on screen. If I do, it has to be with someone who understands how hard I find it, as I will spend half the time sobbing into their shoulder, having a small breakdown." However, seeing herself on the screen is something we fear she'll have to get used to. If her career so far is anything to go by, she might just be the new Keira or Carey in the making.
Published June 2012
We caught up with Tamzin to talk to her about her involvement in Radio Cape Cod and Downward Facing - part of Second Wind, a collection of short films.
Tamzin Merchant, 25, is a talented British actress, who spent part of her childhood in Australia, South Africa and mostly, Dubai, before returning to the UK at 13. Her roles have included Georgiana Darcy in the film Pride and Prejudice, and Catherine Howard in BBC2’s The Tudors.
We caught up with Tamzin amidst a busy schedule to talk about her varied career to date, and her involvement in Radio Cape Cod and Downward Facing - part of the Second Wind series.
When and how did you first get into acting?
That was brave! So what made you go to university after your acting career was taking off?
How did you get involved with Radio Cape Cod?
Can you explain its premise?
Tell us about the short film, Downward Facing?
How do short films compare with your bigger projects such as Pride & Prejudice?
Published 21, 2012
Tamzin Merchant brings playful energy to Henry VIII’s doomed fifth wife on ‘The Tudors’.
British actress Tamzin Merchant received quite the education playing the fifth wife of King Henry VIII on “The Tudors.”
“It was like going to school, but to be a naughty child,” the Cambridge University student told the Herald during a recent interview.
“One of my lecturers did come up to me in the quad after the show aired in England and told me I was very wanton,” said Merchant, 22. “I don’t usually get feedback like that from my teachers.”
Merchant joined the cast last season as Katherine Howard, the wayward teenager chosen by Henry’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, “Match Point”) council to, um, occupy the aging king following the annulment of his marriage to fourth wife Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone).
“I think one of the most striking things about Katherine Howard is that she really is so young. Playing the fifth wife is sort of like playing a young girl in a toy shop. Here’s this very young girl who has no idea what it means to be queen, the responsibilities to be queen, the danger, in fact. I think she doesn’t have a grasp on the reality of the situation because she is caught up in the fairy tale,” she said.
“With Katherine, I saw it as a breath of fresh air in the Tudor court,” Merchant said. “I wanted Katherine Howard to be a little unusual and unversed in how she was expected to behave. I flounce around quite a bit in a teenage way. In England, there will be lots of disapprovement with my slightly unperiod take on it.”
The bawdy role is a departure from Merchant’s earlier film work, which included playing Mr. Darcy’s virtuous sister Georgiana in 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice.”
“If (Darcy) saw the things I was getting up to in ‘The Tudors,’ he would be pretty horrified,” Merchant said, then laughed.
Katherine could have used someone like the upright Mr. Darcy. Henry had her beheaded when she was 19 years old.
“I think she was very much a pawn in people’s games. In the version we are doing, she was left alone without a moral upbringing. The other queens had this network of comrades, and Katherine Howard was ultimately left out in the cold even though she had a powerful family,” Merchant said.
“I think a lot of people think she shouldn’t be a wife. I agree she wasn’t a queen, but she was my favorite wife. I feel very close to her,” she said.
Published April 11, 2010
Even 16th-century girls just wanted to have fun, but the consequences could be deadly for the wife of a jealous British monarch.
“She was sort of a good-time girl,” says Tamzin Merchant of Katherine Howard, the tragic queen she plays in The Tudors, which begins its fourth and final season on CBC on Wednesday at 9 p.m.
(If you know nothing about the fates of the six wives of Henry VIII and don’t want to know until the series airs, this is the point to stop reading.)
“She wasn’t shrewd like Anne Boleyn or . . . Katherine of Aragon; they were very worldly,” says Merchant, referring to Henry’s second and first wives. “The amazing thing about Katherine Howard is that she was the queen and yet she had no idea what was going on politically.”
Merchant, 23, learned about Tudor history as an English schoolgirl, but the role took her beyond the facts to the humanity of the doomed queen, who was likely still a teenager when she became the fifth wife of the much older king . . . and the second to be beheaded.
“I think she was almost like a lamb among these lions or wolves is a better description of the people in court,” says Merchant. “She was kind of treated like a plaything and she was exploited and I think that’s the tragedy of her. She did do some stupid things, she made some stupid mistakes. I’ve made stupid mistakes in my life, I haven’t been beheaded for them.”
Merchant, who said she’s never set foot in a drama school, stumbled into acting at 17 when she was cast in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice, which starred Keira Knightley.
Her face and refined British accent have led to her being cast in other period dramas, including a role as an Edwardian nurse in a hospital drama called Casualty 1906 and a new movie version of Jane Eyre, due for release in 2011.
Merchant says playing Katherine presented a unique challenge.
Though she finds it’s easier to play someone very different from herself —and Merchant, who describes herself as “kind of a geek,” says the naïve queen was nothing like her — that naiveté developed into something darker as the season progressed.
She also felt the pressure of playing a real person: one she had enormous sympathy for.
She recalled going to Hampton Court — where Katherine lived — as a child and being told by her mother about a woman who ran through the corridor they were in begging for her life.
“I went back to Hampton Court afterwards and, of course, realized I played that woman and I just had this awful feeling for Katherine Howard . . . I felt so much sympathy for her.”
Merchant says shooting the execution, which took a day, was draining.
“It was quite a surreal experience, really, doing the scenes in the Tower of London and doing the scenes where she sees her lovers’ heads on spikes . . . but, I mean, I loved all the drama at the end.
“And I love the development she reaches, she goes from this incredibly naïve young girl to actually almost becoming a woman, almost taking responsibility for her actions . . .
“Doing those scenes knowing that they’d actually happened, I think that was the key. . . it was ghastly in some ways, the scaffold and everything, saying things she was actually meant to have said.”
She took a holiday in Egypt after shooting “so I could kind of disconnect. Then, of course, I went back to Hampton Court a few months later and I still had those incredible feelings of sort of terror and sympathy.”
But it wasn’t all death and sorrow.
Merchant enjoyed the costumes (despite the confining corset that made it hard to eat), the horse riding, the magnificent sets on a Dublin-area sound stage and learning period dancing (she has years of ballet experience). She also relished working with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry; Torrance Coombs, the Vancouver actor who plays her lover, and the caring directors, including Canadian Jeremy Podeswa.
“Basically getting to be queen I guess is what I’m trying to say.”
Published September 21, 2010
As soon as I heard that I would be interviewing Tamzin Merchant (who plays Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard) and Torrance Coombs (who plays Thomas Culpepper), from the acclaimed Irish/Canadian show, I immediately took to the twitters and to facebook to ask what UrbanMoms and Juice fans wanted to know.
“They want Henry Cavill‘s phone number, right?” laughed Tamzin.
“Well, yes, THAT, of course. But they DID have many other questions too.”
And I asked them all.
(For those of you who are not up to speed on the history of Catherine Howard, well, while she was married to King Henry, she and Thomas Culpepper developed a meeting-in-secret kind of relationship that may or may not have ended in a sexual relationship. There were no doubts about their endings, though – – they were both executed.)
You wanted to know about the costumes. And I asked. I talked about how ridiculously beautiful the costumes are, but how they look like it would take an army to get into. And Tamzin agreed that, yes, she had to be dressed by a team of people. The outfits, it seems, help both Tamzin and Thomas get into their characters. These iconic characters. They both said that they didn’t do very much research and reading into the characters that they play, since every writer, every director, every person interprets these people differently. And they play this version.
You wanted to know about the executions. And I asked. Even though The Tudors takes much artistic and creative licence with the show and the characters (READ: it’s not nonfiction; it’s historical fiction. There’s a big difference), the executions were a huge part of the actual history, and are a huge part of the show as well. I asked how the actors were able to mentally prepare for such a brutal ending to their characters’ lives.
Tamzin said that there’s a dramatic scene right before Katherine’s beheading where she runs through this field to see Henry and to beg for her life. The actress said that when she walked through the field, in England, where this actually, historically took place, she was overcome with a rush of feelings of dread. At that very moment, it was so easy for her to actually feel what Katherine Howard was feeling at the time…begging for her husband to not send her to her death.
You wanted to know about the nudity. And I asked. They admitted that there is, yes, a lot of nudity on the show (and yes, it is all them) but it works for the show. Tamzin said, though, that there are some people in her life who may or may not be related to her who assume that she is wearing some sort of nude-colored covering. She said she just nods in agreement. Heh.
You wanted to know about coming into a cast late in the game, i.e., third and fourth seasons. And I asked. And here is what she said, in a ridiculously adorable British accent. “Everyone was so nice. Especially Johnny. He made me feel so comfortable.”
(You guys. JOHNNY. As in, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. JOHNNY.)
Torrance also went on to explain that there’s quite a bit of turnover on the show (what with all the dying and killing and beheading and remarriages and such)…and by season 4, there were very few original castmembers from season 1, so it wasn’t like they were coming into this really tight family that had been together since day 1.
The two were so lovely. The British Tamzin and the Canadian Torrance. I wanted to shove them both in my pockets. But alas, I talked to beautiful people from The Tudors and all I got was this crappy iphone photo…
Published September 30, 2010
We’ve witnessed a lot TV series bow out due to cancelation (Outlaw, Caprica, Lone Star) while others decided that it was just simply their time to go (Lost, 24). The Tudors is one of those shows that opted to do the latter. The series has been off the air in the U.S. since mid-June but is just wrapping up in Canada on CBC.
While most people flock to legal procedurals, a comedy focused on a merry band of misfits who can carry a tune, or a drama where doctors save lives while getting it on in the on-call room, I tend to have a soft spot for dramas based on historic events. By no means am I a history buff. I didn’t do so great in Grade 10 History, but maybe if they were teaching me about that soap opera that was King Henry VIII and his revolving door of wives instead of the Treaty of Versailles or Sir John A. MacDonald, I probably would’ve achieved a higher mark.
The Tudors, for four seasons, has given people a Y&R-style look at the scandalous life of the British royal. After four seasons, six marriages, three children, countless miscarriages and four dead wives (two via beheading), we say goodbye to great piece of television full of scandals, deception, amazing costumes and elaborate sets.
TV Guide Canada sat down with two stars of the show, Tamzin Merchant (who plays Katherine Howard) and Torrance Coombs (he portrays Thomas Culpepper) at Toronto’s historic Casa Loma for an interview about the last season of The Tudors, which wraps tonight.
TVG: What kind of research did you do going into your roles?
Torrance Coombs: Well, honestly, a lot of it is right there in the text for me to work with. But when I got the part, I looked online, I did research, I tried to figure out if this was historically accurate, what’s real and what’s false. There are a couple of books that were recommended to me just to kind of flesh out the character a little bit, but really there’s a lot to work with that’s already there. So I couldn’t done no research and probably been all right. I do like to fill in the back story myself.
TM: There were so many people on that crew that had so much passion just for the characters, for the story and for the history. You could ask Joan Bergin, the costume designer, pretty much any question and she would have the answer.
TC: She was amazing actually. My first day there, I went in for a costume fitting and she just comes and hands me a book with all the Culpepper passages highlighted. She’s much more than a costume designer, she’s kind of like an encyclopaedia of knowledge and she’s put that much thought into the wardrobe. She’ll impart that knowledge to you and help you out.
TVG: How important is it for you as an actor to be as authentic as possible in role for a show that is based on historic facts?
TVG: How amazing were the sets and costumes when you first arrived on set?
TVG: You previously stated that mistakes were made by the characters this season; is there one mistake that your character committed this season that made you say to yourself “Why would you do that?”
TM: If Katherine Howard is simply a conquest to Thomas Culpepper, why can’t he just back away when stuff starts to hit the fan? Especially when he sees her getting carried off in thrown in jail, why does he stick around? Why doesn’t he just run? That was one of the weird ones for me and it wasn’t answered in the script. I think the answer is that he thinks he can get away with it; he thinks he’s invincible. But he makes a lot of mistakes.TC: You kind of want to go back and slap them and be like, 'What are you doing?' But at the same time Katherine was trying to find love and she was just in a horrible and difficult situation.
TVG: Now that you’ve finished filming the show, was there any memento that you managed to take from the set?
TVG: Do you think it’s better to have 10 episodes to portray the story of this season as oppose to the 22-plus that most series have?
TM: I think it keeps the tension pretty high and it keeps the story really moving along just like 10 episodes is like 10 hours of TV and it’s pretty fast-paced and really compelling. I’d love to have done 22 episodes.
TC: It’s a show that really could’ve probably done with 13 episodes. It would’ve been nice to just flesh out a couple more parts, in my personal opinion. But I think that when a show starts doing 22 a season, you start getting filler episodes and there’s a reason that HBO and Showtime and these cable networks go with the shorter seasons; there’s a lot more quality control. There’s a lot of writers flying by the seat of their pants on these network shows on those big network shows where there 22 and there’s a lot of filler episodes. They have some great shows, but there are a lot of filler episodes.
TM: I think it keeps the people wanting more rather than just like doing too much at one time.
TVG: Now that Tudors is finished, what other projects can we expect to see you in?
Published November 23, 2010