With a successful career in theatre, British actress Jennifer Kirby has made her transition to television in 2017, when she joined the cast of Call the Midwife. Highly acclaimed for her stage performances, Jennifer followed her unwavering love for acting in front of the camera, playing ex-army nurse Valerie Dyer, whom she describes as a true trailblazer. Jennifer has recently completed her third series as Valerie and has been long listed for a National Television Award for “Best Dramatic Performance” for her work on the programme.
A graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), Jennifer credits her education as having a pivotal role in launching her career. Iconic roles, memorable performances, award nominations, and critical acclaim – they all describe Jennifer Kirby’s career so far, and set the tone for what to expect from her in the future.
Elena Stanciu: You decided to become an actress at quite a young age and had a love-at-first-walk-on-stage type of experience – have you since had any doubts about your career choice?
Jennifer Kirby: I wouldn't say doubts particularly – I've known since I was fifteen that it's the only thing I want to do. Being an actor is tough at times – I can't deny that. You get a lot of knock-backs and the odds are seldom in your favour. It takes a lot of stubbornness and a lot of picking yourself up and starting again! Like most, I've doubted being good enough, and I thought at times that it might not work out, but I've never doubted my love for acting.
ES: What are you most proud of professionally?
JK: Getting into the Royal Shakespeare Company and of course being cast on Call the Midwife (which I consider to be one of the most progressive and subversive programmes on television) were hugely proud moments. But I think the most visceral was getting into LAMDA, right at the beginning of it all. I always wanted to go there, and many of my acting heroes were alumni. It felt like the start of my acting career and a bit like a dream.
ES: So you started your acting career on stage – what can you tell us about your transition to television? What's your experience of working on set so far?
JK: They do feel very different, and there's definitely an adjustment to be made when transitioning from stage to screen. The main difference is that with stage you must reach the very back of the theatre, both vocally and emotionally. Projecting your performance while maintaining realism is the ultimate goal. With screen work, it takes a minute to learn you don't have to do that, you have to invite the audience to come to you instead. The cameras pick up everything – even the things you don't realise you're doing yourself!
ES: In 2017 you joined the cast of Call the Midwife as nurse Valerie Dyer. How did you come to play this role?
JK: I auditioned via various tapes when I was with the RSC in New York. The day I flew back to London, I got off the plane at 7am, changed in a hurry and went straight to meet the producer. Next day I was told I got the role and filming would start the following week. It was very exciting!
ES: How do you feel about Valerie?
JK: I love Valerie. As soon as I got the character breakdown when I was auditioning, I knew I was desperate to play her. She was the only midwife who was from the Poplar area, an ex-army nurse, hard as nails but with an unbelievably kind heart. She would also have been one of the first women with her kind of background who could have even considered having a medical career, so she's a bit of a trailblazer.
ES: How does Valerie feel about Jennifer?
JK: I think she would be kind to me, but probably think I'm a bit soft.
ES: Call the Midwife is certainly very interesting as a period piece, in its portrayal of community, gender roles, and social relations. What would you say makes it appealing to audiences of today? What would you say it's unique to this show?
JK: I really think it's a very important piece of television. It's about our social and medical history and it portrays stories and issues that most shows wouldn't dare address, especially at prime time on a Sunday night. I think people love it because they appreciate the honesty of the stories it conveys. It mixes the heart warming and the heart breaking with true skill and charm. More importantly, it's a show that puts professional women and women's stories right at the forefront. That's still a very rare thing.
ES: Something else that the show keeps in the foreground, I think, is the relationship women have with work – I love the crossing of boundaries between emotions, care, and the job. What's your own take on the show's ability to inform our view on work and labour today?
JK: What's amazing is that without fail these women's focus is their work. It shows them being brilliant, dynamic, skilled, and emotionally invested in what they do. And most of all – they love doing this work. They don't always get it right, sometimes they misjudge, and the show portrays them as learning and evolving characters, which is always so fun to play. My most recent storyline very much blended the line between personal and professional. For the final two episodes of the series those two were one and the same. It was wonderful to work with that and have the character ask herself some difficult questions.
ES: Do you have a dream role or production you'd love to be in?
JK: There are so many! I always end up saying the same thing – I just want to act as much as I can, in as many different types of roles as possible. What's exciting is not knowing what's to come.
ES: Are there any projects we'll see you in soon?
JK: I start filming Call the Midwife again in a week! I'm so excited to get back in the uniform.