We caught up with actress Nadia Parkes of Starz's impressive, female-driven, historical epic The Spanish Princess, for an interview on the complexities of her character Rosa, acting, the production itself and much more.

The historical epic is a tried and true Hollywood archetype by now. From one of the first film adaptations of Shakespeare's King Lear in 1909, to 1928's The Viking, 1962's Lawrence of Arabia (considered a gold standard of cinematic technique), Braveheart and Dunkirk today: what do most all of these films have in common? They are stories surrounding and driven by men.

This is precisely where The Spanish Princess is something refreshing and interesting, considering its predecessors The White Princess and The White Queen. All 3 mini-series (including The Spanish Princess) are based on novels by Philippa Gregory – with all focusing on different points in English history. Check out Gregory's site here for their reading order.

The story in The Spanish Princess is the court of Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) as she takes her place as Queen of England and first wife of Henry VIII (Elliot Cowan) – a position she would hold from 1509 to 1533 when Henry annulled their marriage in events that led to the schism from the Roman Catholic Church and the formation of the Church of England.

The drama and romance is not centered just on Catherine and her move from Spain to England, however. Parkes brings vivid life to one of Catherine's ladies in waiting, Rosa with Stephanie Levi-John as the other lady in waiting Lina. Rosa could have been another stereotypical and shallow supporting female role, but Parkes brings a fascinating and mesmerizing depth to her character: we as the viewing audience are truly and deeply invested in Rosa's development and fate in the sweeping history happening around her and with her as a participant – not just another cursory, beautiful woman with the depth of puddle who is there as an ornament and nothing more.

Nadia Parkes as Rosa de Vargas in THE SPANISH PRINCESS. Source: STARZ

As showrunner Emma Frost said in an interview, "We really wanted a strong female sisterhood in the show". Of course the show does not shy from the historical conflict between the three women, which – as Frost said – "is brilliant and fun to watch".

Yet, there was more to the picture, as Frost went on, "it felt like we hadn't ever had that really strong dynamic between three women who support each other. That was very appealing to us, especially with them coming in as the immigrants, and as the outsiders, and sticking together."

The Spanish Princess delivers on all those points, while bringing a brilliantly-entertaining, female-helmed and driven historical epic to the small screen. Catch it now on Starz and enjoy our interview with Parkes below.  

Hi, Nadia. How are you?

Hi. Good, thank you, how are you?

Oh, not too bad.

Getting right into it, I was hoping we could get an idea of your history for the people who will be reading this. What got you into acting?

What got me into acting? So I have always loved kind of performing and growing up I used to put on shows for my mom and dad weekly. And I set up a home cinema where they would have to give their ticket at the entrance and then I would show them to their seat with a torch. But the seats just being our sofa in our living room.

That's awesome.

And I went to drama school straight from school. I got into LAMDA which is a drama school in London. And then from there, I mean, I was at LAMDA for three years and then in my third year I auditioned for The Spanish Princess. And The Spanish Princess was actually my second audition I think I ever did.

Oh wow.

Next thing you know, I'm on the film set and that's in six months and my whole life has kind of transformed. So yeah.

That's fantastic. That actually kind of gets into the next question I had which was, what attracted you to that project initially?

So I think the main thing that attracted me to the project is that it's retelling history from the female prospective. You know, all the story lines in the show are told from the female point of view.

In life everyone knows who Catherine of Aragon is because she's the first wife of Henry VIII. But no one knows the story behind her and I just found it so interesting that in history she's kind of been reduced down to one word in a rhyme which is "divorced."

…When so much more of the story is there to explore.

So everyone knows what happened to her at the end but no one knows what happened to her at the beginning. And I think there's so many elements in the story of female support and female friendship and I think it's really easy to write stories about female rivalry. And so to see the opposite of that was really amazing and it really wanted me to be a part of it all.

(L-R) Nadia Parkes as Rosa de Vargas and Stephanie Levi-John as Lina de Cardonnes in THE SPANISH PRINCESS. Source: STARZ

Oh, absolutely. What was it like getting into the head space of Rosa?

So getting into the head space of Rosa; she's quite free-spirited. She's a real character. I did lots of research into the time and things like that but I think for me I was really keen to portray her and do her justice and not have her be judged because I think it would be really easy to pass a judgment on Rosa and say that she's stupid and naïve and a typical young female, I suppose.

Sad that people judge like that.

And I really wanted to do her justice and show her curiosity and her warm-heartedness and show the good side of those traits, because I think there's good and bad to being naïve and open and curious. But I wanted to show it all.

I think you really did that well. I was absolutely invested as a reader in her story and development.

And I would say I'm quite an excitable, curious person as well so that was quite relatable. And I was learning so much about the world in terms of acting and filming and Rosa was learning so much in terms of the world, in terms of living in England and learning the ways of that. So we were both, my character and me, were kind of learning things about the world that we didn't know and that was quite a beautiful kind of romance between the two.

Yes. An interesting sort of parallel journey there.



Are there any funny or memorable things that stick out with that behind-the-scenes process of filming?

Yeah… well, we were all, off camera, really, really good friends. Like genuinely really good friends and I think that does show on camera. I think you can see that, hopefully, because we're good actors, but also because we genuinely did have really supportive and loving friendships. And so along with that, obviously comes a lot of laughs.

Every time Steph [Levi-John], the other lady in waiting, was on a horse, her horse just decided to go the complete different direction to everyone else's horse. There's actually a scene where it started off that we were meant to just ride the horses ourselves and if you look closely enough, by the end, we had to have somebody making sure our horses were going in the right direction. So a horse trained person got put in a costume to lead the horse. If you look closely enough you can see that.

Yeah, there were just so many laughs. Mostly because Steph, every time they said cut, just decided to break into song. It was very funny a lot of the time.

[Laughs]  That actually reminds me of an interview I did with Robert Forster who has an Oscar nominee for his part in Tarantino's Jackie Brown. The first movie that he ever did was John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye in 1967. And there was a part that that required him to ride a horse naked and it was doing the same thing…

[Laughs] I feel like horses just have minds of their own and so trying to control them is a bit difficult.

I suppose so. Seems like there's usually a horse story with these things.

Nadia Parkes as Rosa de Vargas and Olly Rix as Edward Stafford in THE SPANISH PRINCESS. Source: STARZ

The next question, one that I like to ask everybody: what performances, actors, films, would you consider have really molded and shaped you as a performer?

I would say, I think growing up as a British actress it's impossible not to look at the Judy Denches and the Maggie Smiths and just aspire to have a career like theirs and kind of still be working and still care so much about the craft and being an artist in this world. So I think lots of films and things that they've done has really shaped a lot of my aspirations.

And actually, a really funny story. So I was in my first year at drama school on my first ever week and Harriet Walter came in to do a talk. She actually plays Margaret Beaufort in the show. Three years later, I walk in on my first day and she sat in the room that I have just walked into because I've just been cast in the show – and I walked up to her, "Hi, Harriet. You won't remember me, but I asked you a question in a Q & A and I asked you how you access your characters when they differ every time and if you have a set process," and everything like that. Actually, from there on we actually became really good friends and she is there sometimes when I need advice.

That's great.

But I just thought it was just a beautiful kind of mirroring to think that she gave a talk on my first day and then I ended up being inspired by her and working with her on set and learning from her directly there.

So there are all the kind of things I think shape you.

That's fantastic. That's a great story.

Pivoting a bit to a question I like to ask everyone: what makes a great film? It's a big question.

Ooooh, what makes a great film? I think, what I would say, like really, I think...Obviously, there's so many elements to a great film. There's cinematography. There's the costumes. There's the script. There's everything. But I think, because I am an actor, for me what makes a really great film is watching actors at the top of their game, and taking a script and working with it and turning it into kind of a creation.

And I actually follow an account called script.to.screen on Instagram [which now has the handle “@screenplayed”] where it shows you the script and then on the next post it shows you the scene that got made from the script...

Oh wow.

-and some of the work that the actors do taking it from just words on a page to life I just find absolutely amazing.

I'm going to have to follow that.

Yeah, I think when you see an actor... I think also watching you can really tell when actors have had a lot of fun making what they have and feel really passionate about it. I think it always shows in the work. So that's, for me, what makes a great film.

That's a great answer. And like I said, it's a big question by nature so it gets quite the variety.

Getting in to actually the last question I had for you was, what's next?

What's next?

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

So at the moment there's a few really exciting projects which I can't really say anything about at this stage. But yeah, there's a lot of exciting things to come and lots of auditions and things like that have been happening. So, yeah, I'm very excited for the next chapter.

Nadia Parkes.

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