The Doll Factory Cast Reveal All About This Winter's Most Exciting New Period Drama

"I’d happily work on period dramas done like this forever!"
Mirren Mack as Rose Whittle and Esmé Creed-Miles as Iris Whittle
Mirren Mack as Rose Whittle and Esmé Creed-Miles as Iris Whittle

1850s London – it’s dark, dank and positively Dickensian. Amongst the milieu of mysterious cadaver collectors and hustling sex workers is Iris (Esme Creed-Miles), a young woman who paints dolls for a living alongside her twin sister.

Enchanted by the prospect of living out her dreams as an artist, Iris strikes up an ill-advised relationship with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The exchange is simple – she will model for them if they teach her to paint like a master. If only life were that simple!

Based on the novel of the same name, The Doll Factory landed on Paramount+ over a week ago and has already been called a sumptuously atmospheric slab of Victoriana.

To celebrate the series, we recently sat down with leads Éanna Hardwicke (The Sixth Commandment), George Webster (Wedding Season), Freddy Carter (Shadow and Bone) and Saoirse-Monica Jackson (Derry Girls). Here’s what they had to say about the making of the show.

Congratulations to you all! We’re wondering, what originally drew you to this project?

Saoirse-Monica Jackson: Well, being paid is always great, but I really did love the piece. I often like things that are dark and magical, and when I read the book I could immediately sort of feel the atmosphere. And then being on set exceeded my expectations, and they were quite high as it was.

Éanna Hardwicke: Yeah, I loved the writing, too. As soon as I read the sides, I remember thinking, ‘oh, this is good’. You could tell that Charley [Miles], who adapted it from Elizabeth [Macneal’s] book did it with care.

Freddy Carter: It was unlike anything I’d read before: it has all the hallmarks of a Dickensian, Jack The Ripper, sort of Victoriana period drama, but it’s viewed through a modern gaze.

And what sort of research did you all do to get into the right headspace for the series?

George Webster: When I booked the role, I was like, ‘okay, I’ve got two weeks to learn how to paint like a Pre-Raphaelite Brother.’ I did two days of that before realising that it was not important to the character, but I did think about things like how he would stand as a painting – the wanky stuff we have to think about as actors!

ÉH: But I think with a really good script it’s all in there – the rules, the language. Elizabeth and Charley are so great writing something the breaks convention, but is also true to its time. I checked out The Horniman Museum in Dulwich and I did my bit of due diligence with taxidermy, I read up on that and tried my hand at it.

SMJ: And what did you stuff?

ÉH: I stuffed a little dormouse.

SMJ: And where’s it sat now?

ÉH: It’s on my desk.

SMJ: That’s so cute! You’re like wee Cinderella with your wee mouse.

Éanna Hardwicke as Silas Reed
Éanna Hardwicke as Silas Reed

Did you have any unusual inspirations for your characters?

GW: I did have an unusual inspiration for Louis’ hair. I was watching The Bear and became obsessed with Jeremy Allen White’s hair in it. It wasn’t necessarily the style, but the fact that he looks like he’s got cooking grease in it. I wanted Louis to have an essence of that – that he’s not necessarily the most hygienic man.

SMJ: Yeah, Joe who designed my hair is going to be raging that I said this, but I definitely felt quite Christina Aguilera in her Dirrty era when it was pinned to one side. Not an inspiration per se, but an inner thought of sorts! The hair on this job was so amazing, the wigs were incredible.

GW: Yeah, Peter and Joe smashed it.

FC: I remember we found this one original picture, I have no idea who this guy was, but he was my character inspiration because he looked so pleased with himself and so smug. I stook a picture of it and had it on my phone to sort of look at before scenes and stuff.

Obviously, Freddie, audiences might know you as Kaz – how was shooting The Doll Factory different from shooting Shadow and Bone?

FC: On Shadow and Bone there’s a lot of fantasy elements and special effects – green screens with pretend monsters flying overhead and all of that. There’s no magical powers in here. There are magical elements and magical realism and you’re not sure what’s real at times, but it’s done in a much more performance based way.

I remember the first day on set and it was literally just Éanna and I sat across the table with one candle in the middle of us and I was a little bit like, ‘okay, where’s the sort of bells and whistles?’

GW: ‘Where’s the dragons?!’

FC: But actually it was so nice to go back to basics in a way.

Esmé Creed-Miles as Iris Whittle and George Webster as Louis Frost
Esmé Creed-Miles as Iris Whittle and George Webster as Louis Frost

The series is very atmospheric, how did it feel to be on set?

FC: Atmospheric. So much of the work was done for us from the production design to costume, hair and makeup. It was so lavish and textured that the imaginative leap was actually much smaller than I thought it was going to be.

There was such a commitment to detail that it felt quite representative of what it was actually like, probably. It was dirty, it was kind of difficult and I think they captured that really well.

GW: You could tell all of those different departments were super into the project as well. It was a joy to step on set, honestly, and there were so many details that you know are never gonna make it onto screen.

FC: I think that’s the atmosphere that people talk about when they watch it, it comes from the stuff that you don’t see. I’d happily work on period dramas done like this forever!

Obviously, one of the big themes of this whole piece is women’s bodies and agency and sexuality. What do you kind of hope people will take away from the series?

FC: I think the show definitely has something to say about today’s society in the show. Iris tries to liberate herself and go for what she wants and she is almost killed for it. At every turn, she’s pushed back and told to stay in her place; it’s not too hard to see the kind of similarities to stuff that’s happening today.

SMJ: Yeah, I think that although we’re telling a story that’s set in Victorian London, so much of this is unfortunately still prevalent today. I hope that people take away some satisfaction in the fact that Iris, the lead character, has such backbone and is quite strong and determined, and she prevails in her own ambition.

Unfortunately, the sense of ownership that these men have over these girls still exists today, but I hope that people also feel magical walking away from watching this. I think it’s a really brilliant and fascinating depiction of the time, and I hope it gives viewers a love of London again.

Saoirse-Monica Jackson as Bluebell
Saoirse-Monica Jackson as Bluebell

And Saoirse, obviously people will recognise you from Derry Girls, how did this compare to doing that?

SMJ: I don’t even think you can compare them at all! I suppose the only comparison is that I’m playing two characters that are trying to discover and stand up for themselves in a complicated world. But it was great to challenge myself in a new way and play a character from a different place and time. And I just love working so much that I just always have a ball when I’m doing it!

And how did you work on the accent?

SMJ: I think it’s always fun to work in a different voice. When you’re an Irish actor, or from any regional place, and I’m sure Éanna can attest to this, you always have to work on your accents and be good at them. There’s not a huge bounty of work, especially for a Derry accent like mine. So it’s something I’ve always kept my eye on so that I’m ready to rock whenever the opportunities arise.

Besides the person sitting next to you who is your favourite person to do a scene with?

ÉH: Rhys Kenwyn Pudsey who plays Alby is so good and such good fun. I just really enjoyed working with him.

SMJ: I think Jim Caesar – he was just wild craic, as we’d say at home, and he’s a great person to have around and a great improviser as well.

FC: Mine was Éanna – can I say that? Most of my stuff is with Éanna, so that was a real treat.

GW: Mine was Esme. I remember looking at the call sheet every morning and hoping that I was working with Esme, I was besotted with her very early on. It was like a joy to get to know her and work with her, she’s brilliant.

Esmé Creed-Miles as Iris Whittle, Éanna Hardwicke as Silas Reed and Reece Kenwyne-Mpudzi as Albie
Esmé Creed-Miles as Iris Whittle, Éanna Hardwicke as Silas Reed and Reece Kenwyne-Mpudzi as Albie

Did either of you have sort of like a favourite scene to film or watch back?

SMJ: My favourite scene was with Silas and Iris in the gallery when they’re looking through to each other. I thought that was so, so, so beautifully done. It’s so magical.

ÉH: That was a lot of fun. I loved the scene with Saoirse and Freddie and all of the Pre-Raphaelites to one side in The Dolphin Pub. It was brilliantly done. The pub felt like a boozer that had been there for 50 years and never left – it was dank and stale, but also really warm and all those great things a pub is. It was my first proper scene with Saoirse and it was just lots and lots of fun.

FC: We filmed a sequence at the Great Exhibition and that exemplified the kind of level of detail and commitment that went into production design. It really did feel special and otherworldly, like it must have felt at the time, to see all this stuff from all over the world. Yeah, that was a good one.

And finally, are there any sort of Easter eggs or details that are in the series that people should watch out for that you’re aware of?

FC: There’s an author cameo – author and child. When Éanna and Esme are looking at the model of the Great Exhibition, they have this very kind of beautiful Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet thing through the model and then a baby cries and distracts them. I’m 99% sure that’s Elizabeth McNeil and her actual child!

The Doll Factory is now available to stream in the UK and Ireland on Paramount+.


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