It’s been an incredible decade for Rachel Shenton.
Since leaving her role as Hollyoaks fan favourite Mitzeee Minniver in 2013, the actress has worked on several exciting projects in both the UK and the US, from starring in ABC Family’s Switched At Birth to her appearance in compelling crime drama A Confession. Now, she’s returning to screens on both sides of the Atlantic as she reprises her role as Helen Alderson in the second series of heartwarming farmyard drama All Creatures Great And Small.
Keen to find out more about the new series, her next projects and her 2017 Oscar win, DDW recently caught up with Rachel herself…
Hi, Rachel! Fans of All Creatures Great And Small will be pleased to see you’re returning as Helen for a second series. Can you tell us a little more about your character?
Helen is a farmer’s daughter, born and raised in Derby on Heston Grange farm. She has a deep love for the animals and the Dales countryside. She also has a lot of responsibility for a young woman; her mum passed away when she was younger and so she takes care of the domestic duties on the farm, as well as the animals, driving the tractors and plays an almost parental role for her younger sister Jenny – so she has a lot on her plate.
What’s the best thing about being a part of All Creatures Great And Small?
At the risk of sounding cheesy, and aside from getting to spend five months in one of the most beautiful places in the country, for me, it’s the people that I get to work with. All of the cast and crew are just brilliant! We quickly became a surrogate family and I feel very lucky to be a part of that.
What was it like filming with animals for the series?
The animal scenes are a real highlight for me. It’s obviously not something you get to do in every job. It’s a real privilege because these are intelligent, well-trained animals that do things on cue, time and time again; it’s pretty special to watch. Jill and Dean Clarke are two of our animal trainers who do such a fantastic job.
Can you let us in on any secrets of what to expect from series two?
Well, I’m not allowed to tell you any secrets – you’ll have to tune in! [laughs] But I can say that this season there will be more animals, community, humility and love. There’s also a bit more romance and not just for James and Helen… That’s all I’m saying.
You received an Oscar for your 2017 short film The Silent Child. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? What drove you to make the film?
I did, yeah. It was such a surreal experience, especially because the short film was a labour of love – we did it on a shoestring. I wrote it, and my husband (Chris Overton) directed it. It’s crazy to think that a little passion project ended up at the Oscars.
The impetus behind the film was a couple of things: I’ve been campaigning for access to education for deaf children for a number of years and I don’t think there is a more powerful medium than film to help portray a message, so that was one reason. Another was to give myself a job as the show that I was in at the time (Switched at Birth) was coming to an end. It worked out quite well!
Have you seen any changes in the way that deafness is treated in the years since the film’s release?
Yes and no is the answer to that, I think. There’s certainly still a long way to go.
You’ve always been a passionate advocate for the deaf community. How did that involvement start?
My lovely dad lost his hearing very suddenly when I was 12 and I was exposed to deafness. Had that not have happened, it might never have been on my radar. All the typical family things that we took for granted like calling my dad on the phone, going out for dinner, going to the cinema – they suddenly became difficult, and my interest grew from there. I started to learn sign language and fell in love with it. I’m super proud that I recently passed my Level 6.
You founded Hear Art last year. Tell us a little more about that…
Hear Art was founded by Cindy Sasha and myself with a focus to merge the hard of hearing communities in the UK film industry. We are making three short films and we commit to 50% deaf and 50% hearing filmmakers and cast and crew. We want to challenge the conversation around communication and accessibility on a film/TV set and start those really difficult chats. It was also important to create a safe space where people feel like they can ask questions and get it wrong; certainly from my perspective, as a hearing person, I won’t and don’t always get it right, but I think as long as we all commit to trying our best – learning and moving forwards – then we’ll make positive steps in the right direction.
What have been some of your career highlights so far?
It’s hard to say because all jobs are special in their own ways. Winning an Oscar is obviously up there. Working in America was very cool and then being part of All Creatures is wonderful because all of my family loved the books, so this one feels special.
Tell us about the next projects that you have in the pipeline…
I’m going to do that funny thing that actors do and say there’s a couple of really exciting things happening that I’m not allowed to talk about yet – I always think it’s a cliché thing to say as you can say it so many times when there isn’t anything coming up… But, this time, there are actually some really exciting things approaching that I’m not allowed to talk about yet.
Series 2 of All Creatures Great And Small airs on Thursdays, 9pm on Channel 5 in the UK and will hit US screens in Winter 2022.
Photographer: David Reiss / Stylist: Steph Kelly / Makeup: Sam Cooper (at Carol Hayes Management) / Hair: Sven Bayerbach (at Carol Hayes Management)