Talking to Chanel Cresswell about all things friendship, camembert and being recognised in public.
Chanel Cresswell was 15 when somebody tapped on her shoulder and told her she’d piked Shane Meadows‘ interest for the role of Kelly Jenkins. She went on to play the role for This is England, dubbed “the beloved UK drama” for over 10 years.
It’s hard for me to imagine having a serious job at the ripe age of 15, a time when many of us were probably stress-crying over a maths test or an indecipherable English poem – but it’s not like Chanel wasn’t doing that too. Being tutored on the side as she studied for her GCSEs, she suddenly found herself filming on set, her hair shaved off.
“I thought it was a joke” she says. “when somebody told me, oh yeah, it’s about a group of skinheads and so you probably have to shave all your hair off, I started laughing. I just assumed that they were totally lying to me because at the point at this time, my hair was like, really, really long.”
And so short-hair-Cresswell is how we knew her for quite some time, sometimes with a pink mohawk and others with a long fringe. Slowly but surely she seeped into every British household’s TV screen, eventually receiving a well-deserved recognition with her BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actress in 2016.
With such an award under her belt, you’d expect Cresswell to be slightly out of touch with reality. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As we chat over Zoom, I can’t help but feel like I’m back in lockdown, catching up with an old friend and discussing what to bring to our monthly wine and cheese night with the gals. One thing is for certain; If Chanel is coming, there’d better be Camembert. “I’ve had two whole camemberts to myself on one night. That’s bad.” she says, a smile creeping up as she tells me about this date night she’s got planned with her friends. “I’m gonna go to the markets, get loads of cheese, different wines and just…. I just love that… Christmas films, things like that”
It’s not just friends that Cresswell beams about. She also strikes me as somebody incredibly family oriented. When she gets a role, her mum and her sister are the first people Cresswell calls, and is something she speaks about with the frenzy of child on Christmas Eve. “I still get the same excitement” she tells me. “I’m just glad that that’s never, ever gone, and that I don’t take it for granted. Every casting director that gives me an opportunity, I’m just so, so grateful for and I… I freaking love it. It’s such a buzz.”
It’s this novelty which she also speaks about when recalling this one time she was recognised in public whilst she was out with her dad. “I think somebody kind of went up to him and went, is that… are you with her? And my dad was like… who? He’s got four children. So he was like, which, which one?”. She talks about this with a smile, especially when telling me about how her dad had left the queue for this, completely forgetting their burger orders, and eventually had to rejoin the very back and wait all over. “I had to probably wait an extra 15 minutes, but I didn’t mind. I thought it was quite amusing.”
Then something unexpected happens and suddenly I’m speaking to Chanel Cresswell about religion. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d write those words. Cresswell doesn’t strike me as being particularly religious herself, more just curious about how people live their lives differently, which is also perhaps why she’s so interested in travel – she talks about wanting to visit Italy, India or Thailand. I suggest adding the Camino de Santiago to her list, a network of pilgrimages that lead to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. “Let me get my pen” She says. “I just wrote that down that um, that suggestion of yours, so I’m gonna have a look at that.”
The moment I ask Cresswell what she loves most about herself is the only one point in our conversation where I see Channel become slightly uneasy. She’s quick to tell me she struggles to talk about herself, and initially tells me about her cooking skills, only to then dive deeper and let on that she’s often a confidante of sorts when her friends need someone to talk to. This doesn’t surprise me, there’s something very approachable about Chanel, her demeanour and mannerisms. This seems to happen on set too. Cresswell tells me a few anecdotes which seem to prove she’s the one who gets everyone involved, the creator of WhatsApp group chats and that one friend that encourages everyone to get together for a good time.
When talking about her latest release, a screen adaptation of the scandalous Vardy V Rooney scandal, where she is playing Coleen, she tells me about the Trivia quizzes they used to play on set and the challenges of playing a role of somebody else in an entirely odd setting. “Not only are you having to impersonate, or act, Coleen Rooney, you’re also having to take her and put her into a courtroom situation. And on top of that you are given a transcript which you kind of have to stick to. You have no creative freedom, you have to stick to it legally. So this was multilayered in terms of having to build a character, having to use your own into intuition and intonation.”
We end the call on an inspiring note. I ask her what she wouldn’t like to die wondering about, and she comes out with a Tony Robbins like answer which lingers on my mind long after I press the “leave meeting” red zoom button.
“Just go and give it a go. Yeah. Because who knows? All that can happen is that, okay, it doesn’t work out well. So what? Think of another thing you wanna do and go for that.”
Vardy V Rooney: A Courtroom Drama starts 9pm 21st December on Channel 4 and All 4.Both episodes will be available to stream or download on All 4 for free following the transmission of the first episode, and the final ep airs at 9pm on the following evening, 22nd.
Photography courtesy of Joseph Sinclair @josephsinclair
Styling: Kelvin Barron @kelvinstylist
Make-up: Justine Jenkins @justinejenkins
Hair: Sophie Sugarcane @themanestyle