Chester actress Zoe Richards on playing Jenny Dolly in Mr Selfridge
PUBLISHED: 11:52 02 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:52 02 January 2016
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Zoe Richards is about to burst onto our screens in the fourth series of Mr Selfridge, writes Mairead Mahon
Chester actress Zoe Richards is no stranger to the limelight. This talented young performer has already enjoyed interesting TV work but she is understandably excited about her latest role.
Zoe is about to burst onto our screens in the new series of the hit drama, Mr Selfridge. She plays Jenny Dolly, a real character, who together with her twin sister, contributed to Harry Selfridge’s fall from grace. Born in Hungary, the Dolly twins were performers who loved to dance and gamble. Although they were 36 years his junior, Harry became so besotted with Jenny, that he spent millions fuelling her gambling and expensive tastes.
Zoe told me:‘I suppose you could describe her as the first of an artistic type that mixed well with high society. It’s true that she did love gambling, winning and losing huge amounts; she loved diamonds too! My first scene involved dancing on a stage, in full costume, complete with wig. I had done some breakdancing as a student but it still didn’t prepare me for some of the more intricate steps of the Black Bottom! I think I mastered it though or, at any rate, I hope so,’ laughs Zoe.
Zoe’s upbringing was nothing like that of the infamous Jenny. Raised in the village of Great Barrow, five miles to the East of Chester, she spent an idyllic childhood in a cottage by a stream with her parents, two brothers, a sister and lots of animals.
‘I did have a lovely childhood surrounded by beautiful countryside. Our county offers some of the best sunsets in England and there is no better way to round off a day than to watch the sun fall behind the Cheshire plains,’ says Zoe.
Zoe’s family are a creative lot: her parents met at art college and they encouraged their children to express themselves. ‘My parents weren’t at all pushy though: they wanted us to enjoy whatever we did. They instilled in us a love of books and, even as a little girl, I loved reading aloud to anyone I could get to listen,’ smiles Zoe.
It certainly paid off, as Zoe won several prizes for reading at the Chester Festival, something that gave her a taste for performing. However, for a little while, her love of history meant that she had a brief flirtation with archaeology.
Anyone with even a passing interest in history would be hard placed to find themselves in a better location than Chester. ‘History was one of the subjects that I studied at Sir John Deane’s College and I managed to get myself a place on a dig at Chester’s Amphitheatre. Talk about luck though: I had enough of it to be there when a colour change was discovered in the soil, brought about where Roman wooden benches had dissolved. I know it doesn’t sound as exciting as finding a massive vase or a complete skeleton but it was significant and we were all delighted,’ says Zoe.
However, it was while reading English and theatre studies at university that Zoe really decided to give acting a proper chance. She took part in university plays and became a member of the National Youth Theatre where, as well as being on the stage, she also assisted with directing. They say acting is a bug and Zoe had certainly caught it.
‘Yes, I caught it to such an extent that I went to New York to study it. The thing is though that I enjoy writing and comedy, so I combined the two and began writing my own sketches. I gulped, took the plunge and put a showreel on the internet,’ explains Zoe. That attracted enough interest for film parts to be offered, including working alongside Russell Brand in, ‘Get Him to the Greek’. Nonetheless, Zoe and her family are thrilled that she is now going to be appearing in the new Mr Selfridge.
‘We all love the programme, so it is extra special to have such a good part in it. Jenny Dolly has been tremendous fun to play and, even though I know that she was an infamous character, I really do think that there is a vulnerability about her which makes her all the more interesting,’ says Zoe.
What was it like though to work with a cast that has been together for a long time?
‘They were lovely! I met Jeremy Piven on a nervous first day and he couldn’t have been warmer. I’ve kept in touch with lots of cast and crew and I’ve promised to show them around Chester some time. I suppose my character, Jenny Dolly, would make a beeline for our famous shops and I’m not adverse to that either but only if we drink in some of the history first’.
The fourth series of Mr Selfridge will be screened on ITV on Sunday nights early in the new year.