Sophie Vavasseur plays Little Nell in the ITV1 Boxing Day production of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. She spoke recently about working on the project.
“Nell lives with her grandfather because her mother died when she was young and her dad couldn’t really cope. Although she’s only 13, I think people look up to her because she has to take on responsibilities beyond her years. She misses out on a lot of her childhood and has to be the adult because her grandfather has his problems. You can see at the start she is more of a normal 13-year-old and then has to take some giant leaps forward in maturity to take care of herself and her grandfather.
“She touches everyone in the story in some way. Every time she thinks her grandfather is getting better she takes one step forward and then two steps back. It must take a lot of willpower. Mrs Jarley is the first motherly figure she’s had, and she tries to cling onto that. She’s just so gullible and vulnerable. Like with Mr Codlin and Mr Short: she just wants friends and to like people, and these guys are really funny and nice to her, even though it turns out that they just want the reward. My mum was joking all the time and saying ‘you need to be more like Nell’. She’s flawless and she does anything for anyone.
“It really is an honour to play Nell. It’s amazing to work with people like Derek Jacobi and Toby Jones and Martin Freeman too. The first time we met at the readthrough everyone was introducing themselves and I just sat there with my mouth wide open thinking ‘I’m Sophie… just Sophie!’ I’ve learned so much from them, not just about acting but because the atmosphere of the whole thing has given me a real experience of the life of an actor. I think the director Brian (Percival) could see at the start that I wasn’t that confident in myself but he really made a connection. It was a relationship where I wasn’t afraid to say anything and could relate it to my everyday life by talking about my own relationship with my grandparents. It really brings it back to reality when you can work off everyday experiences. Having Nell’s thoughts in my head really worked for me. With [the film] Evelyn I was just nine-years-old, but this job really matured me I think. If I mess up then at least I can say I’m only small – small people tend to make mistakes.
“Dickens is one of those writers who really left his trademark. It’s just something about his writing that helps you form really vivid pictures of all of his characters in your mind, and although mine aren’t the most stylish or flattering dresses, I do like period costume. When I saw Mrs Jarley I loved her outfits but there was me left with something resembling an old curtain or something. I was wearing my Uggs at all times on set though – that was my compromise!”
The Old Curiosity Shop | ITV1 Network | 26 December 2007 @ 9.00pm