“That’s totally illegal!” Joanna Vanderham responds, laughingly scandalized, when it’s suggested that she could have used a fake ID to buy alcohol when she was underaged and in New York in summer 2011. She’s far too sweet for that. “It was a bit of a culture shock, because obviously in Britain you can drink when you’re 18, so to come over here and say, ‘Excuse me, I’m an adult!’ and they’re like, ‘What are you talking about, small child?’ That was a bit extreme.”
The dry period was okay, though, because Vanderham — now 21 — was a bit busy shooting her first movie, the star-laden divorce dramedy What Maisie Knew.
Vanderham is a television star back home in the UK, earning major accolades in acclaimed dramas The Paradise and The Runaway, for which she was nominated for an International Emmy last year. In What Maisie Knew, she plays nanny to a young girl caught in the middle of a nasty divorce between an aging, irresponsible rock star (Julianne Moore) and selfish art dealer (Steve Coogan). A perk of the job: the romantic interest of Alexander Skarsgard.
Vanderham spoke with BuzzFeed earlier this month in New York, where there was no alcohol but plenty of cupcakes.
Did you notice a lot of differences between working in the UK and the US?
Joanna Vanderham: It’s difficult to say because this is my first movie. That in itself is different; we had more time, the type of shots we were trying to create, it wasn’t so much like get it in the can and move on to tomorrow. It was very thoughtful, the whole process. Also, you guys have craft services over here, which we don’t have there. It’s my favorite thing, I love it, free food all the time.
So many Americans love British costume dramas. Why do you think that translates here?
JV: What I’ve noticed about quite a few American people, and I don’t want to generalize, there’s a pride in the heritage and I think you ask some people from America, where’s your family from? And they know. “Oh, Ireland or Scotland.” So to see something set in the past, for them, I don’t know, but you can understand why they’re intrigued. And also British period dramas, I think Americans really love the idea of the stereotypical British, which is quite funny. But it’s also that the shows in general are easy to watch. There’s a wonderful balance of dramas and characters and conflict, but at the same time, you can still sit down after your day at work and watch this show and lose yourself. and the quality of the set and the costumes means that it’s a world, you watch that and you can forget, and so you’re having a tough day at work, then you can come home and it’s something lovely to switch off with.
And there’s only like, six to 12 episodes of each, they’re short series.
JV: Over here that’s like a mini-series, but in Britain you wouldn’t do a series for longer.
A British actress told me recently that to make it in America is the British dream, and to make it in America is to get a lot more work in the UK.
JV: I’m not sure about that. I think Britain is making quite a lot of great stuff. But to work in America and in London, that’s the dream. But for me, ultimately, I don’t necessarily have a preference or a hierarchy on where a project starts, it’s the quality of the project in general. I’ve read rubbish from London and I’ve read rubbish from America.
How is working with Steve Coogan?
JV: He’s not just making voices and telling jokes all the time, though when he does and it’s hilarious. I think what was lovely for him was that this role was a chance for him to break away from what he is sort of stereotyped as (Alan Partridge), so he really jumped at it. And that was lovely to see. There were so many moments where we had to improvise together and I was there trying not to laugh and he’s coming out with these quick, witty lines and I’m trying to keep a straight face and the corners of my mouth are twitching.
He’s known as Alan Partridge in the UK, but I feel like the stuff he’s been seen in here, he actually is seen as a cocky jerk with his characters.
JV: I think he says himself that he actually has more opportunities over here because the audience is, and the producers and casting directors, are more open to him playing someone other than Alan Partridge.
What Maisie Knew is in theaters now.