Jodie Turner-Smith has reflected on being the first black actress to be cast as Anne Boleyn in Channel 5’s forthcoming three-part drama.
Speaking to Radio Times on Tuesday, The Queen and Slim star, 34, admitted that she knew it might be ‘a stretch’ for some viewers to see her as the doomed second wife of Henry VIII, but said she was sure others were ‘finally ready’ to see her in the role.
Jodie is the first black actress to portray Anne, and she follows in the footsteps of Natalie Dormer, Claire Foy and Natalie Portman by playing the historic part.
‘I am aware it’s going to be a stretch for some people’: Jodie Turner-Smith reflected on being the first black actress to be cast as Anne Boleyn in a new interview on Tuesday
Reflecting on this, Jodie told the publication: ‘It’s much more approachable and appealing to a contemporary audience when you cast this way because we are distilling this down to a human experience.
‘If you ask anyone to watch a film or to observe any art, you are asking them to suspend their beliefs.
‘I am aware it’s going to be a stretch for some people because they will feel too distracted by that, but I think for a lot of other people who are finally ready to see the world in a different way, they’re going to see that this is a human story we are telling, and a fascinating one at that.’
Thoughts: Jodie said while some viewers might find it hard to see her as the doomed second wife of Henry VIII (pictured), she was sure others were ‘finally ready’ to see her in the role
Jodie went on to discuss how Anne was executed after King Henry began to hate how independent and intelligent she was.
‘Before I met my husband [The Affair star Joshua Jackson], some of the men I dated would love what they saw but the minute we got together, the thing they loved was the very thing they wanted to stamp out.
‘I think that’s the mark of any powerful woman: the male ego can be quite fragile. They love how outspoken you are and suddenly it’s, “You’re speaking too much.”‘
Jodie welcomed her daughter Janie in April 2020, and she explained how motherhood has changed the way she sees other women and their experiences.
Candid: Jodie said, ‘For a lot of other people who are finally ready to see the world in a different way, they’re going to see that this is a human story we are telling’
Of her character, she said: ‘Anne, like all women at the time, was trying to navigate the patriarchy as a mother and a woman and that’s what makes this story so powerful and interesting; it felt relatable and modern.’
Anne Boleyn will explore the final months of Anne Boleyn’s life from the eponymous Queen’s perspective, as she struggles to secure a future for her daughter and to challenge the powerful patriarchy closing in around her.
The three-part series will depict the key moments that cause Anne to topple, unpicking her immense strength, her fatal vulnerabilities and her determination to be an equal among men.
The cast also includes I May Destroy You’s Paapa Essiedu, who will portray the role of Anne’s brother and Tudor nobleman George.
Background: The series explores the final moments of the queen’s life from her lens before she is executed by her husband
Dating Amber actress Lola is featured as Anne’s love rival, Jane Seymour, who succeeded her as the Queen of England.
Jamael Westman, Amanda Burton and Thalissa Teixeira also play roles in the mini-series – which finished production on location in Yorkshire in December 2020.
Penned by writer Eve Hedderwick Turner and directed by Lynsey Miller, Anne Boleyn aims to ‘challenge all the conventions of who we think Anne Boleyn was and shines a feminist light on her story.’
Challenging conventions: The three-part series will depict the key moments that cause Anne to topple, unpicking her immense strength and her determination to be an equal among men
Fable Pictures added: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled to have the magnetic Jodie Turner-Smith on board to encapsulate Anne’s determination to be an equal among men and to pave a path for her daughter.
‘We feel that history has side-lined the voice of this ambitious Queen in favour of the men who brought her down, and that Lynsey Miller’s beautiful, intimate vision will put Anne’s gaze at the heart of the piece.’
Ben Frow, director of programs at ViacomCBS, added: ‘This project re-frames her story as a propulsive psychological thriller, told from a new perspective, with top talent like Jodie Turner-Smith attached.
Queen: Back in 2007, Natalie Dormer took on the role of Anne Boleyn alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s Henry VIII in BBC series, The Tudors
All the stars: Natalie Portman took on the role of the Queen for The Other Boleyn Girl in 2008, while Claire Foy played her for the BBC’s £7 million series Wolf Hall in 2009
‘It was simply too irresistible to say no to and I’m very excited to see the finished product.’
Director Miller previously defended the decision to give the role to a black actress, after sparking accusations of ‘blackwashing’.
The TV executive said: ‘I feel very strongly that we have the best actress for the role so I am happy to stand by it. I’m very proud of what we have created together, so let them talk.
Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second wife whose historical significance is often overlooked due to her brutal death
Though perhaps best known in English history for the brutal way in which she met her end, Anne Boleyn’s mark on the country’s history is far more significant.
Born the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, in 1501, she first came into the eye-sight of Henry VIII in 1522 when she secured a post at court as maid of honour to the king’s first Catherine of Aragon.
It was not until 1526 that Henry began his pursuit of Anne – a pursuit which was initially resisted.
Her refusal to be a mistress sparked Henry to approach the then-Pope to have his marriage annulled.
When it became clear this would not be allowed, Henry began his drive to break the power of the Catholic Church in England – what later became known as the English Reformation.
Henry and Anne formally married in January 1533 – a move which resulted in the Pope excommunicating Henry and him consequently taking control of the Church of England.
But it was ultimately not a happy marriage after Boleyn failed to produce a male heir.
In order to marry again he needed a reason to end his marriage to Anne and she was investigated for high treason and sent to the Tower of London.
Her beheading in the tower of London followed the miscarriage of a male child, and increasing clashes with Thomas Cromwell who is blamed for orchestrating the charges against her after engineering the break from the Catholic Church.
Court rumours also suggested that Boleyn’s forthright manner and intelligence angered courtiers. She was politically astute and allied with Protestant reformers of the church, including Cromwell before he turned on her.
And her execution immediately followed the death of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. That event legally freed Henry to pursue marriage with Boleyn’s lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour, if his current wife were to die.
She was convicted on 15 May 1536 and beheaded four days later.
Henry began courting Jane Seymour in 1536.
Anne did leave one more mark on English history though, her daughter, Elizabeth, who was crowned as queen in 1558.
During her daughter’s reign, Anne became venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation.
‘There are going to be a lot of people who don’t like it, but I feel like there has to be space for that and there are going to be a lot of people who love it. I’m one of them.’
It is the second time a BAME actress has played the role of Anne Boleyn on screen, after Merle Oberon, an Anglo-Indian actress who played the royal in Alexander Korda’s 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII.
Though she claimed she was Australian, in order to avoid prejudice at the time, Oberon was born in India to a British army officer father and Indian mother. She was nicknamed ‘Queenie’ in honour of Queen Mary and King George V’s visit to India in 1911.
On her role, an excited Jodie, who was born in Peterborough to Jamaican parents, said: ‘Delving deeper into Anne Boleyn’s immense strengths while examining her fatal weaknesses and vulnerabilities, Eve’s scripts immediately captured my imagination.
‘In the hands of Lynsey Miller, the legend of this formidable queen and fierce mother will be seen as a deeply human story that is still so relevant for today.
‘I look forward to bringing my heart and spirit into this daring retelling of the fall of this iconic woman.’
Henry’s second wife, who was the white daughter of English nobility, is also one of the key causes of the English Reformation and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.
Anne was famously beheaded in 1536 for high treason after failing to produce a male heir.
Her execution in the Tower of London followed the miscarriage of a male child, and increasing clashes with Thomas Cromwell – who is blamed for orchestrating the charges against her after engineering the break from the Catholic Church.
Court rumours also suggested that Anne’s forthright manner and intelligence angered courtiers.
She was politically astute and allied with Protestant reformers of the church, including Thomas before he turned on her.
Her killing immediately followed the death of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon.
That event legally freed Henry to pursue marriage with Anne’s lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour, if his current wife were to die.
Jodie is the latest in a line of Hollywood stars who have taken on the role in recent years.
Back in 2007, Natalie Dormer took on the role alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s Henry VIII in BBC series, The Tudors.
The series was panned by critics for its ‘sexed-up, dumbed down’ version of English history, and received hundreds of complaints from viewers and academics who claimed to spot modern radiators, Tarmac driveways, concrete bollards and Victorian carriages.
With its raunchy explicit sex scenes the drama, which ran for four series, was part of a bid to interest younger audiences in history.
Natalie Portman then took on the role of the Queen for The Other Boleyn Girl – directed by Justin Chadwick – which was moderately successful at the box office when it was released in 2008.
She starred alongside Scarlett Johansson, who played her sister Mary.
The film followed the plight of Anne Boleyn and her marriage to Henry VIII, played by Eric Bana, as her sister Mary muscled in on the King’s affections with the help of David Morrissey’s character, their uncle The Duke of Norfolk.
In 2009, Claire Foy took on the role for the BBC’s £7 million series Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel.
The show – which also starred Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII – charted the rise of Cromwell from blacksmith’s son to one of the most powerful men in King Henry VIII’s court.
While viewers praised the cast and their acting abilities, some said the slow pace had sent them to sleep and complained there was too much complex Tudor history to make for entertaining viewing
Meanwhile, news of Jodie’s role came after months after she welcomed her daughter, Janie, now 13 months, with Fringe actor husband Joshua Jackson, 42.
In the October 2020 issue of Vogue, the British model confirmed her child’s name for the first time in print, and reflected on what it’s been like to parent a newborn in the midst of the pandemic.
For more: Read the full interview in Radio Times, out now
The thespian explained: ‘I had to learn how to breastfeed and how to be a mum—it really worked out for my baby.’
The article reported that after giving birth in April, Jodie’s mother Hilda came to stay with them for three months amid the pandemic, and while protests began erupting around the world in the fight of social justice and racial equality.
The Queen & Slim star reflected that it was a ‘comfort’ to have both her mother and husband with her and the baby during that time, without the outside pressures of work and amid a time of change and upheaval.
Anne Boleyn will be released on Channel 5 later this year. Read the full interview in Radio Times, out now.
New mum: British model Jodie welcomed her daughter, Janie, now 13 months, with Fringe actor husband Joshua Jackson, 42, in April 2020 (pictured November 2019)