Rising star Holli Dempsey, best known for playing Vicky in Ricky Gervais's comedy Derek, has recently finished filming for the highly-anticipated new Dad's Army film. In an exclusive interview with HELLO! Online, London-born Holli revealed what it was like working with Ricky, joining an all-star cast including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bill Nighy and how the movie has "stayed true" to the classic TV series.
What was your experience of making Dad's Army?
I loved it. It was a real struggle to get the job because I was doing Derek at the same time so I feel like it was a role I really earned the most. I almost lost Dad's Army because it looked like I couldn't do two jobs at once, but it turns out that I can so long as I'm on a train every single night. It was a bit of a crazy schedule but I just loved it and I feel like I learnt so much from it.
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The cast is incredible so if you're having dinner with one per cent of them then that's still Bill Nighy and Alison Steadman so you learn so much from just listening to their stories because they've been doing it for so many years. All of the men are incredible, Danny [Mays] can play any character I think and then you've got two sirs, Sir Michael Gambon and Sir Tom Courtnay, and they're both quite playful and childish at times when they are long days on set, so you can let loose and enjoy it.
What did you learn from juggling two jobs at once?
I think as an actor there are jobs that are quite comfortable and while Derek was a wonderful job, I think it was a bit comfortable and it didn't necessarily test me. It did test me in other ways but sometimes challenges come along and this was more a question of stamina: 'Can I be all the way up north and in London at the same time?' Of course I can! I can't sleep on trains so I didn't sleep, I was like an empty shell by the end, but it's one of those things that I'm glad I got to do both, I was really blessed.
It was a shame I couldn't immerse myself in Dad's Army more and just be up there but none of us could, we all had odd jobs down in London. You never know when you sit down and watch a film what everyone has been up to. Whatever age you are you're still auditioning and you're still travelling, nothing really changes apart from that you might get offered more roles and you can choose which ones are best for you. It was definitely a learning curve but to be around all of the cast it was such a privilege and everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences so it's great to sit and listen to them.
Was there anyone in the cast that you became particularly close to or that you learnt the most from?
I got on really well with Emily Atack from The Inbetweeners, I guess because we're similar ages but we had one conversation and hit it off straight away. I think I'll be friends with her in real life which is nice. I also think Felicity Montague is brilliant. She plays Lynn in I'm Alan Partridge. She's brilliant and we all got on really well. It's hard to name more than one person in the cast really because then you want include all of them!
Your character Vera is new, but the concept of Pike's girlfriend in Dad's Army isn't?
Margaret from Derek, the 95-year-old lady, told me she had watched the episode with Pike's girlfriend in it in the original series. I haven't seen that episode but apparently she doesn't speak at all. She doesn't say a word in it which is quite funny. I think there was a girlfriend in it at some point but this is a new character altogether.
Do you feel like that let you off some of the pressure to live up to the blueprint of the original characters?
Definitely. I did feel I had the freedom to go in there and make my own Vera. Oliver Parker [the director] said that my Vera was how he had imagined it so that's what you want, just to have what he and the writer had imagined. Luckily I didn't have to match up to anyone and I hope the guys didn't feel too much pressure because they'll never be the original characters because they’re different people.
Ian Lavender, who is in the film and who played the original Pike said, "Just do your own thing with it, just take Pike and do your own Pike," which I think is the best because you're never going to be the original cast. That said, I think they have got it spot on and are such a good cast so it's not going to be a phoney representation of it. I think they're all going to give something to each other. But no doubt they would have had a bigger pressure as they're classic characters and everyone knows them so well, so lucky me I wasn't one of the boys!
How are you looking forward to the release and the attention from the TV series' fans?
I'm really excited about it, I've not done a film like this before so I don't know if there's any bad things that come with it. I think that because it's so classic it's going to be a big deal and whether people like it or not they're going to go and see it. We have stayed true to the original essence of the characters and the storylines, the script is really reminiscent of the original and we've got two of the remaining cast in it.
Laughing at ourselves is something that really pulls British people together. We can even laugh at ourselves during the war, thinking the Germans were some other entity when really they were just like us, they just had a different language, so I'm excited to represent the film because I'm proud of it.
What was the highlight of the experience for you?
The trailers were always in a really nice location, they were always on the side of a cliff or somewhere really beautiful which I really liked. There was always a picturesque view whereas usually your trailer is up against a wall. Also the small things like the dinners we all had together or the walks on the beach with Alison and Felicity, those things made me feel like we all gelled. We all got to know each other quite well so that was definitely one of my favourites.
You felt like there was a nice atmosphere on set?
Yes it was really lovely. On the long days everyone can get hungry and achy and cold so there was one day where I started playing that game when you tap someone on the shoulder and run away. I did that out of nowhere to Sir Tom Courtenay and that started off a game throughout the whole day. He was getting me and I was a getting him back and you think to yourself, "He's a Sir!" The big final scene of the film was also a highlight. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to people seeing it.
Did you notice differences between making a large ensemble film and the TV work you've done on a comedy like Derek?
This was my first film so I don't know how it works entirely, but I found it was quite similar to TV. That said, Derek is a job like no other in that you finish at four o'clock and you laugh all day long. It was a really wonderful job but it spoils everything else because with Dad's Army we had to go on until six sometimes! Even eight o'clock, can you imagine? So at that point you think, "Ricky wouldn't have me working this late." But not every job is going to be like Ricky Gervais' jobs, that's a given. Other than the long days I don't think it was that different but maybe that's because it wasn't a big action movie.
What are you favourite memories from making Derek?
I love the fact that it was ensemble and that we became such a family because Ricky and Kerry [Godliman] and David [Earl] and Brett [Goldstein] are really good friends.
I've also never had grandparents in real life so I got to adopt a whole load of lovely old people to be my grandparents. I used to paint their nails and everything even when I wasn't meant to. Also my audition for Derek still sticks in my mind because that was such a breakthrough for me. In my head I was screaming but I was also playing it really cool. I was acting like my character Vicky and being really sullen and uninterested but in my head I was going "Oh my God!!" I think that was one of the things they were so impressed by, was that I played it so cool around Ricky but really that was my part so I went back to my 15-year-old mood.
You've had some funny and some quite grizzly roles, what type of characters do you enjoy playing most?
I love a bit of both. Both always challenge you – being funny and improvising is great and then in The Ice Cream girls, I had a really brutal scene, which I found hard because I've never been angry enough to stab someone.
The director had to push me quite hard that night and I'm glad he did because there's anger and then there's anger and then there's that and it's something I can't connect to because I've never felt like that. Things like that are hard because you have to muster up those feelings from somewhere. But to do both is such a blessing and I think if I did all of one then I'd miss the other.
What are your plans for 2015?
I'm really pleased to have had over 10 auditions in January. There are three really exciting ones and if I got one I'd be delighted.
My plan is just to keep auditioning. I want to do more theatre, because if I don't I feel disconnected and I miss it, and I think it takes you back to the basics and you start from the bottom and learn again. I'd love to keep doing good TV and also more films and I'd love to visit America. Britain is so well connected to America and so hopefully if they like what I'm doing here then they'll think of me for things over there. The world is getting a bit smaller for me which is great.
What do you like doing when you have time off?
Someone asked me the other day, "Are you a full time actress?" And as much as I am doing so well I'm still not [full time], I don't think anyone is full time. Catherine Zeta-Jones probably worked less than I did last year but that's because she can choose what she does and when, so it's just a different structure to it, no one's ever full time.
It’s nice to have some time off but then I get fed up of it and want to get back to work, I get restless and think "When's the next one?"
I try to keep as busy as possible, I like doing yoga and I go for a run, I say run, it's more of a walk than a run! I see my friends, including my best friend and her baby. I need to go and see more films and plays which is like homework for me and networking with the people in my industry, we're all on the journey together.