Actress Holli Dempsey is soon to star in the film remake of iconic British series Dad’s Army
Dad’s Army is already making waves, not only due to its immense reputation as a series, but also down to its exceptionally boastful cast. Holli joins stellar cast members Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Gambon, playing the part of ‘Pike’s (The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison) girlfriend, Vera.
Born and raised in London, Holli has been a guest lead in a multitude of successful TV shows including Doctor Who and Whitechapel, Holli is best known for her performances as Vicky in the award winning Ricky Gervais directed series Derek.
Having always had her eyes firmly set on a career in acting, she honed her craft by immersing herself in school plays from a young age. Holli decided against taking the drama school route into acting, instead she claimed a waitressing job in a local theatre. Naturally this led her to getting involved in as many plays and short films as she could possible, before she took the initiative of writing and performing her own show reel. This prompted her to being picked up by her now agent, Piers Nimmo.
Andy Howells recently put questions to Holli about her career and forthcoming appearance in the big screen remake of Dad’s Army.
How did you get into acting?
I still remember the first time I played a character on stage. It was my first school play in year 7 – Little Shop of Horrors, where I played Detective Bernstein. Year 7’s were only allowed to be a part of chorus but I was offered this part by the director as I hung around the rehearsals so much, just soaking up the atmosphere. I suppose that was my first clue as to one of the keys to success in this industry – passion and persistence.
After that night I knew all I ever wanted to do was to tell stories through acting. There was no match for the feeling of being in front of a live audience. I started attending a wonderful local youth theatre which I attended once a week for about 7 years. In this time I went from the shy/silent type to knowing 100% that I wanted to make a career out of this. For me, meeting my agent Piers Nimmo in 2010 was when things really started happening for me
What can you say about your character Vera in Dad’s Army?
Vera is a very sweet and loyal girl, I’d call her ‘salt of the earth’. She is besotted by her beloved Pike and very much a part of the women in the film who have a much bigger presence than in the original series.
What was it like acting with such a strong cast?
It was never dull. Bill Nighy is a really lovely man with a wealth of stories up his sleeve. Also, when he gives you a compliment, it really resonates. He’s very charming. Toby Jones is truly mesmerising, I love watching him ‘play with’ the character of Mainwaring. He has such a physicality which is fascinating to watch. I loved hearing Alison Steadman and Felicity Montague’s stories of the industry. We were all bonded over this classic job – all were lovely and so incredibly talented.
Are you a fan of the original Dad’s Army TV Series and if so what do you enjoy most about it?
I adore the original series now, my uncle bought me the box set for Christmas, and with over 39 hours of footage, it’s a good job I do like them!!
Admittedly, as a child I avoided it at all costs. The green and grey colouring of the show and subtle humour just didn’t appeal to me as a little girl, I am so glad I’ve had a reason to go back and watch it as it is just genius. The characters and the comedy hasn’t aged at all, despite being set in another era. All the characters are so 3D and diverse. Whether you identify with a more jack-the-lad character of Walker or the dry humour of Wilson, there is a character for everyone. When characters are that detailed and strong, you can put them in any situation, with hilarious consequences!
Why do you think the popularity of Dad’s Army has endured?
I think the wonderful characters and basic themes IE; friendship, survival and war are all intrinsic to us as humans so are therefore relatable. The situation may not directly relate to us today but the essence of the characters and their spirit stays the same. The comedy seems as current now as ever. The idea of the men being mostly the ‘over-age and untrained’ underdogs is inherent in British comedy too. Like Brent in The Office or Basil in Fawlty Towers – We seem to be great at doing things terribly!
Do you think die-hard fans will like the new film version, particularly as everyone is so familiar with the original?
I fully expect people to shout “just leave it be – it was a classic” and I think this is fair enough and a testament to how well loved the series was. To that I would say: Rest assured we aren’t trying to remake it, but celebrate it instead. I definitely feel that everyone involved did their best to honour the spirit and vibe of the original series. We even have two of the remaining cast members in the film. Even more reason to watch!
My hope is that a younger generation of people are drawn to see the film, maybe by the younger cast ie; Blake Harrison or Emily Atack. I believe if they like the film, they are going to LOVE the original series. Like me, they will then realise they were foolish to dismiss it as a child. It’s OK, we all make mistakes!
You’re no stranger to Sitcom having appeared alongside Ricky Gervais in Derek which has been known for its controversial and sensitive matter, what was working on the show like for you?
Derek really was a dream job – like no other! Series 2 was my favourite to film as my character was really integrated into the Broadhill family and Vicky had finally found her place. I am really proud of this as her character was originally only ever meant to be in one scene! Ricky and I took it from that and managed to expand her story and take her on a journey. My memories of filming are just laughing all day long, and finishing before 4pm. No complaints there then!
I am really proud of the show on a whole too. It came up against criticism at first, mainly by people who hadn’t watched it! (Funny that!) But I could stand by the fact that I thought the show was really important and sweet. It made people react emotionally and think about how they treat others. That is a pretty rare and powerful thing for a 24 min TV show to do. The main theme is kindness and I think that’s a thing we could do with a lot more of in the world.
You’ve had experience in both drama and comedy, what do you enjoy most?
I genuinely love doing both, for different reasons. Comedy has such a big pay off when people enjoy it. Life can be tough, we need to laugh. I still remember those who made me laugh as child, it really stays with you. Drama is a chance to get my teeth into a script, find out what makes the character tick. It is likely to stretch your emotional range too i.e.; The Ice Cream Girls was sometimes tough to film, when it came to violent scenes.
But I have to do both. I really admire Julie Walters’ career in that sense. She has gone from wild and outlandish stage comedy to true-to-life, gritty film characters. THAT’s my dream! You can’t have sunshine without a little rain!
What’s your favourite comedy movie or television sitcom and why?
When I’m at home with the family and we want to watch something we have a few faithful box sets to rely on. I have always loved Only Fools and Horses as the jokes and characters never get old. I also believe it is particularly relevant now, as we have experienced a Recession and everyone wants a bargain – everybody knows a Del Boy!
As I mentioned, we have so far only watched about 4 out of the 39 classic hours of the Dad’s Army box set!
As for my favourite comedy film, Four Lions by Chris Morris is definitely ‘up there’. I can draw comparisons between the hapless, wannabe British terrorists in Four Lions and the similarly unfortunate boys in Green from Dad’s Army. The characters in the film are all so individual and strong. There isn’t an actor in that film that I wouldn’t love to work with!
Who makes you laugh?
Who makes me laugh? My best friend! Also, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse never fail to surprise, amaze and of course, make me chuckle!!
Beyond the Dad’s Army film do you have any other projects lined up?
I gave birth recently on Call the Midwife. I will be appearing in an episode of upcoming DCI Banks series and an episode of new comedy show The Delivery Man. I’m flying off to South Africa next week to film a part in a new comedy show for Sky. Watch this space! But more importantly I will be supporting Wales in the 6 Nations Rugby!
A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on May 1, 2015.