Thaddea Graham is ready to take the lead. After roles in the British series Curfew and Us, and in the 2020 Netflix Original The Letter for the King, the Chinese-born Northern Irish actor now finds herself steering a crew of misfits in The Irregulars. Set in Victorian London’s grimy, foreboding streets, the supernatural series follows a group of down-and-out teenagers as they solve crimes for some familiar figures living on Baker Street — Dr. Watson and his business partner, Sherlock Holmes.
The Irregulars masterfully blends horror, romance, fantasy, and mystery into a gritty drama, and Graham’s character, Bea, proves an enticingly headstrong commander. At the same time, the young actor herself is supremely gracious and grounded, attributing the latter quality to her Northern Irish roots. “Nobody takes themselves too seriously at home. That is so helpful in this industry where we’re told all the time, Oh, you’re brilliant, you’re fantastic!” she muses. “I think my feet are very firmly planted on the ground. If they were ever to leave it, I’d be yanked back down. That doesn’t fly at home.”
Graham is already keenly aware of the responsibility she has to young audiences through her social media presence. “It can be very dangerous to hold people on a pedestal in this industry, and we have a responsibility to break that stigma down,” she says. “I can use my social media to do that, to be like Look, see! I’m not glam all the time! It takes a lot of brilliant people who are very good at their jobs to make me look like Bea. Most of the time I live my life in sweats and a T-shirt. We have a responsibility just to be honest.”
It’s a forthright sensibility that shines through in a recent conversation with Queue’s Krista Smith, who spoke to Graham about joining the darkly fantastic world of The Irregulars.
Krista Smith: What made you want to pursue this crazy, often not rewarding profession?
Thaddea Graham: Definitely not for the stability, that’s for sure! I had always been interested in the creative arts as a kid. I used to dance a lot — terrible dancer, absolutely awful — and I used to do little amateur drama productions. I was about to go to university to do psychology, in the hopes that I could go into music therapy with kids one day. Music is such a therapy for me, and I really wanted to explore that. And my mummy said to me, “Thads, what are you doing? You’re not going to be happy in that environment. You need to be somewhere creative and with people who are creative as well. So what about drama school?” I was like, O.K., Mummy. Good one. That’s not real. That happens in movies and TV shows and books. But she had looked up all of the auditions for drama schools across the U.K., and she said, “If you want to go, we can go. I’ll take you and you can audition.”
I went in not really understanding how hard it was to get into those universities and those drama schools. I think that’s really good because had I known, I would have got in the way of myself. I would have scared myself out of it, overthought it too much. I have my mummy and my daddy to thank for that. They saw something in me that I didn’t. I knew that I loved that kind of world, but I didn’t think you could do it as a career. I didn’t have that confidence, but they really encouraged me.
I have to say, I just fell in love with Bea. She is so smart and clever and strong and resourceful. And she’s flawed, too. It was a joy to see a young female heroine like that.
TG: I completely agree, and it’s so lovely to hear someone else say that, because I’m obviously biased. I’m like, Bea’s the best person in the world! When I first auditioned, I was auditioning with scenes that were between Bea and Jessie, her little sister, or Bea and Leo, her love interest. I was reading the scenes like Oh, this is lovely. This is a nice little coming-of-age thing. Then I got the full script once I was cast, and I saw how dark it gets and all the supernatural elements, and I thought, Oh my God, this is not what I expected. It felt like being given a surprise gift. I’d just been watching Killing Eve with Jodie Comer, and I’d seen what she was doing with Villanelle, and I thought that would be the dream, to have a role that nuanced and with that many layers to her. Bea came into my life and I thought, Thanks, universe! This is my Villanelle.
There’s a lot of action in the series. What were some of your harder scenes to film?
TG: I think the most difficult scenes weren’t actually the action ones but more so the really heavy emotional ones. There’s a lot of depth to these characters and they go through a whole whirlwind of emotions. By Episode 8, they’re just exhausted. They are wiped out. I think there was a stage direction in maybe Episode 7 that said their clothes are battered and bruised as much as they are. Bea’s only 17 and she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was incredible to be able to go on that journey and to have that arc, but it was emotionally quite challenging. I learned a lot about how to keep yourself safe and able to go in the next day with just as much energy — to keep it in the tank sometimes but then be able to go full out and do it again and again and again.
You’re the protagonist the story is really centered around. What was it like assuming that leadership role? What did you learn about yourself during this process?
TG: Tom Bidwell, our creator, has been crafting this for over 10 years, and he is so passionate about what he does. I admire him and respect him so much. You don’t want to be the person who ruins it. So I really put this pressure on myself to step up and lead well. To do that you have to lean on the people around you. When I first started I thought, Oh God, this rests entirely on my shoulders. I can’t mess it up. And then I realized that everyone felt like that. We shared that responsibility. It is such an ensemble show. Although Bea is the leader of the little gang, what I love about these characters is that if you took any one of them out of it, the gang wouldn’t work. It’d fall to bits. They work together. And that’s reflective of how the set works as well. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that entire team. I’m so grateful to them because they worked so bloody hard. That team is a very, very special one.
How has growing up in Northern Ireland informed what you bring to performances?
TG: Storytelling is so ingrained in our culture at home. Some of my earliest memories are sitting down with my mummy and daddy and them just telling me wild stories. There’s a lot of folklore at home and incredible stories about giants and fairies and these little creatures. I just loved it. That was my first form of storytelling. Just letting your imagination run wild. That’s what I do as an actor. I step into this world and just play.
You bring all of that to Bea.
TG: I love that Bea says you can be whoever you want to be. Harness those things that you might feel are weaknesses, because actually I see them strengths. The whole show, all of these characters are just on a massive journey of discovery and growth, and that’s so reflective of real life. I don’t think we’ll ever have all the answers, but we can keep searching and stay curious.