The Domina actress tells us all about her first steps as an actress and her role in the new Sky Atlantic drama
Nadia Parkes is one of Britain’s most exciting rising stars in the TV and film industry. She’s taking on the unenviable task of playing a young Livia Drusilla in Sky Atlantic’s next big drama, Domina. After previous roles in The Spanish Princess, Starstruck and even an episode of Doctor Who, Nadia takes centre stage here, especially in the first two episodes, with a beautifully human but accurate portrayal of Livia.
The show itself tells the compelling and often overlooked story of one of history’s most iconic women, rewriting a hugely male-dominated part of history from the perspective of Livia as opposed to the many male characters, whose stories have been told again and again.
Prior to the show’s premiere on May 14th, we caught up with Nadia to discuss herself, the show, and its important message of female empowerment.
T: A huge welcome to you Nadia. Can you tell us a little bit about how your week's been going so far?
N: My week is wonderful, very excited that I get to do this press junket. It would be nice to do it in the normal situation where everyone's kind of got a buzz around them BUT I'm enjoying the new bits of found freedom …. I have been to a beer garden with a friend!
T: Excellent, so let's go back to you growing up as a kid. How did you first get into acting?
N: You know when people ask me this, I'm always a bit confused because I don't ever remember a singular moment where I decided that this is what I want to do. I just remember being in English classes and every single time, you'd have to do that reading out loud, I just remember always wanting to put up my hand so I could do all the voices and the narration. Then I started joining drama clubs and I did the school shows, I used to go to the theatre with my family and I would just sit like a kid in a candy shop, I was so amazed by these people and how much they would just put themselves out there on the stage. I think I've always been a bit of a performer, but I don't remember a singular moment where I went, "Well, this is it for me".
T: Can you remember the very first school play you were a part of that made you laugh so much?
N: Well obviously I was part of the Nativity, everyone was. I was Mary. We actually have it on a home video, I refused to give the baby Jesus back and I started crying when they took the baby Jesus away from me. Then I think when I got to Secondary school, I was in Trojan Women and I remember playing Cassandra who's the crazy mad one. I was in that and LOVED every second of it and I think that was my first ever lead role that I'd ever played and had more to do than just kind of come on and be a tree.
T: Brilliant, so obviously you said you saw shows at the theatre growing up, who were some of the idols and people on stage that you looked up to?
N: So, I grew up in a town called Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon, which is the home of the RSC, is right down the road so I'd basically go there once every two weeks with my Mum and Dad. When I ever came to London too I saw incredible people like Harriet Walter and Helen McRory, I think they're all really inspiring actors and the British theatre World is a very exciting one with amazing, amazing women at the top of it.
T: How did you then find the transition from theatre or stage to then film and TV?
N: So yes, I trained at LAMDA and that training was a classical training. My first job was a film job in TV, and I haven't yet worked on stage but I technically kind of trained in it. But I think all the skills you learn, they're so interchangeable and I think getting on stage there might just be moments of, "Okay, well how do I protect my voice when I do this for seven shows", and that's the part of film that you don't really have to think about as much.
T: Can you remember one teacher that kicked your butt every time but thinking back you know they had your best interests at heart?
N: One-Huuuundred percent! We had a movement teacher called John Baxter who would get us rolling around on the floor, he'd shout at us, he would tell you "That wasn't right, do it again". He was just such an inspiration and really got us exploring so many different characters and kind of just learning to let go. But yes, I now have a really good relationship with him - we check in on each other and see how we're doing - but there were times back then where I'd be like, "It's 9am and I don't want to roll around on the floor".
T: Haha, that's awesome, so let's fast-forward to the upcoming show on Sky Atlantic, Domina. Tell us a little bit about what it was that drew you to the character you're playing, Livia Drusilla.
N: So, when I first read the script, I was quite blown away by the female-led aspect of the show and I think to see such a strong-headed woman written from such a young age. Often you see these really strong characters, but they come later in their womanhood. She's 15 when we first meet her and she's about to get married and she has a greater understanding than her own father that it's her duty.
He even says to her, I think in the first scene, "It's not too late" and she says , "This is my honour; this is my duty, and this is my family". I was really drawn to the female-led story and the journey she goes on, what a gift for an actor to get to play somebody who starts on their wedding night having been promised to a man that's way older than her from the age of 6, moving through to killing someone, moving through to being exiled, moving through to marrying somebody who is on the direct opposition of her and what she believes in because she knows that she is going to gain back her power and gain back her inheritance and her reputation.
T: What do you think that kind of revealed to you about the lives of women during that time in Ancient Rome then?
N: I think it's fascinating. We only know Ancient Rome from the male perspective. My only knowledge of it was the play, Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. Yeah so, I think it's really important to claim a bit of history back and show that. A lot of the show is really factual, and I think it's really important to show that Livia was this really powerful woman, and she executed her power in the only way that was available to her at the time which was through men, she had to do everything through men but I think it's a really important story because it rewrites a bit of history and that is important now - it's empowering.
T: Good yeah and I think it's very important as well because it's in a way, highlighting the untold female stories within history as well.
N: Definitely. You know, Gaius Julius is quite a famous person within Ancient Rome, when I was working in Rome and out there there's so much history about Gaius. Livia was like his inner working, she was the driving force behind this man who achieved everything, had so much power and that is really all down to Livia and her "manipulation" of him. She was manipulative, and I think that's empowering to say. I think it makes it an empowering story to tell when you show a female character as strong as that with all her good points and all her bad points because otherwise, it's not real. We can't just go around showing these amazing, strong, powerful women if they're not flawed because every human in life is flawed.
T: So how do you think then people can compare empowerment from today's society to empowerment back then?
N: I think the main difference is that there's still a really long way to go, but with women and female empowerment now, our voices are up and rising, we're making them heard, we're voicing opinions and making demands for equality. I think back then they couldn't, they had to use the men around them and none of the power they achieved they could really own, they had to be attached to somebody with power whereas now we can have powerful women that stand on their own two feet.
T: In terms of getting into the character, what were your priorities in the personal touches you wanted to bring, to make sure that Livia is embraced for who she was?
N: I worked really closely with Claire McCarthy, who is the director of this piece, or at least the first three episodes, and she really was amazing guidance to me. We worked really closely to make sure that we were telling a story of Livia that was real and human because Ancient Rome deals with massive ideas: GODS and DEATH and MASSACRES and crazy politics. I think, we wanted to show that regardless of this male-dominated, power-driven world, there were real emotions there, she was a real person, and she felt these things and she was fearful of her future, she lusted after Gaius, she was afraid of being a bad mother and wanted to protect her children, all these really real things that women today will identify with. I remember sitting down with the script and thinking "Right, I need to get into the mindset of a 200BC woman". Then I started reading and, this is a testament to Simon Burke's writing as well, I very quickly realised that actually there's a lot of things about Livia that is really human, and I didn't need to get into this 200BC mindset because it's all the same.
Humanity is humanity and I thought "Oh, she is totally relatable" and she's actually very forward-thinking, she's very modern. In the first episode, they talk about how she was brought up to think like a man and that shows how forward-thinking she was for the time because women were very much women and men were very much men. Livia didn't really see those boundaries and she didn't see that block, which was one of the things that drew me to her. She could probably see it, but she wasn't fazed by it.
T: So, what kind of parts of her personality are going to rub off on your own personality?
N: I would love to be a bit more Livia. I think it's a great thing to be a bit more strong-minded like her. She has an ability which I actually wish I had, to be a little bit colder than I am sometimes. Claire and I had a shorthand where we would do a take which was quite empathetic and human. Then she'd come in and she'd say "Nadia, eye of the tiger", and when she said to me "eye of the tiger" I knew she meant to flip into straight-faced, intense Livia.
T: Excellent so, obviously it's getting closer to May 14th and the show coming out so have you started having sleepless nights or is it adrenaline and "go-go-go"?
N: No, I'm just excited! I'm sure there's always a sleepless night but mainly it's just pure excitement. I'm really excited for people to see the story of Livia, I think it's a really interesting one and IT'S REAL. I'm still thinking, "Wait, so you're telling me that she was exiled and then she married her arch-enemy and then did that AND she killed a man, and she did all of this within 5 years of her life and that's not even the rest of it?".
T: Yeah, so playing a young Livia, what do you think from just telling the story through her younger years that you learned about her coming-of-age moment?
N: So, where she starts out at the beginning of episode one to where I leave her in episode two is drastically different. So really, for me, it was important to show that she was so changed by the events that happened in her life, and that is the foundations of what goes on to be one of the most powerful women in history. She did so much for women and then her son came along after her and rewrote all the things that she had implemented, and it took women hundreds of years to get back to the place Livia had got them to. But you're right, it is really a coming-of-age story, but it's a coming-of-age story in kind of crazy circumstances.
T: So as the world gets ready to see you on screen, what's the best way for them to embrace Domina?
N: I'd say, just hold tight. Get ready for the rollercoaster because what happens within two episodes, usually that happens across eight episodes. But yes Livia does a lot of things that you sometimes question, I think Kasia makes them make sense afterwards. There are horrible moments where she takes somebody else's child off them, but that was also because that was part of the rules that a man, after any divorce, would automatically get the children. There are moments where you think she is completely manipulative and self-involved and, in some ways, she is but she's always trying to gain power for survival in this world that is dog-eat-dog so I don't judge her, and I would hope other people wouldn't too. Just because she makes those icy cold decisions sometimes doesn't mean that she's automatically not a nice person. She can still be motherly and warm and kind in certain aspects of her life but really, it's all survival and in a really male-dominated, scary world where she grew up without a mother and her father went off to war and died, she's lost everything, so she needs to rise to the top and when she gets there, she doesn't want to lose it again
T: Brilliant, well Nadia it's been amazing speaking to you!
N: Aww thank you, it's been lovely!
T: As you think forward to the road ahead, what's making you smile about your next adventures and search for your own identity as an amazing actress?
N: Aww, what a lovely question! So much makes me smile, really just the amount of possibilities that my life could hold for me. I'm really excited for the world to hopefully go back to normal and to embrace my friends and family and not let them go.
T: It'll be like that baby Jesus all over again!
N: Haha yes, Mother Mary all over, full circle! No, I'm really excited to hopefully get on the stage at some point and also to work on more TV and film projects that are stories that I care about and stories I want to tell and characters that are really interesting and fun and maybe allow me to do things that either I didn't think I could do or that I didn't think were within me.
T: Awesome, well I wish you all the best and I look forward to watching the show on May 14th.
Domina is an exceedingly brilliant drama that tells a new, refreshing, and important story set in possibly the most popular and most discussed period of Ancient Rome, the reign of Julius Caesar. Nadia herself delivers a powerhouse of a performance in the first two episodes as a young Livia Drusilla, effortlessly capturing her ruthlessness, kindness, and wisdom in what is arguably the young actress’ first major role. We honestly can’t wait to watch the rest of the series as it premieres on Sky Atlantic, and we are equally excited to see the path that Nadia Parkes’ career takes. We can say for certain; both of them are going to take the UK scene by storm.
Article By Matt Codd // Interview By Thushara S. Chandrasiri