Monday 25 September 2017

Teenage actress Ramsey has magic touch as 'The Worst Witch'

Boys can do it too: Bella Ramsey as ‘The Worst Witch’
Boys can do it too: Bella Ramsey as ‘The Worst Witch’

Tara Conlan

If Bella Ramsey could cast any spell she liked, it would be one that instantly tidied her room.

"I don't often get round to it and would find it very handy," she said. But that is where her similarities with most 13-year-olds ends.

Described as "an incredible new child actress" by the Radio Times, Ramsey has already found fame as Lady Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones. Now the teenager is set to cast a spell over children too as Mildred Hubble in a lavish adaptation of The Worst Witch.

The magical new version of Jill Murphy's series of books about Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches will be broadcast as 12 episodes starting January 11 on CBBC and will then stream on Netflix. The show is a collaboration between the BBC, Netflix and German broadcaster ZDF, so it has a budget far beyond that usually spent on children's television programmes.

With special effects designed by the Doctor Who team and a school set in a castle to rival Hogwarts, some may compare it with Harry Potter. Ramsey said: "It's not Harry Potter for girls because girls like Harry Potter as well.

"Anyone can watch The Worst Witch - it's quite a versatile programme, even though most of the cast are female. Mildred Hubble is a witch for everyone. Boys can watch it too."

She agreed there was a kind of sisterhood among the mostly female cast, which includes Wendy Craig, Amanda Holden and Downton Abbey actors Clare Higgins, who plays kindly Miss Cackle, and Raquel Cassidy as the strict Miss Hardbroom.

Ramsey, who does her schooling online, enjoyed reading Murphy's books and saw elements of Mildred in herself. "She's clumsy and I'm quite clumsy," she said. "I'm always spilling stuff down me. She always tries her best at everything, which is something I try to do."

If the trajectory of the stars of the previous series of The Worst Witch is anything to go by, Ramsey has a good chance of making her career last well beyond her teens.

The last time there was a TV adaptation of the books, Felicity Jones, who has the lead role in the Star Wars offshoot Rogue One, played Mildred. Ramsey has watched that version but said the new offering is "quite different".

"Classic aspects have to stay the same but it's been twisted to make it more modern for the 21st century," she said. Updates include references to allergies and Mildred's mother preferring to be called Ms rather than Miss.

Ramsey's maturity and on-screen naturalness are evident and were praised by Game of Thrones actors. "Although it is a really fun and amazing experience, it is a job and you've got to live up to what's expected," she said. "There's often a really tight team schedule, so you've got to be able to fit things in. I want to make life easier for people rather than being a nightmare."

She does not mind the attention brought by Game of Thrones. "It always gives me a fuzzy feeling inside after anyone's recognised me," she said.

"I just feel so happy because they've been so happy to meet me, so I feel like I've made their day."

Asked if Lyanna will return, she added: "There's been speculation I'm coming back - we'll have to wait and see."

Her parents do not let her watch the violent Game of Thrones but she is allowed to watch footage of her acting. "When I watch it back I'm like, 'Turn it off!' I pick out stuff, thinking I should've done that better," she said.

Getting into acting "just kind of happened by accident". There is musical talent in the family, as her businessman father Alex plays the trumpet and her elder sister played in amateur groups, which Ramsey also went along to before she auditioned to train at the Television Workshop.

"I was doing it for fun and then it just happened, and I'm very thankful for it," she said. She added wisely that rejections for parts should be seen as "positive, because the more you get rejected the closer you come to being accepted".

Ramsey has two jobs coming up, voicing the lead in Netflix animation series Hilda, and taking the title role in a local production of Annie.

She hopes to one day set up a performing school for children with special needs. But for now she is just enjoying acting. "I like the opportunity to be someone else," she said. "Acting lets you be in a place where no one's judging you."

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