Ask anyone what they think of England and it usually involves an upper-class posh accent, tea and royalty. BBC America’s Almost Royal takes all those stereotypes and brings two characters directly into the lives of everyday Americans. Amy Hoggart plays Poppy Carlton, a rich young woman from England who alongside her brother Georgie (Ed Gamble) is getting to know the country their father loved so dearly.
In real life, Amy has experience transforming into character— Pattie Brewster, a young girl who wears pajamas, loves cats and making friends, and writing a book as her too. I spoke to Amy about her path into comedy, her inspiration and hiding yourself within a character.
How do you think your career direction changed from being in grad school to be a psychologist towards comedy and entertainment?
It was sort of by accident really. I was in higher education trying to become a clinical psychologist. When I was doing my Bachelors I was at Cambridge and there’s this really amazing comedy troupe called Footlights and I was writing and performing with them. We took a show up to the Edinburgh Fringe in between my Bachelors and Masters and got scouted there and did a little bit of TV work. It was kind of by accident – it was always my passion, but I guess I didn’t really have the confidence to go out and do it.
That’s a big life decision to make, especially changing directions so drastically.
I think you’re completely right and it is very scary. When I talk to my contemporaries in comedy, I had a pretty easy time with it mostly because my parents are so supportive. My dad was a writer and presented a comedy news show – he was so behind me – and my mum is a psychologist and she didn’t know why I was doing it. They supported me and a lot of people don’t even have backing like that, especially if their family are doctors or lawyers; they have to go out completely on their own. I was really lucky, but it also might fall through at any point!
Do you think the show is projecting what Americans stereotypically think of the English?
Americans are really exposed to the posh Brit archetype from Downton Abbey and our history and culture; they probably studied the Kings and Queens in school. That is the smallest part of our culture because that is only a very small part of people in the UK, so it’s really not fair. The comedy is found in the scenarios and premises because our characters are so stupid, like beyond stupid.
I find that too, as a Canadian, a surprising amount of Americans still think we live in igloos, especially weird in the era of the internet.
We all do it though! If you’re from the country you understand it. I was watching this French show and I really fancied one of the actors in it. I immediately was like, “Oh he’s French, he’s gonna be really sophisticated.” You do it all the time, it’s a bad prejudice but I think it is the human way.
Do you find it hard interacting with people who don’t know you’re a character?
Oh no! They all think that we are who we say we are. It is really hard because you can’t break and need to know everything about the character to respond as them. It is so funny and you can’t laugh or it’s all ruined! Ed [Gamble] who plays my brother Georgie is much better at it than me because he is an experienced standup where I am more of a writer, and you can laugh as much as you want when you’re in a room alone. I’ve developed a laugh as my character Poppy to use at Georgie…which I can get away with now. Sometimes someone will really open up to us particularly in season one when the storyline was that our character’s dad died and we came to America to spread his ashes. People would really open up about their problems and what they’ve gone through. My character doesn’t give a shit so it can be really hard to play sometimes.
Was it harder filming season two as the first season was already out and you and Georgie are more recognizable as characters?
We were – yeah, it was harder. Once we were in this marijuana dispensary in the Bay area people were like, “Oh the show! Can we be on it?” We were filming and if they knew the show they know being aware of what is happening wouldn’t work well. It was mostly just hard on the producers really.
I think of shows like Nathan for You and yours where the audience is in on the joke but the people have no idea. Knowing something that the person on screen doesn’t is always a great way to get laughs.
It is great for the audience but sometimes it does feel mean to the contributors. Something like Ali G or Borat they often show up with somewhat offensive viewpoints. We did that a tiny bit in season one when we spoke to someone who was quite offensive, but by and large, it’s nice people we speak to and aim to get as much comedy as possible from each scene. For people who have been in it and have a good time in it, they come across well, but they always get told at the end of the scene and it’s never a problem. They’re always quite psyched they had done it and they had a fun time.
Do you look up to any other character performers that can really transform themselves fully?
I think it’s a really odd, incredibly fun thing to do. Sacha Baron Cohen, obviously. There’s this comic in the UK named Al Murray who has a character named “Pub Landlord” who people don’t know is in character a lot of the time. I actually used to do a lot of live comedy in a different character than Poppy, these hourlong shows. I even wrote a book as her. I don’t know if that’s where the psychology comes into it but I like immersing myself into that. I am trying to think…
There’s a girl on YouTube named Miranda Sings—
Oh yes! She is great, I saw her live once. She is a funny one because she came onstage as herself and sings first, than came on in the character after. It’s funny because character comedy is a bigger thing in the UK. The first time I went to New York I was nervous going out in a big room in character as Pattie Brewster who never goes out and just wants to make friends. Everyone was terrified for me but I do think most comics, even if they’re playing themselves, play a character of themselves.
A persona, that can sometimes verge on a character but is usually rooted in real life comedy. It is a fine, interesting line.
I think it’s really brave. There’s this comic called Stewart Lee who does standup as Stewart Lee but he is very aggressive with the audience. I brought a friend who didn’t know him and she was getting angry until I explained it was part of the act. Nathan for You is a very good example of that.
What can the audience expect in the second season of the show?
I am really proud of it. It is like the first season but I think a lot funnier and we already knew what we were doing so it’s much quicker. Each episode is thematic, so Poppy and Georgie are investigating beauty, work, the outdoors, and romance. We just do quite audacious stuff. I went to a poetry reading and read a whole poem about losing my virginity, which was the single most awkward, difficult thing I’ve ever done. I just love opening up the world and meeting all these people that are so amazing in their own way. It’s just so fun, and I’m so lucky to have done this.
Almost Royal airs Mondays at 10pm/9 Central on BBC America.