The BIG Interview: Doctor Who’s Callie Cooke

Doctor Who: Callie Cooke as Lindy Pepper Bean

by Tom Spilsbury |
Updated on

The Henpocalypse! star gives us the lowdown on Lindy Pepper-Bean in this week’s episode, Dot And Bubble

Doctor Who: Director Dylan Holmes Williams with Callie Cooke
Doctor Who: Director Dylan Holmes Williams with Callie Cooke

Hi Callie! This week’s Doctor Who episode is called Dot And Bubble. What does that mean?

My character lives in a world called Finetime, and ‘Dot and Bubble’ is kind of the world in which we communicate. The idea is… what if we’ve become so obsessed with technology that we now only exist within it? So, the ‘Dot’ is like a ball, which I physically hold in my hand. I throw it up into the air, and it opens a bubble, which is basically a phone screen that exists around my whole head. I use my head to control it, and I talk to everyone – my friends and family alike. I work through it, I walk through it… It’s just how I exist.

So, you and your friends live in a futuristic environment on an alien world?

Yes. We are basically a bunch of kids, who have been sent by their rich parents to another planet, to have this wonderful shiny life. I mean, it’s genius! It’s been said that it’s a bit Black Mirror-esque as an episode.

Your character has a very interesting name…

Lindy Pepper-Bean! That’s her full name. She was very fun to play. I guess, she is an influencer. She’s very popular. She has hundreds of followers that she probably doesn’t even know. They’re all her friends, and they speak to her. It’s very clever how they’ve made it. We see them all up on the screen in front of her, all the time, in her bubble, and that’s how she communicates. She’s very, like, ‘Get ready with me!’ That’s the vibe of Lindy.

It sounds as if there’s a bit of a satirical vibe, mirroring social media…?

Yeah, we had to balance it well, because Russell [T Davies, the episode’s writer] kept saying to me, ‘She’s incredibly petulant, incredibly neurotic and basic, but she has to be likeable’. It’s not her fault. It’s like how we become obsessed with our phones – we’re just adapting to society. She definitely has a journey. I’ll be very interested to see how people respond to her. She’s very set in the way she thinks, and she hasn’t really lived in the real world, so she has no idea.

Her friends also seem to have rather odd names – there’s Hoochy Pie, Jimbo Fennett and Alan K Sullivan.

Yes, we all have quite interesting names. Also, we all dress quite strangely, and we all talk quite strangely. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, my gosh’, we say, ‘Oh, my hazy days!’ Russell’s kind of developed a language for them. I think for the first five minutes, the audience will be thinking, ‘What on Earth is going on?’ But I think they’ll adapt quite quickly, because he’s so consistent with it. He’s such a genius.

Is it quite a difficult task to play a part when the language and environment is so unusual?

It was such a challenge, because it’s so heightened. I kept thinking, ‘God, I’m terrible!’ There were certain lines where I thought, ‘I cannot pull this off’. But Dylan [Holmes Williams], our director, was amazing. With Doctor Who, you have to commit to it, because it’s silly, and it’s out there, and it’s madness! But it’s so charming too. Obviously, I’m playing someone who’s in the future, so I’m not going to be able to do this naturalistic, subtle performance. I have to go for it. That’s what’s so amazing about a lot of the actors in Doctor Who. Even though some of the stuff they’re doing absolutely bats*** ridiculous, they do it with such conviction. It’s such a fun and beautiful show.

You mentioned the director, Dylan. What was he like to work with? It sounds as though he was very supportive in helping you to bring Lindy to life?

Yeah! Dylan was amazing. It’s such a technical show. I had to have so many different eyelines all the time, because I was constantly holding this ‘dot’ in my hand. And then, when I had my ‘bubble’, and I was seeing all my friends, there was no one there. Sometimes I had a sticker on the camera. At other times, I just had one of the assistant director’s fingers guiding my eyes around. By the end of the day, I’d gone cross-eyed! Sometimes, I also had to see Millie [Gibson, who plays Ruby] and Ncuti [Gatwa, the Doctor] by my side, so it was kind of crazy. Dylan was amazing at breaking things down for me. We sometimes had to spend a lot of time getting the shot, because it was so technical. But it was so fun to do. I had never done anything like it.

So, you didn’t have any other actors with you for most of the filming?

No, most of the time I was on my own, which I’d never done before. But as an actor, that’s such a skill to be able to work on. Most of the time, one of the assistant directors was reading with me – bless them – and I had some quite chunky bits of dialogue. But that made it even more special when I had days with Millie and Ncuti, and some of the other characters in Finetime. However, Tom Rhys-Harris plays a character called Ricky September, who I had a lot of scenes with, which was so much fun. I craved human attention by the end of the shoot!

Tell us how you got the part.

I was quite lucky. I don’t really know where I came in the process. But Andy Pryor, the casting director, got me on tape. At that point, I was sent the whole script. Thank God! Because if I’d had to read the scenes out of context, I would have had no clue what was happening. But as soon as I read the script, I just thought, ‘I can have fun with this character’. I actually know someone who I could kind of base her on. Andy was amazing, and Russell has also just been consistently amazing to me. Since we wrapped, over a year ago, he’s really supported my career. He’s so brilliant at giving you a note, but also letting you have your freedom. The notes that he gave me are so specific, that you think, ‘Of course, this makes complete sense’. I got some good reference points. One of the episodes it was compared to was Blink [2007], the Carey Mulligan episode – which I did not wear lightly! To have my own ‘standalone’ episode of Doctor Who is such a privilege.

Indeed, Lindy is very much at the forefront of this Doctor Who adventure.

Yeah. It kind of exists because of Ncuti’s schedule. He hadn’t finished doing Sex Education at the time, so this was actually the first episode of the entire series to be filmed. It was mad, because it was the very start of this thing. Everyone was so hyped. Disney had come on board, and it was the start of this long shoot… and it was just me! I was like, ‘Sorry! I’m not the Doctor!’ But that meant that when Ncuti and Millie arrived, they just blew everyone away. Ncuti’s first day on set was with me. I knew he was going to be good, but I didn’t know he was going to be that good. He’s just this unbelievable ball of energy and kindness and light. I couldn’t stop watching him.

Tell us about the monsters!

Our monster was like a giant slug. I had never worked with a monster before. I could not take it seriously! I’d be having a cup of tea with the four guys who operate it, and then they’d go, ‘Right, we’re off!’ and they’d go and climb inside this monster! I’m sure it’s going to look amazing. I thought the monster in episode one of this series [the Bogeyman, as featured in Space Babies] was terrifying, so I’ve got high hopes for this one. But working with it was hilarious, because you’d have to be so close to it, looking absolutely petrified, but you could hear the men inside. The poor guys couldn’t see a thing! It was just so hard to not get the giggles. I’m hoping it looks scary.

Ah, the life of a Doctor Who monster actor has barely changed in 61 years!

It’s hilarious! It’s so charming, though, isn’t it?

It sounds as if you’ve been watching the previous episodes of this series.

Yeah, I went to the premiere a few weeks ago. We watched episodes one and two, and I was blown away by them. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because my experience was quite isolated, in a way. I obviously only read my episode. Millie and Ncuti are so good, and their chemistry is unbelievable. I think it was such a fun start, and I feel even more excited for my episode now.

Did you grow up watching Doctor Who? The David Tennant and Billie Piper era, perhaps?

Yeah! I’m a huge Billie Piper fan, but I was a Matt Smith girly, to be honest! Bizarrely, I always wanted to be in Doctor Who. It’s funny. About seven years ago, I did an interview where they asked me what my dream job would be, and I said, ‘I’d love to be in Doctor Who’, because I genuinely thought the show was so fun, and I had always wanted to be in it. Yeah, I loved Matt Smith, and I loved David Tennant. I think it’s such a fun show. You don’t realise how many people have been in it. The more I told people that I was going to be in Doctor Who, the more I kept hearing, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done Doctor Who!’ Everyone’s done it. How fun, that we’ve all been part of this special thing!

What was it like, telling your family and friends?

Oh, they were really excited! I don’t come from a family of industry folk. My dad is a builder, and my sisters are nurses. They don’t always get it. But with something like Doctor Who, it’s so universal, and they were really excited by it! There are videos of me running around the TARDIS, and they couldn’t believe it!

You must have been one of the first people to see the new-look TARDIS!

Yes! The pressure was unbelievable. I had all these pictures on my phone, with me in the TARDIS. I mean, obviously you have to take selfies in the TARDIS. I kept thinking, ‘My phone’s going to be hacked! Someone’s going to find these photos.’ I was so stressed. I still am a bit stressed about it, to be honest. But I can’t wait to post all my selfies on Instagram!

Were you entirely filming in the Doctor Who studios in Cardiff, or did you get to film on location too?

We did a bit of both. We did Lindy’s house in the studio, and we had a couple of other studio sets, which were just unbelievable. I still pinch myself every time I’m on a film set, because to me, it’s ridiculous that I get to do this. We also went on location to Swansea. We actually filmed a lot at Swansea University – all the outside stuff. There are all these old red brick buildings, which are quite timeless, so we used that as Finetime.

Have you seen the finished episode?

No. I’ve seen bits. I’m also quite like this [Callie hides her face behind her hands]. I’ll be watching it through my fingers! It’s not the usual thing that I do, so I’m quite nervous.

Will you be watching it among friends when it goes out?

I’m actually going to be away at a wedding in Italy, and I’ll probably have no phone signal. So, I’ll either turn my phone back on a day later to lots of support… or I’ll turn it on, and then turn it straight back off again! I’m afraid I’m not going to be able watch it live. But the idea that people will stay up till midnight to watch it is very exciting.

Yes, Doctor Who fans have special midnight viewing parties!

I know! It’s so much fun. When I was a teenager, I used to go to the midnight screenings of the new Twilight movies. So embarrassing! And I also used to stay up late to watch Game Of Thrones.

Well, the Doctor Who fans are just as excited about each new episode.

Yes, the fans have waited a long time for this series. It’s so sweet and exciting, how excited they are, and how much they support it. I just think as a fan base, I’ve never seen such a wonderful group of people, that just are so united. I mean, there’s always negative stuff. But as a whole, they’re such a supportive community. They are so sweet.

Are you looking forward to meeting the fans at conventions?

The idea that someone would want to meet me is so baffling and mad, but I would love to! I honestly had the best time working on that show, so I would happily talk about it to anyone that would want to listen.

Well, thank you for talking about it with us today! And hopefully we’ll see you again soon…

Thank you! I’m so lucky that Russell is my guy! We got on like a house on fire, and he’s just the kindest teddy bear in this industry. I can’t wait to work with him again.

Doctor Who continues on BBC iPlayer and BBC1 on Saturdays

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