Northern Soul actress Claire Garvey - Chesterfield’s young acting sensation

Claire Garvey

Claire Garvey - Credit: Archant

Derbyshire actress Claire Garvey admits that she had never even heard of Northern Soul when she was offered a role in a hit movie about the musical movement

Antonia Thomas, Emily Aston and Claire dancing to Northern Soul Photo: Rob Baker Ashton

Antonia Thomas, Emily Aston and Claire dancing to Northern Soul Photo: Rob Baker Ashton - Credit: Archant

Derbyshire actress Claire Garvey admits that she had never even heard of Northern Soul when she was offered a role in a hit movie about the musical movement.

Now Claire, from Chesterfield, is delighted with the way the film Northern Soul has taken off and boosted her acting career and she knows a lot more about the music that packed out clubs like Wigan Casino in the 1970s.

Claire says: ‘Straight after I had met the director I called my mum. “What’s Northern Soul?” I asked, “I’ve just signed myself up to a dance session for a film.”

‘It turns out my mum used to go to Northern Soul nights when she was younger. She used to sneak out and head to the clubs. I have since learnt from research on the film that I have grown up in the midst of hundreds of Northern Soul nights and a lot of them are still going.’

Claire Garvey, Elaine Constantine and Emily Aston on set for Northern Soul Photo: Rob Baker Ashton

Claire Garvey, Elaine Constantine and Emily Aston on set for Northern Soul Photo: Rob Baker Ashton - Credit: Archant

Claire was involved in the film almost from the beginning after meeting writer/director Elaine Constantine.

‘About three years before we shot Northern Soul she invited me to a dance session,’ says Claire. ‘I became involved in the production as the team was really small then and they asked me to help in the production office. It was a dream scenario, as I really got to learn about the inner workings of producing a film and all along I was researching the 70s and Northern Soul for the character of Betty I would play. Elaine’s enthusiasm and passion for the film was contagious and it was great to witness her hand-pick such an amazing, talented team.

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‘Betty was great and I had a lot of fun being her. She was one of the girls who lived for the weekend and for the Northern Soul nights. She’s a little rough round the edges and has a bit of a potty mouth. She lives for Northern Soul and her loyal friends. My family and friends all managed to get tickets to the sold out Northern Soul screenings. My mum had to be reassured that it was a prop cigarette and wasn’t too happy about my potty mouth but, all in all, they loved it!’

The film had a strong British cast, making it a star-studded time on the set for Claire.

Claire Garvey on the Red Carpet at Screamfest in Hollywood

Claire Garvey on the Red Carpet at Screamfest in Hollywood - Credit: Archant

She says: ‘The cast is amazing. I think it works so well because you have a bunch of unknowns all supported by British legends – Ricky Tomlinson, Lisa Stansfield, Steve Coogan, John Thomson, James Lance. They were all amazing. I never got to meet Ricky as I was off the set the day he was on as my brother was going to Afghanistan and I had gone home to say bye.

‘Ricky recorded a video message for my brother and the troops wishing them all a safe return. What a genuine, kind and generous man.

‘John Thomson, as you would expect, was ridiculously funny and was very hard to be around when we were supposed to be quiet on set.’

Claire was born in Chesterfield and went to St Mary’s Primary and High School.

She says: ‘I had the perfect Derbyshire upbringing. I remember being outside for most of it, something that I have appreciated more and more as I’ve moved to cities. Chatsworth House was always an exciting trip, paddling in the river and having a picnic. I later worked there as a pot washer and inside the ice-cream shed in the car park.

‘My mum and dad worked incredibly hard to give me and my brother the best childhood we could have wished for, something we will both always be incredibly grateful for and I hope one day to be able to pay them back.

‘My dad used to be a coal miner and my earliest memories are of seeing his white eyes and white teeth hidden in a soot-covered face. We use to get free coal delivered to the hatch at the front of the house, and I still love the smell of a real coal fire. When the miners went on strike, times were really hard for my parents but we never would have known.

‘My mum is a nurse at Ashgate Hospice and, along with her colleagues, does the work of angels. My brother is a fireman and we are all immensely proud of what he has achieved.

‘There are no actors in my family and I was the first to go to university. It’s been hard at times for my parents to understand my career choice but they have now given up with phrases like, “so when are you going to get a proper job”. That being said, they have only ever fully supported me in every decision I have made and there is no way I would still be going without their help.

‘Although there are no actors in my family, my mum would agree that my dad definitely has a dramatic side. His love of films often has him quoting characters around the house.’

Claire says that the idea of acting for a living has come gradually.

‘I can’t remember a specific moment in time when I decided I wanted to act,’ she says. ‘It always felt like more of a need to fulfil rather than choosing a career. My mum has told me that when I was small I used to point to the TV and say “I want to be in it!”

‘When I was younger there weren’t many opportunities to study acting in Chesterfield. I enrolled in Rita Owen’s dance school, went to acting classes at the Springbank Centre and at Chesterfield College with Susan Hunt. I fought to get drama as a subject at St Mary’s and they started it during my final year there, which was brilliant. I hope they are still doing it.

‘I continued to study academically as far as I could, as I felt that I didn’t quite hold enough experiences to be able to draw from in my acting. When it came to deciding whether or not I would go to drama school or university I didn’t feel ready to be surrounded just by drama; I was still hungry for life and felt that the more I fed from different environments and people the stronger the actor I would become.

‘I went to St Martin’s Lancaster (which is now the University of Cumbria) and studied drama and ethics. It was a fantastic experience and I loved every second of it. The course was very theatre based and it was a real mix of the classics and contemporary. The university itself was then very small and, coming from Chesterfield, suited me perfectly as I instantly felt at home there. I made life-long friends and feel very fortunate to have had the experience. From there I travelled around the world for a year soaking up as much life as humanly possible! When I returned from travelling I knew I had to be in London but had no idea how.

‘I will be eternally grateful to the Chesterfield Miners’ Union who helped fund and make it possible for me to attend an acting for film course at the Met Film Studio, Ealing, and this was my ticket to London. I turned up to the course every day with my backpack and slept on people’s sofas. I eventually found a place and went on to pick up classes at The Actors’ Centre and The Actors’ Temple.’

But after learning her craft Claire says that picking up work hasn’t always been easy.

She says: ‘It’s a vocation rather than a job. I think it’s the same as anything, you put the hard work in and it starts to pay off. Although, at the beginning especially, you may be doing 10 months washing pots, that one week of acting work you get that year makes it all worthwhile. Thankfully, it is definitely getting easier now but there is always the uncertainty of any creative career – which I thrive on, but my friends think is hellish.’

We will be able to see Claire next in Parlor, a horror film that’s a complete contrast to Northern Soul.

She says: ‘It certainly is a very different film, and it’s very gory. It was my first American film and was a great experience. It premiered at and opened the Screamfest Festival in Hollywood. When we were filming the gruesome scenes, even though I knew it was make-up I had a few real moments of feeling I was going to be sick.

‘The directors, Kenny Gage and Devon Downs, set up the scenes so well that it was not hard to get scared. There were some challenging scenes, especially on the night shoots. I had a scene that was shot over three nights and it was -1°C and some of the fight scenes were quite intense but it was a lot of fun and we were incredibly well looked after by the crew.’

Filming took place in Lithuania, an experience in itself for Claire.

She says: ‘We shot Parlor in Vilnius, which was beautiful; it’s such a stunning city. The architecture and history there are awe-inspiring. Every second of free time I had I went exploring. Part of the crew were Lithuanian and they were fantastic to work with. I found that they had a lot of similarities to Northerners, they were very straight talking and would say exactly what they were thinking, which creates a very honest and trustworthy working environment.’

Claire isn’t necessarily a horror film fan but has a few favourites of her own.

She says: ‘I wouldn’t say I grew up on horror films but classics like The Shining definitely left a lasting impression. I recently went to a screening of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein which I know is a horror/comedy but I loved it. I now have a whole catalogue of Abbott and Costello films to watch.’

Claire went to America for the premier of Parlor and for meetings about her career but is happy chasing film roles based from London for now. So what kind of movies is she looking for?

She says: ‘I’m at the beginning of my career and at an exciting point where I just want to explore and play. I love history so researching different eras really excites me, embodying the 1970s for Northern Soul was so much fun.

‘When looking at a script there also has to be a piece of me that I recognise in the character I’m reading for.’

And are there any actors she admires and whose career path she would like to emulate?

‘I love Sylvia Syms and I was fortunate enough to work with her on my first feature film, Booked Out. She is an absolute British legend who has had a career spanning many years and is definitely not used enough. I learnt so much from watching her work and she has since become a good friend.’

Claire would also like to explore more stage work.

She says: ‘I started in theatre and it wasn’t until I moved to London that I started working in film. I actually did a short run of a play last year by Catherine Bray, The Other Plans. There is nothing like standing on a stage with a live audience; it’s the most magical feeling in the world and it’s where it all began. It just so happens that at the moment my jobs are films – the dream would be to mix the two together.

‘It has been a bit crazy recently with both Northern Soul and Parlor premiering. I have a couple of scripts to look at that are shooting early in 2015, so hopefully I’ll have news of another film soon.’

And where would Claire like to be in 10 years’ time?

‘On a big studio film set,’ she says. ‘A friend recently gave me a tour of Universal which was just like a giant playground of film sets that you recognise from classics. It definitely inspired me to want to be there, but I’m not waiting ten years.’

Not that Claire will ever turn her back on Derbyshire. She says: ‘Although we now live in London my boyfriend and I both come from Chesterfield so we still have family and friends there. I like to come back to Derbyshire for a weekend every six weeks if I can. Although I love London and its fast pace, it’s great to have Derbyshire to come back to, relax, breathe some clean air and enjoy the countryside with the dogs. I feel very fortunate to have it.’