Whether it’s a royal romp with Princess Margaret’s husband in The Crown or starring as Anna Friel’s rival in the much-anticipated return of the detective series Marcella, YOLANDA KETTLE is no stranger to playing the other woman…
There’s lots to talk to Yolanda Kettle about: her role as Anna Friel’s love rival in the new series of ITV’s Marcella; playing Lord Snowdon’s secret lover Camilla Fry in The Crown; a theatre career that has seen her act opposite Anne-Marie Duff (Oil) and Helen McCrory (The Deep Blue Sea).
But, first things first, where does that memorable name come from? There can’t have been many Yolandas in the playground when she was growing up in Birmingham. ‘My mum is Spanish,’ she smiles. ‘I love having a name that’s a bit different. Even when I was younger, I loved it. I’ve always liked being a bit quirky.’
The 30-year-old actress is, indeed, a bit quirky. For a start, you’d never guess her Mediterranean heritage – Yolanda is an elegant, pale blonde who exudes a Gwyneth Paltrow-style yoga-bunny serenity. ‘I’m fluent in the language and I have lots of Spanish qualities – I’m impatient and have a fiery temper,’ she says. Given her cut-glass tones, it’s also a surprise to hear she grew up in Oldbury in the West Midlands. ‘I used to have a Black Country accent,’ she says. ‘But I joined the National Youth Theatre in my teens and when we started doing Shakespeare I did it with a posh voice and it just stayed.’
On screen, meanwhile, Yolanda’s number-one worry is navigating the fury of Anna Friel’s troubled, violent police detective in series two of Marcella. The brooding crime drama is London-set but Scandi-noir in feel, thanks to its script by The Bridge writer Hans Rosenfeldt.
The first season, watched by around 6.8 million viewers, saw DS Marcella Backland return to work after a decade bringing up her two young children. There’s a serial killer on the loose and as the body count mounts, Marcella’s focus is compromised by a series of blackouts and the breakdown of her marriage. The tense final episode saw her estranged husband Jason stabbed. The new series picks up four months later and a recovered Jason has moved in with his former nurse and now girlfriend Becky, played by Yolanda. Marcella doesn’t exactly take kindly to the news that her children have a new stepmum on the scene. ‘Becky is this kind, reasonable person and she wants the best for the whole family,’ says Yolanda. ‘She doesn’t realise quite how charged the situation is. Marcella throws many obstacles at her and she seems to gracefully deal with them. I’m nowhere near as calm – I’d lose my temper with her.’
Anna is 41 – making it strange, says Yolanda, to play the younger other woman. ‘It was quite surreal. Anna has such a beautiful, young-looking face and she’s so glamorous. You just have to play what’s written and hope the audience believes it.’ The pair were discouraged from becoming too friendly off-camera to make their rivalry more believable. ‘We got on really well and would chat away. But at one point when we were talking and laughing between scenes, the director was, like, “No, break it up! We don’t want any of this.”’
A nna’s trademark look in the show – a green Woolrich parka thrown over preppy shirt-and-jumper combos – attracted a lot of attention. ‘Whenever I see a green parka now, I associate it with Marcella. It became her armour, a big part of her character,’ Yolanda says. (She refuses to confirm or deny whether the coat is back for series two. Spoiler: I spotted it hanging in Marcella’s hallway in a sneak peek at episode one.) ‘The costume designer made a clear distinction between the two women. Marcella is tomboyish, so Becky wears dresses and florals.’
The trend for bleak TV crime dramas has proved enduring – why can’t we get enough of them? ‘There’s something so thrilling and edge-of-your-seat about them. We had that same feeling [about Marcella] as actors, too. The scripts were released as we went along so no one knew what was happening next as we were filming it. Everyone was on edge, not knowing who to trust, just as the audience was.’
Yolanda doesn’t come from a thespian family – her mother Luz is a teacher, her father Robin works in insurance – but at the age of just four and captivated by a drama session at school, she vowed to study and tread the boards in London. By 15, she was jumping on the train to the capital to perform Shakespeare with the National Youth Theatre, before later moving there to study at the London Academy of Music& Dramatic Art. On stage, Yolanda channels her tendency to fret into something positive. ‘Theatre is my first love – the liveness of it, the fact that everything can change in an instant because a mic doesn’t work or a prop isn’t there. I love having to figure it out as you go along. It terrifies me, but in a good way.’
Her biggest stage role to date was playing the daughter of Anne-Marie Duff’s character in Oil at London’s Almeida Theatre, in 2016. The two characters had a difficult relationship, and Yolanda drew on teenage arguments with her mother.
‘We used to have big rows and my dad would have to call time-out. But we’d make up really quickly. It was often about me wanting my independence, but in some ways my mum championed that. She created this “I can do anything, just get on with it” attitude that I’ve tried to take with me.’
She remains close to Anne-Marie: ‘She’s someone I know I can call and ask for help if I’m struggling with a job. It’s important to have those people who you respect, who have that experience.’
Yolanda is now keen to make her mark on screen – more TV and, she hopes, movies. ‘All the grounding you have in theatre is so useful but there’s so much more technical ability with screen work,’ she says. So far she’s been in Love, Nina, BBC One’s 2016 adaptation of nanny-to-the-literati Nina Stibbe’s memoir, as the nanny friend and yoga pal of Nina (Faye Marsay). ‘It was joyous. Faye is amazing, and I fell in love with Helena Bonham Carter. She’s very cool. On the first day, she was reclining on a sofa and said to me, “Are you half Spanish?” I said I was, and she said, “Yo también [me too].”’ Last year, Yolanda played upper-crust Dolly Wilcox in Howards End, the BBC One Sunday-night adaptation of E M Forster’s 1910 dissection of class, with Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel. The 1992 film version, starring Helena alongside Emma Thompson, was much loved – was it a hard act to follow? ‘You have to park it and say, “That’s their interpretation and it’s brilliant, but we’re going to create our own version that feels contemporary.”’
When we meet she’s fizzing with excitement – she’s attending the premiere of season two of Netflix’s mega-hit The Crown that evening. This instalment is the last outing for its lead stars Claire Foy (the Queen) and Matt Smith (Prince Philip), as next season they’ll be replaced by older actors, with Olivia Colman already cast as Her Majesty. ‘She’ll be amazing, she’s such a brilliant actress,’ says Yolanda. ‘Although I wonder if she’ll have to wear coloured contact lenses – Olivia has brown eyes and Claire’s are blue like the Queen’s.’ Yolanda appears as Camilla Fry, wife of inventor Jeremy. The party-loving couple are friends with the equally hedonistic Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), the society photographer who eventually became Lord Snowdon.
It was rumoured that Camilla had an affair with Antony after he began dating Princess Margaret, and in 2004, DNANA testing showed that Camilla’s daughter, writer Polly Fry, then 45, was actually Antony’s daughter. Yolanda relished the moral ambiguity of her character and storyline. ‘These were a set of people for whom normal rules didn’t come into it. It was about free love and having a good time. It’s the cusp of the 1960s, with things exploding sexually. There’s not much agonising guilt there for Camilla, and that was lovely to play – very freeing, very liberating.’
Yolanda is not entirely conventional either. ‘I definitely want kids but I’m not that bothered about marriage. Sometimes I think it would be great to get married and have a huge party but other times I think, “Oh no, it’s a big pressure.”
I know there are ways to get married cheaply but I worry about money and my job being precarious.’
She is clearly very happy with her boyfriend of two years, London restaurateur Patrick Campbell, owner of Trullo, a hip trattoria in Islington. The couple, who met through mutual friends, live in East London. Patrick is a calming influence, Yolanda says, especially when she’s dealing with the rejection that comes with acting. ‘Patrick is amazing at grounding me; he’s very rational and realistic.’ She has struggled with anxiety and depression in the past and found that talking therapies help. ‘I really do believe in “a problem shared is a problem halved”. I’m not saying these things are solely solved by talking, but striking up a dialogue is the starting point.’
For all her fragility, Yolanda is uproarious, pleasingly eccentric company. You never quite know what she’s going to come out with next. When I ask if she’s ever met any royals, she looks sheepish before bursting into high-pitched squeals of laughter. Aged 18, after performing with the National Youth Theatre at Buckingham Palace for Prince Andrew, in a moment of madness she stole a teacup as a memento. ‘Oh my God, are they going to arrest me now?’ she hoots. ‘The great tragedy is that I don’t even have it any more. I gave it to my boyfriend at the time and when we parted I didn’t get it back. Stupid!’
She also reveals that she has four nipples, and, when I question the veracity of this claim, she pulls up her top to show me the two tiny superfluous ones on her trunk. ‘The doctor has confirmed it. It’s quite common. Lily Allen has three and Harry Styles has four like me,’ she giggles.
Work-wise, she’s not sure what’s next, but after a busy year, she’s relaxing for a bit. Well, trying to: ‘Often I think, “I’m going to give up!” I get miserable about being out of work. I write down my goals for the next year and at various points, I’ll look back and think, “Oh wow, I’ve actually achieved more than I set out to.” But still, every time I get a job I feel, like, “Oh, I’m still an actress, it’s OK!”’ I think Yolanda will be more than OK.
Marcella returns to ITV later this month
Interview by Kerry Potter