Envision a world full of “steampunk design elements, exciting action sequences and an incredible, complex bunch of characters to win you over.” According to London actress, Viola Prettejohn, this world already exists—it is HBO’s latest fantasy drama, The Nevers. Prettejohn plays the “bright-eyed quasi-ingenue” Myrtle Haplisch in the series, and hopes the show inspires us all to “embrace our imperfections.” Prettejohn gave MOD the inside scoop about The Nevers, as well as how her life has been lately, and what roles she hopes to pursue next.
Sandy: Tell us where you are from and where you consider to be home.
Viola: I’m from London and was brought up in London, but I spent quite a bit of my childhood in Somerset—so I’ve had the best of both worlds.
Sandy: What is your favorite place on Earth and why?
Viola: Wow, that’s a tough one! There is a place on the Costa Brava in Catalunya that my family has been to every summer since I was born, which is very much a home away from home for me. Walking along the coastal path in the mid-morning, overlooking the bright blue sea would probably be when I’m at my happiest. It also holds such fond memories for me from when I was a child, and the food is to die for!
Sandy: Describe your perfect day.
Viola: Go to a mid-morning screening at either the Curzon Mayfair or Bloomsbury on a weekday. I find this is the time when there are the fewest people around and often you can have a whole screen to yourself. Once the film has finished, I would wander around the area to find a new café to try then settle down with my book, a cappuccino and some brunch. After that, I’d go to the nearest gallery or one of my favorites (either the Wallace Collection or the Courthauld). I love perusing their permanent collections, but I’m looking forward to going to a new exhibition when I can! Then, I might pick up a snack from another café or just make my way home to get ready for a night out with my friends.
Sandy: What is the most bizarre thing you have seen or heard lately?
Viola: There’s a man that I see on my walk to school at around 8:30 AM who roller-skates down the middle of the road, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs, a swimming cap and a pair of goggles. Sometimes, rarely, he will be pushing his children, who are in some kind of sidecar-esque thing in front of him. I kind of wish I had the same comfort and confidence in eccentricity, so I applaud him!
Sandy: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Viola: Never learnt to count.
Sandy: If you weren’t an actress, what do you think you would be doing instead?
Viola: I would be doing my A-levels and preparing to go to university, probably! But career-wise, I have no idea. My start in acting was so unexpected and quick that I haven’t really had time to look around and think about what else I would be doing…maybe a film critic?
Sandy: How do you think the times have changed for Victorian women to now? Or have they?
Viola: So much has changed for women since the Victorian era. We have a vote—which is possibly our greatest advancement. You can even see it in the clothes we wear nowadays; we’re not forcibly constricted and confined by our clothing anymore, quite literally we have gained freedom. Of course, there are areas where we are still treated with a lack of respect; just the recent events surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard show precisely how much there is to be done to achieve true equality. But we are certainly moving in the right direction.
Sandy: Describe The Nevers in your own words.
Viola: The Nevers is a crazy, fantastical, eccentric, explosive, but ultimately heart-warming show about outsiders who band together to fight those who do not understand them and wish for their existence to be wiped out. It’s got amazing steampunk design elements, exciting action sequences and an incredible, complex bunch of characters to win you over. I truly think there is something for everyone.
Sandy: The show is considered action, drama and fantasy. If you had to add another genre, what would it be and why?
Viola: Epic. I think it’s the perfect addition because the storylines all converge and intertwine to serve one overarching thread that is huge in scope. Purely the wide-ranging nature of the show qualifies it for epic status.
Sandy: Do you have any funny or interesting behind-the-scenes moments from working on The Nevers set?
Viola: Hmmm…well there is one involving Anna that comes to mind. We were called in to rehearse for episode 2 at the West Wycombe estate, which was serving as the location for the tea party scenes. I arrived at around 11:30, assuming that I’d be rehearsing after I’d had my lunch… four hours went by and I was still in the catering tent, happily chatting away to Olivia and Tom, but slightly confused as to why I was there. Finally, we got called into the house to do a walk-through and rehearsal, but I realized that I really needed the loo, so I enlisted Anna to come with me to find it. Now this was a HUGE house, MASSIVE. So, what we thought would be a relatively easy task turned into a 20-minute voyage of us desperately trying to find this bathroom. We did eventually find it but then, to my absolute horror, once we returned, I was told that they just rehearsed my scene with my stand-in and that I could go home. So essentially, I went to work for 6 hours just to go to a fancy bathroom.
Sandy: Is there a particular message from the show that you hope viewers will take away?
Viola: The show is all about people dealing with what they initially believe to be flaws and turning them into their greatest assets and powers. I just hope that this can connect with viewers and perhaps inspire us all to embrace our imperfections and what we may deem ourselves to be flaws, and turn them into what makes us interesting and unique.
Sandy: “Connection gives rise to creation” and “a revolution begins with a spark” are two taglines associated with the show. How do you feel about each of these, and do you agree?
Viola: Without human connection, we cannot get anywhere; all of our achievements as a species have been born out of teamwork and the sharing of ideas. This is part of the reason why I love Myrtle’s turn so much, as it enables her to potentially communicate with anyone in the world, which I think is beautiful. And yes, revolution may begin with the individual spark, but it is the collective that it ignites and catalyses change.
Sandy: If you had a supernatural or unusual ability, what would you want it to be and why?
Viola: I always used to say omni-lingualism but now that just seems all too convenient, considering Myrtle! Telepathy seems like the obvious choice to me; I’d be able to sort out the liars and not waste my time with people who didn’t actually care about what I had to offer. I’m also naturally very nosey so all-in-all, it would be pretty ideal.
Sandy: How do you relate to Myrtle Haplisch in real life (if at all)?
Viola: I always have thought of myself as very different to Myrtle. She has an unbridled joy and optimism that I, sadly, lack. But I genuinely think playing her has changed my outlook a bit; I find myself much more uninhibited and willing to just jump right into new situations, which is exactly what she does when she finds herself in her new home at the orphanage. I’d like to think I have a better taste in fashion, however…
Sandy: Is there anything we should know about Myrtle before watching the show?
Viola: She’s a bit of a weird one! She’s the bright-eyed quasi-ingenue of the series, but she’s gutsy and has an immense strength to her that the viewers will discover.
Sandy: How was playing Myrtle different to your previous roles on The Witcher and Counterpart?
Viola: My previous roles were both very small and were both completed in a couple of days, so the prospect of potentially playing Myrtle for years was certainly something new to get used to. Even in comparison to the roles I had played in school plays, Myrtle is so much more joyful, so it was fun to be able to explore a more positive character. Actually, I found that, for me, it was much harder to pretend to be happy or fake a smile than to pretend to be scared or sad. I don’t know what that says about me…
Sandy: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Viola: Honestly, people don’t really give me advice very much! I’d love some though, seriously… I need it.
Sandy: Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?
Viola: I’m not a very superstitious person—so no? But personally, I do believe I’ve been very lucky with a lot of what has happened in my life and sometimes I do think that there’s some external reason why. I don’t really know, I just kind of let things run along and see what happens.
Sandy: Let’s talk about social media. What are your thoughts about its influence on society?
Viola: I don’t mind it, overall. I definitely find myself overly worried about what I post and what people will think of me if I post one thing and not the other sometimes. So, it concerns me that perhaps people of a younger age will have these kinds of worries too, and far too early in life. I think it’s amazing that we can connect with people from all across the globe and it has been made so easy for us. I think the dangers lie in what we have done with it by becoming curators of our images, and how we can control all the minutia of what we present to the outside world. There should be an element of abandonment in how we can be viewed so that it doesn’t become obsessive.
Sandy: What is your favorite or go-to brand?
Viola: On a day-to-day basis, I wear Weekday almost exclusively. I particularly love their denim and the simplicity of their styles. In my dream world, I would spend my days in some Miu Miu and Bottega Veneta—both I’ve been loving recently.
Sandy: Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Viola: I have no idea. Seeing what has happened in my life and the entire world the past two years, I have learned to take everything one week at a time. Being an actor, you face so much uncertainty and insecurity anyway, so I try to embrace that and stop myself from planning anything in too much detail.
Sandy: Tell us about a goal you have.
Viola: I want to be able to speak French or Italian fluently. Once I have finished my A-levels and I have all the spare time in the world, I think I’m going to get a tutor and properly set my mind to it. I adore both cultures and think it’s such a wonderful skill to have.
Sandy: You have already worked with so many amazing people in the industry. More generally, is there someone in the industry that you really want to work with? If so, who and why?
Viola: My ultimate dream is to work with Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s been my goal ever since I started acting and I love his work—particularly Phantom Thread— which is one of my favorite films of all time. It was actually the first film I ever saw in the cinema by myself, so it holds a lot of sentimentality for me.
Sandy: What type of acting role would you want to pursue next?
Viola: Something equally weird and crazy. I’m open to anything, but I would love to speak in English. I don’t
mind a different accent, but it would be a bit of a bonus for the audience to actually understand what I’m talking about!
Sandy: What are you working on next?
Viola: We’re having some discussions behind-the-scenes, but COVID has made some projects difficult, and we’ve had to admit defeat a couple of times. We’ll see, but I’m excited to get back working on The Nevers again to shoot the second half of the first season.
‘The Nevers’ is currently streaming on HBO Max. Follow Viola on Instagram @violamjprettejohn
Photographer: Aaron Crossman
Creative Director: Catherine Schmid
Stylist: Emily Tighe using Cats Archive assisted by Nasar Mohamad
Makeup: Sarah Reygate
Hair: Davide Barbieri @ Caren Agency using Leonor Greyl
Writer: Sandy Aziz
Check out Viola Prettejohn’s full cover feature in The Otherworldly Issue of MOD Magazine.