Despite being a rising star on the television, Abigail Hardingham is suprisingly low key on social media. Which, in today’s world, really says something. Her journey began at sixteen when she moved to London to pursue acting. And it continues today with roles in BBC1 Drama, ‘The Missing’, and ‘Nina Forever’, a film which won her a BIFA for the most promising newcomer. We spoke to Abigail Hardingham about life as a military child, her working process, and the advice she would give.
“I moved from High Wycombe, where my family had moved to from St Andrews in Scotland”, she began, as we spoke about her decision to move to London. “Prior to that, Düsseldorf in Germany. My step-dad is in the RAF and we had moved house many many times for his work. I got to the point where I wasn’t happy at school anymore. All my friends knew they wanted to go to university and I felt stupid for not having the inclination. I’d lived in High Wycombe for seven years, which was the longest I had lived anywhere, and I knew London was where I’d end up; I had already started acting, doing a few commercials and a failed Disney pilot. I hit 16 and thought ‘fuck it, move to London’. So I put some money aside, and decided to leave school after finishing my exams”.
The move is something that has undoubtedly shaped who Abigail Hardingham is today, but she told me honestly how part of her wishes she had stayed and finished her A-Levels. If for nothing else but to advance her education should she decide that that’s part of her journey. “But honestly”, she continued, “my memory is so bad that I don’t recall the moment I made the decision to leave. I just remember telling my mum and step-dad, and both of them being gutted”.
Although she was barely there, she did well at school. “My grandad recently said to me, ‘I love it when you get a job Abi, not because of where that will take you, but because you’re putting your middle finger up to all of us lot who told you to ‘sort your shit out’ for so many years’. I should also say though, I have the most supportive family. They just wanted me to be happy, and when you’re starting out as an actor, the knock-backs are hard”.
Abigail Hardingham is most recognised for her role in the BBC1 drama, ‘The Missing’, where she plays Alice Webster. And there were inevitably challenges along the way; “When playing Alice, I knew I had to fill in a lot of her backstory. We meet her as a young woman stumbling out of a forest somewhere in Germany claiming she’d been held captive for 12 years. We only ever saw the aftermath of her trauma. So for me, it was important to create memories for her. I definitely worked intuitively and never put too much pressure on how I will do it. I just try to be present and listen. My head is a noisy place, and weirdly, being in front of the camera harnesses all that anxiety and pulls me into focus”.
Her process is different from scene to scene, and job to job. Abigail Hardingham is good at leaving the character at work; it’s not something she takes home with her. “But I do crave moments alone”, she added, “and I’ll usually hole up in a room somewhere if I just need to switch off and be introspective for a while. I learned how to pace myself. Having to be emotional, and yet play a character who doesn’t know how to express themselves is draining. So taking my time and saving energy became really important”.
As I mentioned earlier, Abigail Hardingham’s first film, ‘Nina Forever’ won her a BIFA for most promising newcomer. And they weren’t wrong with giving that recognition. Speaking about her thoughts on this, and whether it helped push her forward in any way, she said that the BIFA’s were a pivotal moment for her. “I hadn’t worked in 6 months, hadn’t booked a job, and had about seven pounds in my account. Then I won the award. Nearly three years after I’d even made the film! I was so shocked, I genuinely thought it wouldn’t be me who won”.
Off the back of the win, Hardingham had more meetings and certain doors were opened for her. “I was so grateful and yet something felt kind of sticky about it. I was having meetings with people because they felt I was worthy. My skill set hadn’t improved overnight. I wasn’t suddenly a better actress, I just had recognition. But I guess I likened it to comparing two items of the same price and size on Amazon, only one had an excellent review. You’re going to buy the one with the review right? People need that reassurance”.
We went on to speak about the portraits Mollie Rose took for us and how, naturally, she assumed a new character; “Mollie and her team were all so amazing, and I felt empowered working with them. I was having an anxiety attack but I hid behind the persona of someone who knew what they were doing. To be honest, I just busted some shapes that I’ve seen other models do. It’s a cool way to tell a story and I’m so happy with the final shots. Mollie just gets shit done, and is a joy to hang out with”.
Then we spoke about the really important things. Three things Abigail Hardingham can’t live without, and why. “My phone… I have heart palpitations when I can’t find it”. But who doesn’t in this millennial world? “It’s so sad man!” she said. She can’t live without her dog either, and I don’t blame her. I’m clinging to the hope of bringing one into my life soon. “When I’m not working he gives me purpose. And since he needs two long walks a day, I’m always getting out of the house no matter how low I might feel”. The third should come as no surprise, films. “Man, I watch so many films! Shit ones, art house, horrors, animation, short films, my friends’ films. All genres, all languages”.
“I recently finished up a handful of episodes on a SyFy / Netflix co production, which is in its final season”, Abigail said, talking about what’s next. “I can’t say what it is, but it will be out later this year. I’ll also be working on another Netflix series which starts filming shortly; partly in Norway, and the rest in the UK. I wish I could say what that is too but what I can tell you is that it’s a dark fantastical thriller in which I play an incredibly dualistic, and complicated woman”. Sounds inviting, right?
The vision for Abigail Hardingham is simple. She hopes that she will continue to act for as long as it makes her happy. “I can’t wait to make films with my boyfriend either”, she added. “He is such a talented director. I want to put my money where my mouth is too and help fund films made by women. Films that reflect women’s lives and put them at the forefront of their own stories. I still want to move to France and learn the language, and then make a film speaking entirely in French”. C’est le rêve.
Once upon a time, Abigail Hardingham received ‘pushback for being too outspoken’, and that to move forward she needed to be less opinionated. “That was from something a male director once told me”, she explained. “To be less opinionated or I wouldn’t make it far in this industry. I asked him if I could quote him on that. To be honest, it didn’t surprise me. It’s disgusting to hear, but it happens all the time. The problem stems from unfair representation on screen and behind the scenes”.
Only 4% of the 100 top grossing films this year were directed by women, and of all the female characters in film, 72% were white. “White men govern a lot of control in Hollywood, and privilege is feeling oppressed by quality. This guy represents the men who are scared to lose their voice. The thing is, I don’t want him to lose his voice. I just want him to give me the respect of letting me use mine”.
“I really don’t know!” came the reply when I asked what she thought she’d be doing if she hadn’t moved to London at sixteen. “I’d have moved here at eighteen if I didn’t drop out of school and move here sooner. I always wanted to live here, and I am so used to moving and finding new homes. High Wycombe was always a thoroughfare. I would have maybe learnt to speak French, and have a job as a professional translator. That was always a job that I romanticised”.
All it takes is one scroll on her Twitter feed to see that Abigail Hardingham is opinionated. But it’s not a bad thing. She knows her voice and the power it has. “Know your worth she said”, in response to the advice she’d give to those wishing to follow a similar career path to herself. “Try to enjoy the struggle. All struggle is experience, and experience makes you a stronger performer. Be patient and find a hobby!” But there are two pieces of advice that she received herself which trumps all. Firstly, “people really aren’t thinking about that awkward thing that you did, that you can’t stop thinking about”. And most importantly, “you haven’t got the job until you’re in the queue waiting for your bacon sandwich from catering”…