We’ve had this lurking in our drafts for a little while, and we’ve been so excited it was hard to keep it a secret. But finally, to make that first week back at work more bearable, here is our exclusive interview with Jemima Rooper, who are we’re sure you all will know, starred as George in the 1990s Famous Five TV series.
In the Famous Five Annual, it says that it took you a long time to have your hair curled, did it help you get into character?
Yes and no! The first year the perm dropped really quickly so it took ages to tong and looked terrible so wasn’t that useful character wise. The second year was much better and was great for filming… not so good for my teenage social life. The boys would always steal my hats.
Had you read the books before you got the part of George? (If you did, can you remember which was your favourite and why?)
I grew up reading The Famous Five and as a younger kid had tried to be like George (without cutting my hair, though it was in the typical child bowl cut so many parents favour!) Reading Blyton was a massive part of my childhood reading so when the audition came up I was obsessed with succeeding. In fact my mum used to take me to a second hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road and hunt for the old hardback books with Eileen Soper’s illustrations and I have rather a lot still in a cupboard. I think my favourite will always be the first, Five on a Treasure Island. It was when George was her sulkiest which I loved.
What was your favourite episode to film?
There were so many great ones. I think I loved the circus ones the most as we got to meet chimpanzees and elephants. Much more fun than going to school.
There were lots of guest stars who appeared alongside you in the series, out of them all who was your favourite?
Jesse Birdsall who played an evil gypsy in one as a few years later he played my dad in As If. He’s a brilliant actor and was really fun and interested in all of us. Not dismissive just because we were kids. But we were very lucky and pretty much everyone was lovely. I recently worked on a film and bumped into Sion Tudor Owen who had played a baddie in series one and he was exactly the same nearly twenty years on and we had a very good giggle together remembering stuff.
Do you still get recognised by fans of the series?
Weirdly, yes. I never expect to but I guess there’s a small number of people who watched it as kids and have kind of grown up with me. I’m always half embarrassed and half proud!
And what would be your favourite ever spotted moment?
Probably covered in mud at a festival, slightly worse for wear with someone pointing and yelling “George!”
Do you have any funny stories from filming? Any pranks that you used to play on each other?
We were very naughty is all I can really remember. We used to sneak out of our rooms and run around the hotel all night and our chaperone had no idea. We used to put things in our tutor Steve’s mouth when he fell asleep during our on set lessons.
What is your a favourite memory from your time as George?
It was literally my dream. It was my dream role in the job I wanted to do. It felt so exciting and I learned more about my job and myself than at any other time I think. But probably Connal was the best thing. What a dog he was.
How closely could you relate to George then? And do you relate to her now in anyway?
Back then, the lines were slightly blurred between me and George. Though the life of the Famous Five was a little more privileged and a little more innocent than our lives are – but I’m a tomboy through and through and that will always remain.
Had you seen the 1970s Famous Five TV series before or after you got the role of George? If so, did you base any of your characterisation on what you had already seen?
I had seen it as it satisfied a small need to have FF on screen when I was little but I was so happy ours was set in the period the books were written in. I actually adored the Comic Strip Presents series more (it is brilliantly rude) but didn’t channel Dawn French (sadly) when I was thirteen!
You had a lot of roles after the Famous Five, which has been your favourite?
Lost in Austen was the best part I’ve ever had and I was also obsessed with the BBC Pride and Prejudice as a young teen so I got to scratch that itch. I’m often told I look too modern for period things so it was literally like it had been written for me when I read it. I howled with laughter when I read it and sadly, that doesn’t happen very often.
Many of your characters on TV seem to be strong independent women, did playing George influence your decision to take on these roles at all?
I think it’s just that sometimes there are girls like Anne, and there are girls like George. The Annes are often the romantic leads, the more vulnerable, traditional ones. And the Georges are the ones that don’t quite fit the mould.
George Kirrin is possibly one of the most famous tomboys of all time, what did it feel like to be able to play her on television?
We get a lot of people searching for you on the blog, how do you feel to know that people still remember you as George?
I’m mortified in a sense. It’s like loads of people digging up those embarrassing family photos. But I’m also so pleased that the character still means so much to people and I was a part of that. It took a lot of getting over when we had finished filming all the books and I will always remember it.
The majority of the EBS (Enid Blyton Society) members think that you were the perfect George, how does that make you feel?
Incredibly happy. Before I became an actress and way before I played the part I really did pretend to be her (I’m an only child like George and had a lot of time on my own!) so I had actually done unconscious Daniel Day Lewis method acting in preparation! I will probably never research a role so well again.
Jemima can be seen most recently on the BBC One show Atlantis as Medusa, and will be appearing with Angela Lansbury in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Gieguld Theatre from 18th March 2014 for 15 weeks. She can be followed on Twitter Here.