Raquel Cassidy is an actress I first became familiar with when she burst onto the scene in Teachers, the next television programme to bring her to my attention was Downton Abbey, some years later. Miss Baxter was one of my favourite characters and her blossoming friendship with Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) was one of my best loved story lines. Raquel has since gone on to star as the iconic Miss Hardbroom in The Worst Witch and has also appeared in Silent Witness. I was fortunate enough to chat with Raquel about her career to date and what might be her next venture.
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Raquel, I’d like to start by talking about The Worst Witch as it was my favourite childhood book. What was it like to play such an iconic character as Miss Hardbroom?
I’ve never had so much fun in anything, it’s the whole spirit of the story and the interplay with the Cackle sisters, the magic – being able to click your fingers and close doors is brilliant and being able to say to the wonderful art department “I don’t think she’d hold her own book or turn her own page”. I made sure I didn’t watch Diana Rigg as Miss Hardbroom, it wouldn’t have been Miss Hardbroom who was in my head it would have been Diana. I came quite fresh to the show and Jill Murphy who wrote the books was great, she came to the read-throughs, she gave me an idea of what her picture was but she was very much on board with me going for it and having fun. I think I was a bit nervous because I knew that I was taking on someone that a lot of people know so well from the stories and other productions of The Worst Witch.
As a character I think that she has a very true heart and ultimately wants the witches to be the best that they can be and there’s an awkwardness to her which is great fun to play as well. She’s made herself into this statue of a teacher and sometimes that gets a bit ruffled so it can be fun to be able to be a bit buffoon-like.
I’m going to move on to Downton Abbey now as it’s another favourite of mine, the movie rumours have been on-going for some time, is there an update?
At the moment it’s something that we would all like to do but there are a lot of people that are very much in demand, to get together at the same time and in the same place and I think that’s going to make it or break it. When a few of us met at the SAG awards you could tell that we would all very much like to do it if we can, partly because it would just be fun to get together again I think. However once people are out of contract and they have other contracts to honour it becomes very difficult.
What are your highlights from your Downton days?
They range from the very light to the very dark, there are light-hearted moments such as dancing below stairs and we’re all getting the steps wrong or once we’re off camera Kevin (Doyle) starts doing this crazy jig. Or there’s laughing at the back of the church when you’re not supposed to, also when we were just sitting around the table those hours could be very long or they could be very good fun. The darker moments I enjoyed were when Baxter was between a rock and a hard place, where the choice that the character was going to have to make was either going to damn her or damn someone else. That was a very human story line and Baxter had to test herself on what was the right course of action, should she take the easier path to save herself?
What did you think of the development in the friendship between Mr Molesley and Miss Baxter and would you like to see the relationship explored further if the movie happens?
The thing about movies is you’ve still got 20+ characters jostling for air time and as Miss Baxter and Mr Molesley take so long to do anything they would need a movie just for themselves. I think there’s more room for them to explore but as long as they have one another in their lives they probably don’t expect much else as characters.
Moving on to Silent Witness, you’ve recently done a couple of episodes, were you familiar with that show before you guest starred in it?
No not really, I did watch it years ago, it’s a great quality show and I have enormous respect for it now that I’ve done it as I’ve seen the amount of work that goes into it. There’s a lot of care and love that goes into it from the actors playing the main characters and after twenty years you’d think they’d be reigning it in a bit, but not at all, they’re really on it. I worked with David Caves and Emilia Fox and they question constantly, trying to find the truest way of telling the story. They were lovely to work with as well.
What led you into an acting career?
I think I wanted to do it from when I was about 4 years of age, I used to watch films with my mum a lot, there wasn’t an abundance of television shows when I was little so I watched old movies which were beautiful to look at. I loved watching things with my mum and I suppose I wanted to be in the movies, from as long as I can remember I always wanted to be an actor. I tried to join troops and go to Drama School and I was gently led back to a more sensible path. Eventually, many years later I finally woke up and said “ahh I’m a grown up, I can actually do this now if I want to” and I had a lot of support from my parents, actually.
I remember you starring in the television show, Teachers – would you say that it was one of your big breaks?
It was definitely my big break on TV and I auditioned for three big shows at the same time as Teachers. I couldn’t believe it and it was new so nobody was judging it. It was everything it looked like it was on screen, if you see what I mean? It was mad and we were young, having fun. Members of the cast were close friends off screen as well as on so the chemistry was there.
Finally then, what’s next for you?
I’m doing a little part in the final series of W1A so it will be great to see Hugh Bonneville again and I know some of the other actors on the show, too. Worst Witch also want to do another series so that will take me up to halfway through the year. After that, who knows, something new maybe? They need a new Doctor Who!
Huge thanks to Raquel for chatting to me, it was a privilege to be able to talk about some of her experience and I can’t wait to see another series of The Worst Witch.
Photo Credits: BBC and ITV