Calypso Cragg Interview | Hallmark’s An American In Austen

CALYPSO CRAGG recently starred in Hallmark’s latest hit period drama An American in Austen as Mary Bennet. We caught up with Calypso to talk about her recent role and career so far.

You recently starred in An American in Austen. What can you tell us about the experience?

The experience was so magical. I worked with the most wonderful cast and crew and got to act in one of my favourite adaptations. Pride and Prejudice has been an all-time favourite of mine for as long as I can remember. Being part of something I’ve continuously dreamt about, was one of the most surreal experiences. Added to that, I was surrounded by such beautiful people, inside and out. I feel so spoilt!

How did you approach the role of Mary Bennet, offering your own take on this well-known literary character?

I actually did a lot of research into Mary Bennet. I often play characters where there is a character overlap. With Mary, I felt bewildered as to how I could play her. It was very exciting preparing for her. I rewatched the films, read the book, and read as many blog posts as I could. I really fell down a Mary Bennet blog rabbit hole and would just read and consume as much as possible. In the end, I wanted to take all of my learnings and observations into consideration but give Mary my own take.

Photo Credit: Hallmark

How well-versed were you in Austen’s works before this film? Did your knowledge of her work inform your approach to the character?

I would say I was very well-versed with Austen’s work prior to working on this film. It certainly helped when I approached the project, as I have always been very interested in Jane Austen, the Regency period, and most importantly, Pride and Prejudice. Learning about Jane Austen a bit more was also super beneficial because it meant I could explore not only Mary’s character but the reason why Austen wrote her into the story. Because she isn’t one of the main sisters, her reason for being there isn’t as clear, so I needed to figure out Jane Austen’s intentions with Mary. 

The film has a unique premise – a modern woman transported into Jane Austen’s world. How does Mary Bennet react to this situation?

I would say Mary is intrigued, while simultaneously being very disapproving. She is quite uptight and anxious and lives by the book. Harriet, the American newcomer (Eliza Bennet), is this completely new stranger who is authentic, funny and quirky. Harriet doesn’t follow the rules of the time and certainly doesn’t act or behave like a woman would have been expected to. Mary lives her life a certain way and has very strong ideas on how she, and her sisters, should behave.

Photo Credit: Erica Ford

Can you recall any funny moments from on-set filming?

Oh, countless! Every single day was hilarious. I’ve never laughed so much on one shoot. One very funny moment, in particular, was when it was our lovely director Clare Niederpruem’s birthday. We all pranked her in one of our scenes. The actors who play Mr Darcy (Nicholas Bishop) and Mr Bennet (Toby-Alexander Smith) staged an argument, and one of them stormed off. We all acted shocked and confused and followed them off set, and quickly got a cake ready. Our director came outside and we were all standing there with the cake singing her happy birthday!

How did working on a Hallmark production impact your experience of the story? 

Good question. With a classic story like Pride and Prejudice, it’s already pretty wholesome and sweet, so I think they had the perfect foundation to work from. I also liked the fact that they gave Mary a bit more screen time than she would usually have. She even gets proposed to! It’s nice to have been allowed to explore some different events that never occurred during the original story.

Photo Credit: Faye Thomas

Fans love their warmth and optimism. Did that influence your portrayal of Mary?

I think so. It probably meant I was more eager to explore a different take on Mary’s character. I like that though. I think sometimes in the past, Mary’s character is so dismal and melancholic. It felt like the team at Hallmark was open to venturing down another route, and I’m so glad they were. 

As an actor, what are you still trying to learn?

I am trying to learn how to approach characters, rather as extensions of myself, but more as entirely separate individuals. It means it takes more research, and is far more time-consuming, but I want to establish myself as a serious actor who is willing to push the limits.

Every actor faces challenges. Is there a moment where you doubted yourself, and how did you keep moving forward?

Yes, absolutely. I am never happy with a performance, but sometimes it feels good, and that’s when I know I can relax a little bit. When I have moments where I hate my performance, I either hope I get another take or hope I can get it in the next scene. It’s a fine balance between not being hard on yourself, but also knowing how you can improve next time. A constant journey of learning. The one thing I have control over is preparation. The more I prep, the less I hate my performance when it comes to shooting.

Do you have any rituals or practices that help you get into character and prepare for a performance?

Yes. Listening to music is really helpful. I usually listen to classical music, but it all depends on the scene and the character. I also like to ‘lock in’ just before we do the take. There will be about a minute or two before the action, and that’s when I pull it together, and get myself mentally in the scene by adjusting my breathing, and thoughts.

How has your relationship with acting evolved as you’ve gained experience over the years?

It has definitely gotten better. It feels like something I’m part of, rather than something I’m observing. I never felt like an actor until recently. Being an actor is such a wonderful privilege, and I felt so separate from that world. It felt like a title I needed to earn, but now I feel like I’m on the outside of the inside, looking in! 

Have you ever been starstruck while working with a fellow performer? If so, how did you handle it?

I don’t get starstruck. I can very easily be in awe of someone, but I wouldn’t say starstruck. It’s more like “Wow, they are so talented, and I like the way they carry themselves. I want to be like them when I grow up”. Working with everyone on this project had me feeling that. I was sort of the baby of the group, so I was constantly looking up to my fellow castmates to see how things were done.  

What qualities do you value most in a director, scene partner, or fellow cast member?

I value slightly different things in directors and actors. With directors, I value, honesty, sensitivity and gentleness. It’s vital I know a director is going to be honest with me, but I’ve worked with directors in the past who have treated me a bit like a robot with no feelings. I need feedback and don’t expect to get it right, but I appreciate it when the director is considerate with their comments. That way we can work together to get the best out of the scene, instead of being ripped apart in front of the cast and crew. One thing I like is when the director takes me aside to discuss something I can change. That’s just the most thoughtful and kind thing they could do if I’m struggling! 

When it comes to actors, I value working with authentic, grounded, and funny people. The days can be long and intense, and life happens, so it’s important to be working with people who are lovely and keep the energy going, rather than people who suck all the energy out of the room. 

What are you excited about for the future?

I’m so excited to see what opportunities I get next. I’m looking forward to working more and getting some more experience under my belt. I’d love to do more period dramas!

You can find out more about Calypso Cragg’s upcoming projects on her IMDb and Instagram.

Interview: Adam Crookes