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Interview: Call The Midwife's Jennifer Kirby


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Call The Midwife has been one of the BBC's most popular shows since it first aired five years ago. Featuring tales of joy, hope and despair, the period drama has provided a wealth of thought-provoking entertainment as it follows the personal journeys and day-to-day cases of the midwives of Nonnatus House.

With Sister Mary Cynthia and Patsy both away, the Nuns decided to enlist a new midwife to their ranks, with the quick-witted heroics of former army nurse/barmaid Valerie Dyer proving to be the perfect fit in last week's episode.

In today's episode and beyond, we follow Valerie as she embarks on her first day as a midwife in Poplar, enthusiastic and ready to delve into the new job and all the challenges that come with it.

Ahead of Valerie's first day, we spoke to actress Jennifer Kirby to find out more about the new character and what it is like being a part of one of the BBC's most successful flagship shows.

Valerie will likely be familiar to regular viewers, as she first featured a few episodes back as one of the first to be on the scene when the dock caught on fire. Speaking about the character and what the future holds for her, Jennifer is excited but suitably coy about Valerie's journey: 

"We will find out a bit more about her in future episodes. We already know that she's very brave and on the ball and passionate, but I think we will be able to find out more about her through the challenges she faces and the way she interacts with new situations and characters." 

Given Valerie's military background, might that also be something we can expect to explore in future episodes?

Again, careful not to give anything away, Jennifer teases the possibility: "It's something that might come to light a bit further on, but I think her quick-thinking responses and her way of looking at a situation is part of that."

The show has been around for five years and whilst cast members have come and gone, there is still a fairly established team behind the period drama. We were keen to ask whether Jennifer was nervous going into that.

"I was a bit nervous. It's such a great show that is so well-established and as with any new job, there were a few first day nerves but then it very quickly became a place where I wasn't nervous. Everyone was very nice and kind towards me and really made me feel like one of their own." 

On screen, the show deals with a lot of important themes and issues, with upcoming episodes including everything from dental hygeine to mental health care and female genital mutilation. What is it like being a part of a series that explores so many important themes? 

"It's really exciting. I think it's amazing that we have a show that's on the BBC at primetime that deals with so many important issues and brings these stories to light to such a wide audience. And the time period obviously adds another dimension to it contextually as we see how certain issues were dealt with then and how they are now."

Speaking of the time period, which at this stage of the series takes place in the 1960s at the height of JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis, we were keen to ask Jennifer what is is like going into work and being placed into a whole other decade. 

"It's really cool, I mean as an actor, it's always great when you can transport yourself to another time and really step into a character different to yourself and when I have the hair and the costume, it feels very different. I don't feel like Jen, I feel part of that time and ready to get to work as Valerie."

It's an age-old adage that you should never work with children or animals, but this show sees actors interacting with small children and babies in every episode. We wondered what that was like and what challenges it brought. 

"Yeah, it's great and a really interesting experience. I think everyone just has a natural reaction when they see a small baby and the way everyone on set reacts to that is very different. What I've learned, I think, is that babies don't like tension; they struggle a bit when you call action so you have to adapt how you work around them whilst also just getting on with it."

If the babies don't like tension, what must it be like in the dramatic delivery scenes?

"Haha yeah, I think that's just part of it. You know that the baby is probably going to cry when it shouldn't and react a bit unpredictably but it's about working around that and thinking about how to deal with it in character."

Finally, as Jennifer's first big, recurring television credit, following a "few telly bits" and a theatre background, we wondered if she had any advice for young, aspiring actors looking to make it in the industry.

"I think if you're really intent on pursuing something and you can't think of anything else you'd rather do then just don't let anything get in your way. I've had a few setbacks as I've gone along with not getting certain jobs and drama schools not accepting me but it's about pushing through. There is no rhyme or reason why you can't succeed, you just have to keep going.

"I'd also say to remember to roll with it and enjoy yourself. Don't miss out on the good times, enjoy it fully and support your friends as they're the people you lean on. If they're aspiring to the same thing you are, support them when they get roles and enjoy yourself."

Call The Midwife airs on Sundays at 8pm on BBC One.

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