There aren’t too many famous names to come out of the town of Harlow, Essex. The one you’re most likely to know is actress Charlotte Spencer, who, at age 28, has already had a career spanning over fifteen years, with a more impressive range of projects on her resume than most twice her age.
Spencer is currently starring in ITV’s eight-part Sunday night drama Sanditon, an adaptation of an unfinished Jane Austen novel set in a town named, yep, Sanditon. She plays Esther Denham, a poor young woman with very wealthy relatives: “I love period dramas, and when I looked into Sanditon I knew I had to do it, I had to fight for it!” she tells me. “Adapting an unfinished novel was really interesting, and I love my character, playing Esther. We shot over six months, which was quite a while but I had a great time.” This isn’t Spencer’s foray into the genre — in 2016 she led the BBC’s The Living And The Dead, alongside Humans star Colin Morgan. “It was the first period drama I did,” she remembers, fondly. “I was really sad that didn’t get a second series, but it was an amazing experience.”
Unlike a lot of her contemporaries, Spencer isn’t from an acting background and admits that she and her parents have had to work for her to get where she is now. “I’ve wanted to act ever since I was very young, like three! I’m not from an acting family — my mum works in a primary school and my dad’s a builder and both of them worked very hard to send me to drama school. I’m very glad for what they did for me, I feel incredibly lucky.” Growing up as an aspiring actor, Spencer found that she had to actively pursue her ambition, as there wasn’t much of an arts scene in her area. “Even now, at the school my mum works at, the arts funding isn’t what it could be,” she says. Spencer feels children should be encouraged to enter creative industries, no matter what their background is, adding that, “I think children learn best from stories, from telling stories, acting them out. It’s really important, I think, that they are given these opportunities, as it’s a great way for them to learn.”
Spencer began her career in theatre having attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London, playing Jane Banks in Mary Poppins aged 12, then going on to star alongside Rowan Atkinson in Oliver!. Following several screen roles, including a supporting turn in Dexter Fletcher’s 2011 comedy Wild Bill, Spencer was cast in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the Profumo affair. “I played Christine Keeler, who was one of the main roles. The show was supposed to run for quite a while, and not long into it we found out that it was closing in three weeks, we were all going to be jobless.” However, she wasn’t jobless for long, thanks to a connection she made after taking “a very, very small role in Line Of Duty”. Auditioning for a new E4 show, Glue, Spencer was recognised by the director—“The same guy who I’d done Line Of Duty with” she laughs. “He remembered me and was instantly like “I want this girl! Hire her!”, so the show closing was a blessing in disguise. That was very lucky, and Glue was an amazing job.” Created by Skins writer Jack Thorne, Glue followed a group of teenage friends in the wake of one of their number’s murder. “Jack was on set all the time, and would kind of observe how you played the character and change bits of dialogue to fit the way you were playing them,” she remembers. “The cast was wonderful too, and they’ve all gone on to amazing things — Callum Turner, Jordan Stephens, Billy Howle. I mean I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of my jobs, and this was just awesome.”
Aside from being a recognisable face onscreen, Spencer’s voice is one you might have heard around too. She began lending her voice to the title character in the children’s animated series Angelina Ballerina in her teens and recently voiced a rabbit named Nettles in ITV’s Watership Down. “I’ve done quite a bit. You get the brief for the character, like what they should sound like, for example, an eight-year-old mouse, and just record it on your phone and send it in. I’m very used to it,” she says. “I also do quite a lot of voiceovers on the Disney Channel, like the ‘Coming up next on the Disney Channel…’ between shows.”
Who does Spencer enjoy watching, and who would she like to work with? “Aside from the obvious ones like Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, there’s a lot of younger actors I really admire — Vanessa Kirby, Juno Temple. I think Juno Temple is so underrated, she’s fantastic.”
Up next for Spencer is the film Misbehaviour, a ’70s-set comedy in which she stars alongside Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley and Greg Kinnear.