Interview: The Leith actress set for stardom in upcoming Sopranos film

Tallulah Greive is about to star in one of the biggest Scottish films of the year.
Tallulah Greive is about to star in one of the biggest Scottish films of the year.
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It is a film that has been in the planning for virtually all of her life – but is set to propel her into the limelight within months.

Tallulah Greive may be about to star in one of the biggest Scottish films of the year, but seems to be taking the prospect of making her feature film debut in her stride.

Sopranos stars: (L-R) Marli Siu as Kylah; Tallulah Greive as Orla; Abigail Lawrie as Finnoula; Sally Messham as Manda; Rona Morison as Chell; Eve Austin as Kay'.

Sopranos stars: (L-R) Marli Siu as Kylah; Tallulah Greive as Orla; Abigail Lawrie as Finnoula; Sally Messham as Manda; Rona Morison as Chell; Eve Austin as Kay'.

Like the rest of the key cast of the forthcoming adaptation of Alan Warner’s much-loved novel The Sopranos, the Leith actress is a relative unknown in the Scottish film industry.

But that will change within months when Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones reveals his long-awaited version of the book – 21 years after acquiring the film rights.

Billed by the Hollywood Reporter as “Pitch Perfect meets Trainspotting” when filming was announced by Sony, it will chart the exploits of a group of Catholic schoolgirls from the west coast of Scotland on an alcohol-fuelled trip to Edinburgh for a choir competition.

Being cast as Orla by Caton-Jones – who has previously worked with Jessica Lange, Joanne Whalley, Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael J Fox – in the new film is undoubtedly a dream role for Greive’s feature film debut.

But it is merely the culmination of a decade’s stage and screen work, including seven years as a professional actress, all without any formal drama school training.

Greive, 21, learned her craft with her local theatre company in Leith, which has found major film roles for several young actors on its books, including in T2 Trainspotting and Outlaw King.

Now she has agreed to become the first official ambassador of Strange Town – which works with 5-25 year-olds – to help encourage the next generation of young acting talent to follow in her footsteps.

Approached to become patron after the end of filming, Greive had little hesitation in accepting a role which will see her run masterclasses and workshops, as well as help raise the profile of Strange Town’s campaigns and events.

For Greive, the company - which is based at Leith’s former drill hall – has been crucial in offering an alternative route into an industry notoriously difficult to get a foothold in.

The actress was borth in Perth, Australia, but brought up in Leith after her parents – jazz musicians Chris Greive and Becc Sanderson, moved to Scotland and became immersed in the city’s thriving scene, when she was two.

Greive was the beneficiary of bursaries which helped her parents send her to acting classes – first with the Lyceum Youth Theatre company, and then with Strange Town, following her tutor, Ruth Hollyman, there after she founded the new company in 2008.

Greive says: “It was pretty wonderful and overwhelming to be asked to be patron. I’d advise any young people thinking of going into acting to get involved in youth theatre, practise regularly and keep learning new things. Strange Town has been really great for me as it gave me the chance to devise and improvise work and get me interested in the whole creative process beyond acting.”

Greive’s work with Strange Town has already helped her win a starring role in a major CBBC sitcom, Millie Inbetween, for four years. She has also previously appeared in a number of Strange Town’s own theatre productions, as well as high-profile adverts for RBS and the SNP.

Greive jumped at the chance to audition for the film of The Sopranos despite a “disastrous” audition several years previously for the same role as Orla in the National Theatre of Scotland’s stage musical adaption of Warner’s book, when the character was being re-cast.

She recalls: “I read the book for the first time just before I did that audition. It was really bad.

“I totally forgot my words for a song, which had never really happened to me before. I was going through a weird year when I was going through some very strange auditions. I was quite shocked that it happened. If you’ve done auditions since you were 13 it’s very strange if you start experiencing nerves again. You become very self-conscious.”

Greive was still working on her final episodes of Millie Inbetween when Strange Town’s acting agency put her forward for the Caton-Jones adaptation.

She says: “I thought the script was incredible. It’s quite rare to have a script which has teenage girls as characters and is actually how they speak and relate to each other.

“It felt like the voices were right, which was really exciting. I read it and thought: ‘Oh my god, these are the girls that used to sit at the back of the bus that I was slightly terrified of.’

“I felt I totally knew who these girls were, and that I had seen them and went to school with them. It felt authentic and real and perfect. I loved it.”

Greive, who was called for an audition with Caton-Jones despite feeling “so terrible” when she had to record herself in character after being struck ill, was announced in the cast - along with Eve Austin, Abigail Lawrie, Sally Messham, Rona Morison and Marli Siu – in November, after starting work on the production.

Under strict orders not to discuss her character, or indeed the plot, Greive has lots to say about her experience of working with the West Lothian-born director.

She says: “It was extraordinary. Michael has had an incredible vision for the film for 20 years. It was amazing to see it all come out of his brain. He knew how he was going to do every single bit of it before we started filming.

“The scariest thing was meeting everyone and starting work on the film, but we had quite a lot of rehearsal time to get to know each other and bond beforehand, so by the time we started filming we were ready to go.

“I had a few chats with Michael before we started filming. He really put me at ease and put me on the right track with things.

“I also read the novel a lot. If you’re involved in any way with the Scottish theatre scene you know about the musical, but I ended up reading the book because I was quite interested in it.

“Alan Warner is such as an extraordinary writer – there are so many different messages in it and so many different layers to it.

“There is a great chapter that is all mostly just about my character’s back story. It was just laid out for me and was great to have that resource to draw on as you don’t have that very often.”

The Sopranos has been in production at a time of huge debate in the film industry about the lack of opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera, and a shortage of female lead characters.

Caton-Jones has promised that the wit and energy of Warner’s characters will be “fresh and raw as ever” on screen – but said the movie would also challenge “conventional perceptions and portrayals of women in film.”

Greive says of her film: “I hope teenage girls will see themselves in it. In recent years that has been more of an uptake (in films) of teenage girls who are like teenage girls, rather than perfect Hollywood versions of teenagers. It’s been nice to see a deviation away from that to something a lot more realistic and funny and heartbreaking at the same time.

“The characters in this film are complex rather than classic strong heroines. They do things that are right and things that are wrong. I don’t know what genre this film would fit into. There are bits that are funny, bits that are sad and bits that are happy. It’s quite an emotional film.”

Despite the hype, Greive is coy about comparisons with Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, which was released two years before Warner’s book.

She adds: “I’m a big Trainspotting fan. We’ll see if it’s an apt comparison. It will be interesting to see what people think when they see the finished article. The film is definitely Scottish and is about a group of friends, but that’s about it.”