In the four weeks since we met Larissa Loughlin, fashion editor of Interview magazine and socialite extraordinaire, on The Carrie Diaries (the CW's sugary sweet Sex and the City prequel), we've seen her shoplift from Century 21, attend a racy performance art exhibition, mix Acid and Ecstasy, and become the perfect role model for a young New Yorker. How does a single character walk the line between mentor and corrupter so effortlessly? Well, it helps when she is played by Freema Agyeman. The British actress, best known for her role on Dr. Who, plays Larissa with equal parts charm and cheekiness, vulnerability and confidence, and in doing so, gives us one of the show's most nuanced characters.
Hollywood.com spoke with Agyeman about her late discovery of Sex and the City, revisiting the '80s, and how she almost became an English lit scholar.
Hollywood.com: What drew you to The Carrie Diaries?
Freema Agyeman: Well, I did pilot season for the first time ever at the beginning of last year, and I was about five weeks in really — and it's quite an intense experience, because we don't have anything like it back home. You do two, three, four auditions a day, and I remember I got so exhausted towards the middle that I told my agent, "I'm just going to have to drop down the numbers I go in for." And so, then The Carrie Diaries script came along. Because I'm not the fastest reader in the world it usually takes me a while to read all the scripts as well and then learn them, but I just remember with Carrie Diaries I didn't read it once that night, I read it twice. I had the audition the next day, but the lines just went in so easily. I could see Larissa, and I could hear her straight away. And I just think when you know you've found a part that you click with you really feel it. So it felt like a no-brainer — let alone the fact that it's a part of an amazing franchise. It's such an honor.
Being from the UK, what was your relationship like with SATC?
Oh my goodness, it was huge! Absolutely everybody of a certain age, or between certain ages, was watching the show. But I remember I never watched it at the time, when the whole country was talking about it. I never tend to watch or do anything when other people are doing it; I come to things much later. So I bought the box set, I don't know, like a year, two years later, and started going through them. And I couldn't get enough! So much so that I started rationing them, because I knew there was only the boxed set for the whole thing. So I was talking to everyone about it and they were looking at me like, "It's kind of old news, Freema. Why are you talking about it now?" But I literally stopped at Season 3 and didn't got any further. And I started again from Season 1 now, in the hopes of never quite ever reaching the end — because I never want it to end!
So you haven't seen the end?!
No! Don't tell me! I still don't know how it finishes; I'm savoring it.
Well the good thing about SATC is you can watch those episodes millions of times and still enjoy them just as much.
That's absolutely true. So, in actual fact it stays true, it never gets old. I guess for me, it's that complete excitement — because there was nothing like it at the time, and I really should have watched it when everyone else was. But then again, as you say, it's relevant throughout. So actually, I'm happy to savor it for another few years.
Be careful of spoilers!
Oh I know! I'll be forced to kill anyone who says anything!
So, getting back to The Carrie Diaries, obviously Larissa is a mentor for Carrie, but is she really the best role model? What with the shoplifting and the drugs?
Ooh! Well, I kind of feel like, with Larissa, yeah, she's described as this party girl but she's so much into her fashion and the art world as well. And I think that she is a force of nature, she just loves all things, good, bad, and ugly. And she is a bit manic, and she is a kleptomaniac, but she's a fun character and she does have a good heart. And also, I must say that I don't really feel as though she's leading Carrie astray or corrupting her. Because Carrie has always sought a different world and excitement and danger and all of that. I think she's looking for this different world and Larissa just happens to inhabit it. And I think that Carrie is sensible enough to not follow the bad, but celebrate all the good with Larissa.
Oh, and you can definitely tell that Larissa has a good heart.
Yes! She is naughty, but she's a nice naughty.
At this point, Larissa doesn't realize Carrie is in high school. I'm curious about what will happen if she finds out. If she'll be upset or if she will just take Carrie under her wing even more and protect her.
Well I can say, and Amy B. Harris did address this at the TCA, that it does come to light. I can't say that much throughout the series, but it is directly addressed. And obviously I can't say which way it goes, but it does go one of the ways. But you know, there are all these jokes that get trickled in about Larissa just thinking she has good dermatology, she just looks very young and fresh-faced, but I think by the very fact that she's there, working in New York, Larissa just thinks she's game and legal.
What is your relationship like with AnnaSophia Robb (who plays Carrie) on set?
Oh she is just a sweetie! When we started the pilot, within a minute of us being on set — and actually as soon as they said "action" — seeing her in the scene, I was so relaxed. Because it's such a big role and she knows that and everyone knows that, and you think, "How is this young girl going to even begin to address it?" And I can tell you, literally within minutes I just thought, she is a clever, clever little actress. And she's been doing this a long time, since she was nine or however old. She's really professional and really technical and talented and, as I say, I breathed a sigh of relief for her. I would be so nervous to do it, and she is and was, but she's really capable in it. She has absolutely nothing to worry about. And all the critics agree, by the reviews, she really knows what she's doing with the part.
She's really magnetic. And I've noticed how she really picks up on Sarah Jessica Parker's mannerisms.
Good! I thought that was really clever! She doesn't do so much of it, but she peppers it in so you can see the similarity. But then she goes and brings her own into it as well. She's just very cleverly designed it all, and I think she's going to be hugely successful in this part.
What was it like for you playing not only a fashion editor, but a fashion editor in the '80s?
Well, I mean, the '80s are just a period that whoever I speak to just remembers the fun aspect: the parties, the clothes, the economy picking up. It just felt like a really positive, happy time. And I mean, I just have fond memories of it myself. I'm slightly older than the rest of the cast, so I was old enough to remember it, and it was a happy time for me, too. I remember my mum always looked fabulous, I really enjoyed our pink and gray-themed household, it was just amazing. I have really rose-tinted glasses about it, I think. But in terms of playing an adult through that time — I mean, I was between one through 10 — but playing this twenty-something fashion editor in the '80s, I absolutely bowed to a higher authority on that, which are the producers and the writers. Because it's not like I can necessarily ask my parents, because even though they were around, London is very different from New York. And also, even if they could tell me, I don't know anyone who was a fashion editor. So certain things I can research and bring my own influences to, but other things I do actually take the lead of the producers and what they each think that aspect of my character should be like.
When you were growing up, or maybe when you were first starting out in acting, did you have anyone like Larissa who was able to kind of show you the ropes?
No! [Laughs] No one in my family or my friend circle anywhere was in the acting business or anything to do with the industry whatsoever. I went to a very strict academic convent girls' school, and I was very into science and things like that when I was younger. And then I suddenly just went off on this tangent when I was 17 and I suddenly decided that I liked acting. But I also liked fine arts and English literature, so I would have gone and done any of them at a higher education level. I remember asking a career advisor, "What should I do?" and her advice was to apply to universities and see what happens. So I applied to either of the three at university, and I decided that fate would guide me. And it so happens that the theater studies or the acting degree application was responded to first, so I thought it was a sign. And I learned everything as I went. I got into it quite late. I'm enjoying it, but I'm very much learning as I go — and enjoying that, actually! But yeah, there wasn't anybody that I could use as a role model. And I certainly wasn't looking for somebody to introduce me to the city or introduce me to party scene because I wasn't that girl either. I was in further education as far as I could go, I never really went out, I didn't have a boyfriend until I was 19. So I'm probably more like a wide-eyed Carrie Bradshaw than I am like Larissa.
Dr. Who is such a different show and has such a large following; how do you think your fans from your past work will feel about this new role?
Again, because, as I say, I'm learning as I go along, having all these new experiences, it's really important to me to diversify a little bit as well. And it's never that I want to forget or distance myself from what came before, I love all of it and I'm extremely grateful because it brings me to the next place. I must admit, I did pilot season not really expecting this to all happen so quickly, and I'm still caught up in the whirlwind of it all and I feel really blessed and really lucky to be a part of this production and to have my first American outing. And so, for fans, I guess they will be surprised maybe by the change of direction — I went from Dr. Who to Law and Order and now to The Carrie Diaries — but I would never ignore or forget where I came from. So hopefully my Dr. Who fans won't feel that. I mean, I certainly will still go to conventions, I have one scheduled for February, and I've got some things for 50th Anniversary coming up that I'm involved in, so I'll always get back into that part of my life as well.
Will we get a chance to see more of Larissa's backstory, or maybe storylines independent from Carrie as we go along? Or is that something you'd like to see?
Oh I certainly would! I'm going to actually chat with Amy B. Harris at some point, because we did talk briefly on set and she said, "Let's have a sit-down and we can talk about story arc and backstory," because I don't know what any of mine is. My character is not in the books, so I don't appear in the Carrie Diaries story, and I think, you know, that's great. There are pros and cons in a way because I have complete freedom with the part, I can kind of contribute to her as I go along, but I suppose the downside of that is I really don't know where she comes from or where she's going. But that's kind of exciting as well. I guess, she'll be around for as long or as little as Carrie needs her and we will go into her backstory as and when it seems necessary, I'm sure. But I'm intrigued to see which direction she moves in as well. I'm sure there's layers under the kleptomaniac cloud.
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[Photo Credit: Nino Munoz/The CW]