- Words Solly Warner
- Photography The Other Richard
- Styling Holly Elgeti
- HMU Charlotte Yeomans
British actor and star of BBC's new series, ‘The Syndicate’, Katherine Rose Morley talks pinch-me moments in Monte Carlo and dogs galore.
Growing up in Liverpool, Katherine Rose Morley set her sights on a career in acting early on. Securing a spot at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she won the prestigious Gold Award as a testament to her burgeoning talent. It wasn’t long before Katherine moved swiftly into a steady stream of TV roles, starting her career playing ‘Lucy Garner’ in the Channel 4 period drama ‘The Mill’, as well as featuring as series regular ‘Ellie’ in comedy-drama ‘Last Tango in Halifax’. Co-starring in the BBC miniseries ‘Thirteen’, the young actor was able to work opposite Jodie Comer, with Katherine also making an appearance in the award-winning ‘Call The Midwife’.
Now, in one of her biggest roles to date, Katherine will soon be seen as a lead in the revival of the hit BBC One drama ‘The Syndicate’. From the pen of BAFTA award-winning writer Kay Mellor, the new six-part series marks the return of the drama for the first time since 2015 and showcases a stellar line up including ‘Line of Duty’ actor Neil Morrissey, Emily Head of ‘The Inbetweeners’ and YouTuber Joe Sugg.
This brand-new series tells the tale a syndicate of low paid dog kennel workers who soon realise that they may well be out of a job. Viewers are quickly introduced to the outwardly confident and hardworking ‘Keeley’, played by Katherine. Being a compulsive gambler, Keeley, along with the other workers, is always scrabbling to get the cash together to pay off her debts.
With the weekly lottery looking like the only lifeline, Keeley is more than ecstatic when she checks her ticket with local newsagent Frank (Neil Morrissey) and the machine goes off. However, when Keeley discovers that the winning lottery ticket has been stolen, she’s determined to do whatever it takes to get it back. The chase is on!
Set between Yorkshire and Monaco, we see the young syndicate well out of their depth, spending every last penny they own to see justice done. In true Mellor-drama style, this cat-and-mouse series is peppered with the comedy, pathos and high-drama audiences have come to expect from ‘The Syndicate’.
Notion spoke with Katherine Rose Morley to discuss how she prepped for her star role, what it was like working with Kay Mellor, filming in glamourous Monaco, and why working with dogs was her dream.
Congratulations on your role in the new series of ‘The Syndicate’. I’m sure the time that’s passed from auditioning, to getting the role, to filming, to now has been a bit of a crazy ride. How does it feel now that the show’s finished and coming out soon?
I mean, you’re absolutely right. I mean, to say the least, it’s been crazy. But, you know, the trailer came out this week. It all starts to feel quite real, when that happens, when you actually see it and start to see the adverts that all makes it feel quite real. But it’s a show I’m just really proud of. I think it’s absolutely what everybody needs right now. Just pure joyful escapism. It’s just really good fun and it’s got such heart and it’s full of dogs! So, I’m hoping it’ll bring a lot of joy and smiles. That’s what we all need right now. Just a good bit of fun.
Definitely. Now you play a character called Keeley in the show. Can you tell us a little bit about who she is and where we find her in Episode One?
Keeley’s a real full of life character. She is outwardly extremely confident. She will always get the job done, She’s a hard worker. She’s a loyal friend and sister, and she has this appearance of having her sh*t together. You know, having everything going for. But underneath that confidence, there is a real sensitivity to her and a fragility and she’s someone who’s actually really struggling. She doesn’t let on and that strength that she has, I really admire in her. I adored playing her because she has this ability to bring people together. I love that about her. But, like I say, she is also struggling. That’s what Kay [Mellor] does so beautifully is, she writes these people who you can relate to and fall in love with but aren’t necessarily good people all the time. At least they don’t make the best decisions, they do make mistakes. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about Kay is, she writes these characters who we all know, and we can relate to. I think that’s why Kay is so well loved, and her shows are so well loved because they are people you feel like you have empathy for.
You’re touching on it there, I’m sure that you felt like you shared a few similarities with your character, but how did you go about tackling some of the differences?
Yeah, I definitely think we do have a similarity. Keeley is absolutely a glass half full, and I do share that similarity. I also always try and look for the positive in a situation. However, we do differ, she’s really struggling, and I really had to hone in on the fact that she’s had to fend for herself quite a lot. I’m very lucky that I’ve got an amazing support network in terms of family and friends. Whereas she’s had to go it alone a little bit. Even though she still lives with her mom, they don’t have the best of relationships. It was really trying to figure out how, where her independence came from. I think she just has this mentality of get-up-and-go. That big crossover between the two of us really helped me to engage in that other side of her.
She’s a bit of a gambler, as well, as I’m sure everyone will get to know. So, in preparation for the role, I don’t suppose you did any online gambling yourself just to test the waters?
I did! I actually did. I download a couple of apps. Just to see what it was all about. I’d never really done it before. I don’t personally see the interest in it. But what is interesting about it is, and I think this is something with more modern day, is the constant targeted adverts for online gambling. So, for a lot of people when you think about gambling, you think about going to a bookies, or physically going into a casino. But with a mobile phone, you can do it 24/7, wherever you are at any given moment. So that constant persuasion and temptation is always there, and you always get these notifications. When I did it and you sign up with your email, you get so many emails! Obviously, they sell it on, so you end up with so many places emailing you. I think that’s when if something is so constant, it’s very difficult to pull away from it if you’re not guided in the right direction.
100%. You mentioned her before but what was it like working with Kay Mellor over a few months? Were there any particular pieces of advice from her that you felt really helped take your role forward?
Firstly, I think Kay is just so wonderful to be around. Because she’s the writer, director, and you know, creator, she has this eye of every detail of the show, and she very much knows what she wants. I love working with someone who knows what they want. But having said that, what Kay is so brilliant at, is also letting us bring ourselves and our own version. So, there was a lot of the time where certain lines didn’t quite fit or didn’t quite sound real, and she was like, “you do it, you run with it”. She’s very open to improv and around the lines and adding your own take, which helps massively. Even though she knows what she wants, she’s not completely stuck in your own text. I think that just gives you the freedom to really engage with your character, and then things come out that are just so natural. That’s one thing I adore about Kay is she really lets you bring yourself and I think trust in your instincts. Trusting that you know the right path is probably something that I learned very much from her.
Amazing, that sounds great. As the show was filmed during the pandemic and you were in a bubble during all of production, did you feel like you had created your own syndicate in a way? Was it like your own makeshift family for a while?
I mean, absolutely! It really was. Sometimes on a job, you do become a family. This was that times 100, because we really, really did spend 24/7 together. Because the five of us were our own bubble, we travelled to work together, worked together, came home to socialise, spent our weekends together. So, we didn’t leave Leeds pretty much the whole time, so really, everything we did was together. It sounds like a cliche, but we did actually become a little family. In some ways, I hope that reflects on screen as well, and maybe we’d have got there anyway without the pandemic, but I think there is an added layer to it, that we might not have got if we hadn’t spent so much time. We were very lucky that we all got on.
Whenever you film for projects, I’m sure it’s very much like escaping to a new world whenever you’re embodying a new character. But, did you have to pinch yourself even more so than usual when you found yourself out in Monaco, by the sea, next to super yachts?
Like 100%. I just couldn’t quite believe that I was there, especially in the Monaco part of the shoot. I remember just thinking, if you’d have told 15/16-year-old me that I’d be in Monaco in the middle of a pandemic, playing a lead in a Kay Mellor drama, I’d just be blown away by that! That’s why I’m so proud of it. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I’m so proud of the show that we’ve created. But there were so many moments, particularly in Monaco, where it was a real, “is this really happening to us?” You’d just wake up every day and we had the most beautiful views over our hotel balcony to this harbour. I couldn’t quite believe my luck really and I think that added to the excitement. It’s funny because we thought Monaco would be the glamorous part of the shoot. It was, we had the most amazing location, but it was so tough as well. It was an intense shoot out there. There’s a lot of restrictions, a lot stricter than over here. So, you really have to be careful over there. But there were so many times of thinking, “gosh, I’m just so incredibly lucky to be here”. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Monaco. But we went to film at the Monte Carlo Casino, which is the most opulent, grand building with all this rich history, and I’m like rolling around just in my trainers and neon. It was a real contradiction, but we had so much fun with it. I hope that the audience have just as much fun watching it.
And I don’t want to discredit Yorkshire because you did film in some very picturesque locations over in the UK as well.
Absolutely. Ah Yorkshire is so gorgeous! I got to film one day up at Ilkley Moor, which was absolutely gorgeous. We went there quite a few weekends. We’d go, the five of us, on big, long walks on the weekend and there really is some beautiful places in Yorkshire. We were very lucky with the whole shoot.
We can’t talk about the show without talking about the dogs. The show involves lots of dogs, which I’m sure a lot of people are very excited for. I also hear that you had a few dogs in your audition tape. Whose dogs were there, and whose idea was it to get them involved?
I did. Luckily. So, one of my boyfriend’s dogs had just had puppies a couple of months ago. So I had all these puppies at my disposal and the tape came through and it said in bold capital letters “MUST BE COMFORTABLE WITH DOGS”. I emailed my agent back and said, “please, please, please tell them how much I love dogs.” Then my boyfriend was helping me do the self-tape, and I just thought well, they’re all there. What better way to prove that I do absolutely love dogs and I’m very comfortable with them, than to get them all involved. There was about six of them and I just got them all jumping around and they’re puppies, so it was great, they were all really playful. I just thought “why not?” Sometimes you have to be a bit bold and try your best to stand out. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. But in this case, I think it did so I’m glad that I made that decision.
I’m sure that’s also probably one of the best perks of a job ever. I can imagine if you’re having a bit of a down day or things aren’t going as well, it’s like having your own therapy animal on set at all times.
I mean, I just absolutely adore animals and dogs. It was just so much fun to have in them all around. It was also extremely hard work sometimes. The ones that are maybe the cutest are probably the ones that are really untrained. So, it was a real dilemma of, “oh, I love this dog but its naughty”. It added a good level of fun and distraction to it. But they are just as much at the heart of the show as anybody else. The fact that there’s so many of them. It’s a lovely element to the show that I think most people will absolutely love.
I can’t imagine anyone in the cast wasn’t a fan of dogs, but was there anyone who you thought was clearly more of a cat person?
Now you know what, there really wasn’t. I think the casting process and the crew as well. We all had been told you have to be comfortable. I think it would have been an extremely different job had people not liked them. So, I think that was just all a major part of the casting process.
With this series, it’s a completely new story. I know that fans of the previous series are definitely excited for ‘The Syndicates’ to return, but as you are part of one of the youngest syndicates there has ever been, do you hope that the show will bring in a younger audience as well?
I definitely hope it does and I really think it will. What Kay is so good at is that you can be 18 or 80 and enjoy Kay’s work because she writes from the heart and she writes about families. So, absolutely, I think this will bring in a younger audience. Like you said, we’re the youngest syndicate she’s written for. Also, you really get behind them. This series does have a twist to it, and it doesn’t follow the exact same rules as the other series, which is the story of the stolen ticket. I think with a younger group, you really get behind them. You really want to see justice done, because they’re just this young group, they’ve got no money between them, they work hard. I think everyone can recognise that this would change their lives completely, as it would be with anyone. But they’re young and at the start of their lives. Because we’re the youngest, there is that youthful element to it, and hopefully it will bring in a younger audience. But I do believe you’d enjoy it, no matter how old you are.
Just to round things up, what do you hope viewers take away from the show, and why should people watch it?
I hope people have as much fun watching it, as we did making it. I think, right now it’s perfect escapism for what we’re all living through. It’s great fun. I think you’ll be swept away in these characters and really love following their journey. But also, come for the dogs! If you’re an animal lover, come for the dogs and see all the gorgeous animals. It’s a drama that everybody can watch together as a family and enjoy it. You know, sit down as a family and get the tea and biscuits out and enjoy it. I think we all need a little bit of that right now.
Perfect. Well, thank you so much for speaking to me today. I wish you all the best with the show.
Lovely to speak to you. Thank you so much.