Hailing from Liverpool, Darci Shaw is making waves at home in the UK and under the bright lights of Hollywood – even though she’s still just a teenager. With a role in ITV’s The Bay under her belt and a big screen debut in Rupert Goold’s Judy, starring opposite Renée Zellweger, she’s proved herself to be a versatile young actress ready to take on any role that’s thrown at her.
Now, she’s appearing in her most challenging part to date: as a Victorian teen in Netflix’s The Irregulars. With an edge of the supernatural, she plays Jessie, one of a gang of troubled adolescents who solve crimes at the behest of Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes. If you need a distraction from the state of the real world – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – be sure to stick it on your watchlist.
Below, we catch up with the young star about her Liverpudlian upbringing, working with Renée Zellweger and the challenges facing young women in the entertainment industry today.
Great to meet you! So, I hear you’re a proud Liverpudlian…
I was born and still live in Liverpool with my family, it’s a city I love and however much I love to travel and visit other places I just love walking along the waterfront!
How did you get into acting?
My grandma said she knew I would lean towards performing arts in later life as I had a creative mind even as a toddler. She used to walk me to nursery and each day I’d pretend to be different characters so I feel that it was very much something that I was destined to do. I had an agent from the age of 14 and was lucky enough to start auditioning for some great roles.
What sort of acting training do you have?
As I’m 18, I haven’t been to drama school or anything but I attended a Saturday stage school in Liverpool called LIPA from the age of 5 which I loved. In secondary school I was also involved in school plays each year but I think the push that made me want to consider acting professionally was when I joined The Everyman Youth Theatre aged 14 which I attended weekly. I was also lucky enough to take part in the Everyman Rep company’s Fiddler On The Roof and Romeo and Juliet productions in 2017.
Let’s talk Judy: how were you cast?
Initially I was asked to self-tape in a standard US accent but I decided to try and listen to how Judy spoke in old films as well as other actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood and try and emulate their accent. Luckily following this I was invited to meet Rupert Goold the director. There were several other stages which included a meeting with a dialect coach and a dance and tap session. It was a very full on couple of weeks!
Were you much of a Judy Garland fan before the film?
I knew of Judy Garland as I’d watched The Wizard of Oz a lot when I was younger. It wasn’t until I started auditioning and researching that I realised how big a star she was and I began to understand her struggles by reading biographies of her, watching old interviews on YouTube and all the films she’d been in. I am such a huge fan of hers now.
What was it like working on a project with Renée Zellweger?
Renée has achieved so much professionally that to be attached to the same project that she is, never mind playing her younger version, was a dream come true. I met Renée a few times and she has such a warm aura about her. She congratulated me on getting the role and whilst filming she came and said she’d heard how well I was doing. She is a true professional and her attitude and empathy towards everyone on set was inspiring.
As well as film, you’re now appearing in the recently released Netflix show The Irregulars. How did you get into character?
My character Jessie is a 15 year old girl living with her friends on the streets of Victorian London. When we meet her she is suffering from horrendous nightmares and the rest of the gang think that she is slowly losing her mind. I’ve always had an interest in Victorian England so I just expanded on that by reading more about workhouses and poverty at that time. The Victorians did have a fixation with ouija boards and mediums so learning about their fascination with the supernatural was very interesting and sometimes scary!
What was the chemistry like, on set and off, with your The Irregulars castmates?
I’m hoping everyone will see that we do have great chemistry together on set as we get on really well, even though we have different personalities. Off-set we spent time just hanging out, enjoying some great meals in Liverpool restaurants, going the beach and just generally laughing a lot and enjoying each other’s company.
What was your proudest moment from your performance in The Irregulars?
Watching all the episodes I’m pretty proud of everything as I feel I couldn’t have given anymore to the role. Probably a scene from Episode 8 that I can’t speak about as it’s a spoiler but it was very physically and emotionally draining at the same time!
How did working with Netflix on The Irregulars compare to working with ITV on The Bay?
You know both had a lot of similarities in terms of a great cast and crew and both utilised a lot of Northern locations which is really great to see. I am very nostalgic about the great time I had filming in Morecambe for The Bay as it was the first television series I did and I’m really proud to have worked on it. The biggest difference for me is probably the step up to a lead role in The Irregulars, which in turn means longer hours and the extreme fatigue which no-one can prepare you for!
How do you unwind outside of work?
I love yoga. I think it’s my instant destress. If I could, I would bring my mat everywhere with me, I must have spent hours and hours on it during the course of 2020. It takes my mind off things and helps me just appreciate being in the moment. I also love to paint, sew and read.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing women in the entertainment industry today?
I don’t necessarily think there are more challenges today than the past. I’m always aware that if I don’t feel comfortable with what I’m being asked to do in a scene then we can have a discussion around it whereas I think maybe female actors in the past felt the pressure of having to do things they weren’t comfortable with and couldn’t speak up. I have a great team around me so I always feel well protected! I feel that I’m working with more female directors and producers which is really great and I’d really like to see that trend continue.
Do you worry what Covid and austerity will do to UK film, tv and stage?
I feel like the tv and film industry has been able to recover quicker than theatres which is really sad, although I know a lot of independent production companies are still finding it difficult in restarting tv and film production due to spiralling costs. I think the pandemic and austere times has proved that people need the arts as it promotes well-being in so many ways. You can retreat from the complexities of life and experience escapism whether it be in the theatre, cinema or at home. I’ve really enjoyed watching some online stage productions over the past year so I really hope the government will give support to our theatres, particularly regional ones which have suffered so badly the last few years as I really cannot wait to step back into a theatre.
The Irregulars is out now on Netflix. Follow Darci here.