Gemma Arterton Takes On A Classic Role In FX’s ‘Black Narcissus’

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BLACK NARCISSUS – Pictured: Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh. CR: Miya Mizuno/FX Productions

By Jim Hogan

The lush (and lusty) FX miniseries Black Narcissus (Mondays) based on Rumer Godden’s classic 1939 novel stars Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh, a role made famous by Deborah Kerr in an Oscar-winning 1947 movie adaptation of the same name. As Sister Clodagh and her order of Anglican nuns set up a convent in 1934 Nepal, she is awed by the stunning Himalayas … and the handsome Mr. Dean (Alessandro Nivola), who oversees the land for the British Empire. Here Arterton explains why Black Narcissus is so sinfully good.

If you only have time to watch one more show, it should be Black Narcissus because …
Gemma Arterton: It is unlike anything I have seen on television for a long time. It is quite classical, in the best sense. It is a psychological thriller that intoxicates you.

The reason I had to say yes to this series was ...
I read the book and was blown away. Amanda Coe’s scripts honored it, whilst elaborating on some themes, bringing more depth. The setting, the story and the complexity of the characters completely transported me.

The character of Sister Clodagh resonated with me because …
She is someone who used being a nun as an escape from her true self. I connected with her struggle to always be in control, to always succeed, whilst battling the wild, sensual person that she truly is.

You’ll be glad to hear we don’t …
Shave our heads! At the time [the series is set], nuns shaved all their hair off. Luckily, we had an amazing hair and makeup designer, Nicole Stafford, who did wonders with bald caps and wigs.

Awards voters are definitely going to single out …
How visually beautiful the miniseries is, from Kave Quinn’s costumes and production design to the incredible Nepalese landscape.

We did our homework! For example …
We visited an Anglican convent for research. The nuns in Black Narcissus are High Anglican, which, at the time, was very strict. The nuns weren’t allowed to touch, weren’t really allowed to let their gazes wander. I found the research of life in the order completely fascinating.

Filming on location in Nepal was …
A blessing. It took us two days to reach the final destination, which was high up in the Himalayas. It really ran home what a leap of faith it would have been for these nuns to make that journey in 1934. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I could really understand why the nuns are so shaken by the beauty and majesty of the place. It also gave the cast and crew a really bonding experience. You don’t forget trips like that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

This miniseries also stars Diana Rigg, Jim Broadbent, Alessandro Nivola, Aisling Franciosi and so many other talented actors. That was amazing because …
I was truly very lucky to work with so many exceptional actors. Alessandro Nivola gives a really nuanced performance and I loved all of our scenes together. The same goes for Aisling Franciosi. Her Sister Ruth is a truly troubled soul. The scenes between Ruth and Clodagh are some of my favorites, as there is such a battle of wills at play, whilst at the same time a lot of vulnerability and pain. Aisling and Alessandro are such subtle and generous actors. Working with Diana Rigg and Jim Broadbent was a dream. When you are working with such exemplary actors, you can’t help but up your game as a performer.