Laura McKee recently played the character of Captain Swing in the miniseries adaptation of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, but the British actress is now turning her attention to one of the biggest shows on British television right now: Peaky Blinders. She plays Laura, an American film star married to Sam Neill’s Thomas Shelby (the head of the gang). Here are some facts about Laura and how she got her role on Peaky Blinders! Laura McKee Goes from Playing Captain Swing to Peaky Blinders
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Who Is Charlene McKenna
Charlene McKenna made her acting debut in 2004 in a recurring role on The District (2000). Her next television appearance came three years later, when she appeared on an episode of Life (2007) with Josh Duhamel. In 2009, Charlene showed up as Frankie Broyles on an episode of Human Target. She was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series for her work on Season 5 of NBC’s medical drama, ER (1994). In 2014, she began playing Captain Swing on CMT’s drama series, Nashville (2012), which is currently airing its fourth season.
A little bit about yourself
Charlene McKenna is a natural when it comes to taking on big characters with complex storylines. She’s previously taken on the role of Commander Jules Hilbert in Star Trek: Discovery and played Captain Thomas Jackson in CTV’s Motive. I got a chance to sit down with her at Fan Expo Canada last week and talk about what goes into taking on such unique roles, how she prepares for them, and what she loved about being on Peaky Blinders Season 4. You can also check out her full-length interview here .
————- I personally love that we have women who aren’t afraid of portraying strong female roles. Especially strong females who don’t necessarily fit what society considers strong. We need more of that across all mediums!
What was your inspiration behind your new role on Peaky Blinders?
As soon as I read [my character] was a lesbian, there were shades of Captain Swing. Captain was a middle-class woman who lived in London and people didn’t really know much about her. She’s not as flamboyant as my new character but I do see some similarities. Laura is open about her sexuality and that wouldn’t have been allowed in that time period [the 1920s]. That said, it doesn’t make her any less fierce of a person. It also provides great backstory for what she went through to get where she is today.
How was it working with such an incredible cast?
It was so much fun! Cillian (Murphy) is like a gift, and he really took me under his wing and showed me how much he cares about everything that he does. So I felt very safe with him as my mentor on set. And then Sam [Claflin] is so cool; I’d never met him before and when we did our scene, it was raining. We were outside in January wearing pajamas—I just thought it was hilarious that they dressed us like that. He has such a good sense of humor, which is nice when you’re in those long hours of waiting to shoot scenes that don’t have any dialogue for you!
What was it like filming in the UK?
I don’t think I even really took it in, filming over there in Birmingham. It was definitely a whirlwind. They were shooting, and so it was just go-go-go. And I loved it! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in England, anyway? (Laughs) It is one of my favorite places, but that made it all that much better – getting to see some of London and everything like that. We were only there for three or four days and then we came back here again…and now we’re looking forward to season two! I mean, who knows what’s going to happen with [my character] Laura McKee?
Describe how you felt when you found out you got the part
I was so excited. This role was unlike anything I’d done before and a bit of a departure. I had met with Steven Knight, who created Peaky Blinders, while filming Ordinary Lies. We discussed whether or not my natural accent would work for his vision of Laura McKee and he decided it would be fine. Fast forward almost two years later and my agents called me about playing Laura on Peaky Blinders then I did a Skype interview with Steven Knight, followed by another audition in London with Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory and Annabelle Wallis. I was announced as being cast as Captain Swing a few days later and that’s when it all hit me! What an exciting adventure lay ahead!
What do you hope fans take away from the show?
I hope that people enjoy it, have fun watching it and learn a bit about history in a different way. Everyone thinks they know what happened but very few people actually do. I’m hoping they walk away thinking that there is more than one story, and you can’t believe everything you hear. We all have our own versions of reality and sometimes things are completely different to how we perceive them at face value—and I think that makes for good television!
What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to doing more theater, a few more television projects, and then, hopefully soon, another film. I just finished a wonderful stage production of The Beaux’ Stratagem at The Tobacco Factory in Bristol and we are now touring England with that play. After that I will be returning to work on Peaky Blinders. As for long-term plans, I would love to have time enough to take occasional theater breaks while filming TV or movies so I can continue developing my stage career. That might mean taking less frequent flyer miles trips abroad but it would be well worth it!