Tuppence Middleton on her latest role in ITV's Our House, alongside Line of Duty’s Martin Compston

Plus the difficulties of getting stereotyped by ‘minx’ roles as a woman.
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Joseph Sinclair

Tuppence Middleton’s character Fi Lawson in Our House, arrives home one day to discover that all her belongings have been moved out of her house – and that new owners have moved in. A situation made even stranger by the fact that the house wasn’t on the market – and her estranged ex-husband, Bram, with whom she co-owns the home, is nowhere to be found. What ensues in ITV’s new four-part drama based on Louise Candlish’s bestselling 2018 novel, is the telling of a practical, modern-day nightmare, as Fi begins to unravel a tale of blackmail, forged signatures and life-shattering mistakes.

It’s a thriller that’s by no means jump-in-your-seat scary, but a narrative that gets under your skin and speaks to a universal fear within us all: of displacement, of questioning who we are without our domain or our belongings. “It feels impossible – and yet, grounded in reality. The more you think about the story, the more you think ‘This could actually happen. And what would I do if I were me?,’ says Tuppence of the show’s plot, which has had audiences gripped since the first episode was released on Monday of this week.

Joseph Sinclair

Our House is an example of property noir – a newly-coined genre to describe stories which showcases the dark side of home ownership, and where a fixation with property can turn sour, with dire consequences. It follows in the tradition of the likes of classic novels like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and more recently series like The Girl Before and Finding Alice, where a physical property holds a chilling significance, like a character in its own right. It’s more subtle than a “haunted house” narrative – but, perhaps in a way that’s even more evocative, speaking to the bittersweet attachments we all form with the spaces we live in, and the consequences that can ensue.

Another major theme explored as part of this narrative is divorce – and the more modern options for navigating a “blended family”. The divorced couple at the heart of the story trial something called birdnesting – which involves their two children staying in their family home while each parent spends part of their week there. It’s one of the first occasions – if not the first – this has been depicted in a popular show.

Our House, which is set in the present day, represents a welcome departure from the norm for Tuppence. Her character Fi Lawson, a modern female professional with a no-nonsense attitude, is notably a far cry from a coy, flirtatious maid, or a promiscuous 19th century Russian aristocrat. Which is a relief, to be honest, to the 35-year-actor whose reputation for playing saucy parts in period dramas (after going nude Helene Kuragin, one of the main villains in War & Peace) has become a blessing and a curse, landing her a role in the two Downton Abbey films – as Lady Bagshaw’s maid, Lucy Smith, but also leading to her repeatedly “typecast”. “It was a challenge for me to play something in a world that wasn’t in my comfort zone,” she tells me.

In conversation with GLAMOUR, Tuppence Middleton describes the challenges of stepping into a different kind of role; the joy of working with a female director, and the fascinating themes explored in the show.

Joseph Sinclair

Hi Tuppence! Congratulations on this brilliant role. I was so interested by what you said in the press statement ahead of its release – that what struck you about the script was its “immense relatability”. Could you tell me more about that?

One thing I looked up as soon as I read the script was how common property fraud was – because it's never happened to anyone I know. But it seems that it is becoming more and more common [according to ONS statistics, fraud increased by 26% between 2019 and 2021, with 26% of cases resulting in the loss of property or money] in a world where we live so much of our lives online, especially during something like a pandemic where everything becomes very online. I bought my place during the pandemic, and almost everything was via email. You’re trusting your life savings with someone based on phone calls with the bank, and if these people aren’t who they say they are it’s so much easier to [get conned] now.

Another thing that I, and I'm sure other people, realised during COVID was how important the home is. We spent so much time there – particularly when the world had gone crazy. It reflects who you are. It's your safe space as a family or a couple or a person. And you have everything that you own in it. It's your personality like in a box. When that's taken away from you, you find out very quickly who you are or who you're not. And what defines you. Reading something like this, and hopefully watching something like this, everyone can put themselves in that position, even if they don't happen to be like Fi and Bram [the two main characters] who are in our version of the story quite privileged, and have this big, beautiful house. Regardless of the money you spend and the size of your house, it's still your castle. And when that's taken away, it forces you to ask some very difficult questions about your life.

Your character Fi, in Our House, divorces her husband Bram after he has an affair. Marital breakdown is a hot topic right now - particularly with a rise in divorce filings coinciding with the pandemic. Why is it important to see these narratives being explored on screen?

Many people have been through divorces and relationship breakdowns. So we wanted to do that story justice. Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, and so many of us have been affected by it, if not directly then indirectly if our parents or friends have gone through it. It was important to, to look intimately and delicately and to sort of see both sides of the story, because there always are two sides of the story. It's not even so much that they do divorce wrong, because there is no right. It's always painful. It's always difficult. It's always so individual and personal and you make the decisions based on what you think is right for each other. And also for the kids, if you have them.

In the show, Fi and Bram try birdnesting, each living in the family home for part of the week respectively and renting somewhere elsewhere. Do you think that seems like a good compromise, for divorced couples to try?

It’s hard because I think in our version of the story, it didn't go well. But then that was really due to other things going on. So I don't know. There are merits in it, especially if you have younger children; I imagine that it's maybe a good thing to ease their way into a slightly different lifestyle rather than a kind of brutal cut or selling the house and immediately moving to two different places. But it does bring a whole new set of problems. It's probably best to do it if you have an amicable divorce, if such a thing exists. But I thought it was an interesting idea. It's good that people are looking for other ways – which maybe aren't so traditional – to deal with divorce, in order to try and disrupt the family as little as possible.

This was a very different kind of role for you, bearing in mind some of your best-known roles are in Downton Abbey and War & Peace. Was it nice to take a break from period dramas?

It really was. It's not like I am one of those actors who just gets, you know, 10 scripts every day and it's like pick and choose which one I want to do. But you do try and think about what you want from your career and what you want to do next and what you haven't done before. I felt like it had been so long since I'd done anything contemporary like this. Even though there are big things happening in the show, it felt grounded – like I was playing the kind of everyday person. It wasn't in a heightened world or a stylised world or a sci-fi or a period drama. It’s funny – you do play something once, and it tends to come back to you through other avenues. After I did War & Peace, I was offered all these minx roles. And I had to make a decision to play something else – something different.

Joseph Sinclair

So it was a conscious move away from those sexy femme fatale roles, particularly?

Yes. You end up getting typecast – and you don’t ever want to get stuck as an actor. There were a couple of occasions where I thought I was just stuck in this whirlpool that I couldn’t get out of – me playing this stereotype.

And was that harder – to step into a much more naturalistic, contemporary role?

It was tough. I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders, like “I don’t want to be the one to ruin this”, because I knew that Martin [Compston, who plays Bram and has previously starred in Line of Duty] and Rupert [Penry-Jones, who plays a character called Toby who woos Fi after a chance encounter in a lift] had been cast. When you see them on a cast list, you know what you're going to get – it’s like, OK, I'm in safe hands here. Anything you watch with them in, it’s great. I felt like it was a real challenge for me to play something in a world which is not my usual comfort zone.


What was it like working with Richardson director, Sheree Folkson, who’s worked on Bridgerton in the past?

She was only the third female director I've worked with in about 15 years. So I was really excited to have a woman directing me – especially because, with Fi’s story, I felt like it was important to have that female eye on it. There were also intimate scenes, and I felt very safe with Sheree. We had a conversation before the job started and I just really liked her ideas for it. She was immediately wanting it to be a classic story, in a sort of Hitchcock-esque way. She wanted to build that tension like the way old Hollywood movies did. So I thought she had really good taste and was good fun.That’s not to say I’ve had any problems with the male directors that I've worked with, but it’s just nice to see the representation equaling out [between 2013 and 2016, only 33% of UK TV directors were women, according to Directors UK].

All four episodes of Our House are now available to watch on catch-up on the ITV Hub.