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Thaddea Graham, star of The Irregulars: ‘Representation is important’

Netflix hit The Irregulars reimagines Sherlock Holmes’ gang of street kids for the 21st century. Breakout star Thaddea Graham applauds their diverse casting.

Thaddea Graham is the breakout star of new Netflix series The Irregulars. The show is set in the world of Sherlock Holmes, but focuses on the team of street kids the great detective employed to get the inside track on life in Victorian London’s dark underbelly.

It’s a fresh, irreverent and witty new angle on a world we think we know, and Graham brings great heart and street smarts to the central role of Bea, leader of The Irregulars.

Read on to find out more about the show, and solve the mystery of why this up-and-coming star wants us to be more like trees…

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The Big Issue: What can you tell us about Bea and the Irregulars?

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Thaddea Graham: I felt very lucky to be trusted with Bea because she’s so beautifully written. Bea is our confident, headstrong, driven leader of the street gang. I remember watching Killing Eve thinking, Jodie Comer‘s got the dream job there, I would love something like that. And then Bea came along. Oh my god, the universe is listening. Thanks, universe! It’s a dream role, Bea is my Villanelle. When she was three and her sister Jessie was a baby, they lost their mother so Bea had to step up. They have chosen their family – they met Billy in the workhouse and Spike later on.

Do we get a sense of what their street life is like?

They’re living in a cellar underneath the pub with a stream of sewer water that runs along beside their bed. There’s never really any complaints and they’ve made it their home but something like that sits in a person physically. What I love about Bea is that she doesn’t apologise for where she’s come from. It’s the qualities you have as a person she cares about.

How do they get involved with Sherlock Holmes?

This elusive man chases Bea through a graveyard and says my partner and I run a small Detective Agency on Baker Street, I’ll give you money, and I know that you need money because I’ve been watching you. She thinks he’s arrogant and creepy, but she does need the money. The fun part about Bea and Watson is that they’re actually very similar. They’re quite guarded and very protective of the people they have let into their heart. So they’re playing is constant game of cat and mouse. The rest of the gang are more sceptical – Spike creates this whole fantasy of Holmes and Watson having a sex dungeon.

The Irregulars are the stars here – but what about this show’s Sherlock?

We expect this quick thinking, flamboyant speaker with that power of deduction, and we do see that in flashbacks. But in our series he’s at the lowest of the low. Bea looks after him, brings him tea, which is her heart coming through – not judging Sherlock as a drug addict because she knows something has led him to that point. She’s so fearless. I’d be terrified as a 17-year-old facing that, but that’s her streetwise thing kicking in. She’s seen things and had a very hard life.

We’ve seen Sherlock Holmes in multiple guises over the years – have you watched Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr or Jeremy Brett in the role?

I was always aware of it. I think it’s ingrained in our culture. But I never watched the movies or read the books and I’ve only seen a few bits of the Cumberbatch version. Stepping onto set and seeing our version of that iconic door, our 221b Baker Street, still gave me chills, though.

How vital is it that The Irregulars represent modern London?

Representation of all kinds is super important on screen and in life. The Irregulars were all boys in the books. The lovely thing was that in the casting breakdown, the description said ‘Bea is 17, leader of the gang, sister to Jessie’. It wasn’t about how she looked, it was about her qualities as a person. Johnny Allen, our director, was very passionate about making London on screen look like the London he grew up in In this show it’s not really questioned. Nobody says, why is the leader of your gang a girl? Why do you look like that? Nobody cares, there are bigger things at play.

How have you been getting through lockdown?

We were two weeks away from wrap and we got an email saying, okay, we’re gonna send your home for two weeks. It was months before we came back. But I felt very lucky and almost guilty during that lockdown to have a job to come back to. ‘Why have I been given this really lovely thing and other people haven’t?’ For me, music has been my biggest outlet. That’s what has kept me going. I find music very therapeutic to write. I don’t always find easy to say how I’m feeling, but if I can sing it, it’s easier and more ambiguous. We project our own situation on to a song and I think that’s really lovely.

This is your biggest role to date – what do you hope to do with your new profile?

When I was younger, I remember seeing The Big Issue paired with Centrepoint and Kathryn Prescott, who did a photography exhibition called What Makes Us Care? I have a signed print of Craig Roberts from it in my room. Kathryn had been given a voice [in TV series Skins] and used it to shout about things she really cares about. That was such an inspiring thing to see and has always been at the back of my mind. I don’t want to be famous. But I feel lucky to have been given this platform and want to shout about things that matter.

What are your big issues?

I want to connect the industry at home [in Northern Ireland] with the mainland. Young people there need more encouragement and support and to be shown there are so many jobs in this industry that are available to them. I remember thinking, I can’t be an actor – I look like this and I sound like this and it’s never gonna happen. It’s such a foreign world. I want to break those barriers.

But the most important thing for me is mental health awareness and support – at home, we’re very much like ‘just have a cup of tea and get on with it, you’ll be grand’. I want to encourage a conversation and try to break down that stigma around talking about mental health.

That’s great – anything else you want to add…

Trees! I want to talk about trees! I’m obsessed with trees at the minute because I learned they can communicate and look after each other. Trees flourish when they’re all together. If a tree is felled and it’s just a stump, the trees around it will see its potential and give their own sugars and nutrients to help it grow again. They are so gentle and strong. That compassion, that selflessness of trees – they take what they need, give back to the forest floor, help each other – I think we should just be more tree. Be more tree!

The Irregulars is available on Netflix now

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