After Peaky Blinders put Birmingham on global screens, creator Steven Knight once again proves his devotion to representing the Midlands with his newest series This Town, which seeks to explore the socio-political tensions of 1980s England and Ireland through a semi-musical perspective. Eve Austin is among various other young actors who will be gracing our television screens until the end of the BBC1 series, and it seems like there is no one better suited for the role of the tough, yet gentle, Jeannie Keefe.
The actress’ love for her hometown of Nottingham breathes authenticity into her character, as well as the show itself. This challenging but immensely valuable story is made even better with Austin’s impassioned performance as Jeannie, who is a big sister figure, an uplifting friend, and a role model for her community.
We’re so excited to be talking to actress Eve Austin about her recent performance in BBC1’s This Town and beyond. What have your thoughts been leading up to the series premiere? Will you be having a watch party with friends or family when it airs?
Honestly, all the nerves you can imagine and then some. Also bursting with excitement! Especially for my lovely mum to see it all, who sadly, I have sacked off watching it with so I can go to Michelle Dockery’s watch party on Sunday.
Tell us a bit about yourself – what do you enjoy doing most in between productions?
Lime-biking, perfecting the art of a cup of tea, and occasionally I will have spurts of going to the gym five days a week and then times I do less than 200 steps a day. I’m rarely not listening to a podcast or completing a 6000-piece miniature Lego set.
I’ve had to get used to having a lot of time off in between jobs. My saving grace is having the most wonderful group of friends who I fill most of my time nattering with and putting the world to rights. I’m also quite famously known as having the most bizarre side hustles; from being a mad scientist to a matchmaker. It’s a very privileged existence to have so much time for yourself and I have always felt very lucky for that.
What’s the last film you watched in the cinema that made an impact on you?
I recently went to a screening of Bottoms at the Prince Charles cinema. First of all, I am seated in the Ayo Edebiri fan club queue! I also adore Rachel Sennott. Just their comedic timing and deadpan delivery, it is unmatched. Funny, smart women leading the way, I felt very seen by that. It’s one I wish little Eve could have watched.
You’re unrecognisable but stunning as Jeannie Keefe in This Town. How much of your inner self did you channel into this character’s personality and look?
I felt completely emotionally attached to Jeannie from the second I read Steven’s script. I’m not sure if it’s her Midlands roots, or her relationship with Dante (which very quickly mirrored my own relationship with Levi) that made me feel so connected to her. I know Jeannie’s - my mum’s a Jeannie; loud, proud, bossy, tough with a heart of gold and always protecting those around her. She wasn’t hard for me to find but pairing that with the magic work from our brilliant costume designer, Molly, and a haircut for the ages from our hair and make-up designer, Sammy, everything just fell into place. I love how different she looks to me on an everyday basis though, it makes it easier for me to watch without cringing.
In the series, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight continues to embrace his love affair with the UK Midlands. The show is set in the early 1980s and makes us traverse between Belfast, Coventry, and Birmingham, all generally under-represented regions in film and TV. As someone who was raised in Nottingham after such a tumultuous time, how does your own experience of home compare with the characters and themes explored in the show?
I am so grateful to Steven for using his voice to continue to champion people and places that often get so neglected in the arts. The Midlands is a beautiful, enormous place, full of diverse and brilliant people and landscapes. It has been the honour of my life to be a part of something that will mean so much to so many people.
My experience growing up has been different to that of Jeannie. I had a lot more protective factors than she did, but I felt hugely connected to the sense of pride one has when they come from somewhere that often feels quite looked down upon. The idea that you must have this innate belief in yourself to follow your dreams despite the hurdles, but also the camaraderie and joy from the people around you. No one has been bigger cheerleaders for me along the way than my friends back home.
Do you have a favourite memory from the production?
There is one scene which comes towards the end of the series, where Jeannie has to tip toe into a room on a mission (apologies, trying not to give away any spoilers here). We did one take of it before our director, Paul, pulled me aside and gave me the note “maybe a bit less Scooby Doo”. It became a running joke between us for the rest of the shoot and yes, he did get a Scooby Doo themed wrap card.
This Town has everyone questioning what a musical even is, as Knight, gives his own idiosyncratic take on the misunderstood genre. What was your initial impression of the concept and script? Were you intimidated by the idea of singing in the show?
I love this question, because I had never considered This Town to be a musical, but I suppose it could be given how much of it is centred around the music. Music is so important to me; it is a way of escaping life, feeling euphoric on a dance floor or screaming karaoke with your mates in some dingy pub. I understood how music was going to be the driving force for these characters and it is woven into the script so seamlessly. It felt less like song and more an extension of the writing. I don’t sing in the show, but I do play the keyboard, which was a terrifying feat, but by the end I couldn’t imagine Jeannie without her keys (we changed her name from Jeannie Keefe to Jeannie Keys). It is Jeannie’s diary in a lot of ways. It’s where she goes to express herself and I love the idea that she is a musical genius as it’s about as far away from my truth as possible!
Your character, Jeannie, is expected to become close with Dante – the show’s biggest hopeless romantic – as the two dream of starting a band in an effort to drown out the chaos of their worlds. In one emotional scene, Dante describes music as truth. Are there any songs that have made you feel like that recently?
I have been a big fan of Kae Tempest for as long as I can remember and almost passed out when I met them on set. Their song Hold Your Own with the lyrics “Nothing you can buy will ever make you more whole. This whole thing thrives on us feeling always incomplete” is seared into my brain. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Young Fathers and saw them recently at a charity event. They have a song Geronimo, and it makes me think of car rides with my friends and my big sister and how much I love them.
What would Jeannie’s playlist look like if music streaming services were around back then?
Goes without saying my girl is playing Bowie’s The Jean Genie on repeat.
Are there any actors that you admire and would like to perform alongside?
I have always said if This Town went again and we meet Jeannie’s dad, I’d love it to be played by Stephen Graham. I reckon we’d pass as family. Some of my idols are Kate Winslet, Vicky Krieps, Sarah Snook and I cannot tell you how desperate I am to do a comedy series with Daisy May Cooper. I’ve been practicing my West country accent ever since watching This Country for if that opportunity comes along.
Before we finish the interview, could you tell us what the most significant aspect of This Town is for you?
The people - both on screen and off. We had the most wonderful, hardworking and dedicated team on this and I have made friendships for life. I couldn’t be more grateful for that.