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Fleetwood-born Rhian Blundell has played vampires on both stage and screen. She chats to Kelly Mattison about female representation in the horror genre and how she broke into acting

Rhian Blundell grew up in Fleetwood in a working-class family but has gone on to play Meredith in the TV adaptation of Vampire Academy, and the main part of Eli, a centuries old vampire, in the stage adaptation of Let The Right One In. This Friday she takes to a smaller stage in Blackpool as part of a panel discussion on female representation in horror.

Reclaim Women in Horror, at Scream and Shake Horror Cafe on 28th April, is hosted by Reclaim Blackpool, the project mapping sexual harassment in the town, and is one of a series of events organisers are hosting to engage with and empower women in the town.

The panel discussion will explore how female characters are reclaiming agency in modern horror and, for the 26-year-old actor, there’s a lot to dig into.

“If you break it down to specific areas then yes, absolutely, female representation in horror is more progressive than it has been in the past. There is much to celebrate and be proud of,” says Blundell. “But in the same breath so much remains virtually unmoving. It would be ignorant to blanket all women’s progress in the genre as at the same level. There’s still so much further to go.”

Blundell will be joined on stage by local historian Deborah Contessa, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University Dr Sorcha Ni Fhlainn, global head of branding for The Dungeon attractions Holly Hulme and English literature PhD student Lucy Lavery – all of who are passionate about supporting Reclaim Blackpool.
“Seeing a grassroots organisation like this flourishing in my hometown gives me so much joy,” says Blundell. “Any collective like this, especially one that has such a bulk of young voices deserves all the support it can get.”

Blundell made her screen debut in the feature film Nobody Girl, directed by David Shillitoe, and trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Despite landing roles on the small and big screen, the down to earth actor is still drawn to her stagecraft.

“I feel lucky that I got to do Let The Right One In in Manchester at one of my absolute dream theatres, the Royal Exchange. It was one of the only theatres I had access to when I was younger and even then it was one that really inspired me,” she says.

Blundell doesn’t come from an acting family and was given no easy route into the industry. Her mum was a civil servant and her dad a truck driver.

I feel like Blackpool gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes but it’s always so alive – it’s such a lively place. It’s one of those things where I get very defensive, it’s like a sibling – I can critique it, but you can’t.

“When I was in high school my mum went back to university so during my teen years I watched her go to night school, get her GCSEs and A Levels and then she went to university and became a teacher,” she says, citing her mum’s determination in later life as the main catalyst for her own ambition.

“Acting was always something that I loved doing but we were never really in a position where I could do a lot of the paid drama groups,” she says. “I loved doing the amateur groups and local church groups when I was a kid. That’s where I started, doing anything I could get my hands on.”

She was inspired, she says, by the actor Pete Postlethwaite. He was the narrator of James and the Giant Peach, and she recalls watching that as a child and having “a moment of wow” at how he told the story. But she didn’t see acting as a viable career for herself at first – taking English at A Level, something she saw as more “serious”.

Blundell in Vampire Academy

“But there was always this nagging feeling at the back of my mind – that doesn’t quite fit, though – so when my mum took herself back to her studies I thought, you know what, she’s doing something that I knew she deemed as unrealistic for herself – her going back to university was such an impossible thing she was trying to do – and I just remember thinking if I don’t give this a go I’m never going to forgive myself.”

Her family was incredibly supportive of her decision to pursue acting, she says.

“They didn’t have to let me run wild and free but they did. The whole family is very working class and I think everyone just always thought they would let me do this for as long as I needed to, but then let’s figure out what you are going to do next. I don’t think they thought I’d really pull it off. I don’t think I thought I’d pull it off.”

After finishing her A Levels she worked full time to fund drama school auditions.

“That’s something I don’t think that everyone knows. When you go for the proper drama school auditions most of them you do actually have to pay for, so I worked full time in a clothing store for a while just to fund them.”

Blundell lives locally still but her studies and work have found her spending time in cities including LA and London.

“I missed nobody turning round when they hear my accent and I missed blending in,” she says. “The accent was a trigger for people when I moved to London. I feel like Blackpool gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes but it’s always so alive – it’s such a lively place. It’s one of those things where I get very defensive, it’s like a sibling – I can critique it, but you can’t.”

Perhaps straddling two worlds helped her in her role in Vampire Academy. Her character, Meredith, is a Dhampir – half human, half vampire.

“The Dhampirs have been created by the Moroi, who are the more fully fledged vampires, to be their guardians because by being half human half vampire they are really strong and fast and can go out in the sunlight. They are able to do the sort of things that the classical idea of vampires can’t do,” she explains.

“What I love about Meredith is that she can hold her own on the physical and fighting side of it but she’s very much the smartest of the group and she’s aware of it and she’s sarcastic with it, which was great fun to play. She is a very loving character, though I think she enjoys being the smartest one in the room.”

Blundell admits that, like Meredith, she has a tendency towards sarcasm and brutal honesty. “But Meredith loves her friends with everything she has – she will do anything for the people she loves. These are two things I connected with deeply,” she says.

Despite the grizzly nature of the character, she says playing these two vampiric roles has been a “pure joy”.

“One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I never lost the sense of what a privilege this is. It’s been very hard, and I’ve had a lot of support from a lot of wonderful people to get where I am, but it is a privilege that I am able to do what I love so I try and savour the joy from every opportunity and think, yes, it was hard but I am really blessed and really lucky to have done it.”

Blundell says the hardest part of the job is battling her own insecurities.

I had the sense of, you are doing this now so concentrate, don’t drop the ball because it took you a hell of a long time to get it.

“I can get very much in my own head and in my feelings about how people perceive me,” she says. “I find this very difficult. When I’m working, I am at my best but it’s what people are going to think that I can get a bit emotionally attached to.”

Despite her humble beginnings and self doubt, Blundell’s talent was recognised when she was awarded the John Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts, also known as the Golden Quill.

“It didn’t really hit me then and it still hasn’t,” she says of receiving the award. “I felt like I’d come from a place so far outside of the industry. I had no connections to it growing up so to have that moment of affirmation from this thing that I’d fought so hard to just get into was just the most uplifting thing. It was a wonderful moment.”

But, while acting itself is something she says she enjoys so much and never feels pressure with, receiving the award made her feel a pressure to maintain that level of success.

“I had the sense of, you are doing this now so concentrate, don’t drop the ball because it took you a hell of a long time to get it. I was proud of the achievement but I have a hard time telling myself well done. Maybe that’s just a Northern thing. I’m very happy that people around me will do it for me.”

As for the future, Blundell says she would love to star in a feature-length horror film – the genre clearly one of enduring appeal to her.

“But if I’m honest, I just want to work. This is such a hard job and so many people try to do it and so many people have ups and downs in it so if I can just work then I am grateful.”

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