Holly Earl

Known by her fans as Lily Arwell in Doctor Who, as Agnes in the sci-fi drama, Humans, and as La Mousme in the animated crime biopic, Loving Vincent, London-born Holly Earl has proven to be a versatile talent in both TV and film. Her earlier credits include playing Nita Clements in the drama series Casualty. She also appeared as Kela in the action-drama Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, and as Zoe in the Comedy series Cuckoo.

In the thriller, Shark Bait, Holly is Nat, a demure spring breaker struggling to survive a man-eating shark. After a night of partying on the beach, Nat reluctantly joins her friends as they steal jet skis and head out to sea. But the fun quickly turns to horror after a head-on collision leaves them injured, bleeding, and stranded in shark-infested waters fighting for survival.

Holly Earl and Catherine Hannay in Shark Bait

Thank you for taking the time for this interview. There are so many shark movies out there. What attracted you to this one?

Holly Earl: I read the script and loved it. I liked how Nat was so sweet, sensible, and honest at the start of the film. She didn’t want to get into trouble. But then she goes on this journey and turns into a completely different person. I thought that was interesting from an acting perspective. 

Did you audition for the role of Nat? If so, what was that like?

Holly: I auditioned for the role in front of director James Nunn and pretended to be in the presence of a shark. He wanted to see if I could be believable that way. I was also in a Playstation video game called Erica, which James was involved in, so there was that connection. 

What did you draw from emotionally to get into Nat, who confronts her fears and overcomes them?

Holly: We had an amazing team of divers that were around us all the time. I don’t know, maybe they held some sharks at bay while we were filming. We were off the coast of Argentina and away from the crew boat, so we really had no idea what was in the water. If there were sharks in the water, I’m glad I didn’t know about it at the time (laughs). There were times when we were isolated in the water with the crew boat really far away, so I suppose that helped generate some fear in us.  There were moments when I thought, oh, my God, I’m alone in the ocean. And that was scary, so you’re really not acting at that point. We were always busy doing stunts, swimming, and jumping off moving jet skis. So that helped take my mind off those scary moments. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced in this film?

Holly: I’d never done such a physical role. I was in the water 12 hours a day.  In one scene, I’m trying to save a guy but I’m a tiny human being. I’m five feet tall and my co-star was six feet tall. I was battling a massive wave and trying to swim with him attached to me. The weather had changed and it caused the jet ski to move away from me, so I had to swim some distance to reach it. Then the wind would pick up and I’d get really cold in the water. But you use that to show you’re really cold and tired. And it comes across in your performance as convincing in that you’re out of your comfort zone. But at the end of the day, with the beautiful sunset behind you, you feel like you’ve been working out for 12 hours. When it was all over, I was in the best shape of my life with all of the swimming and diving (laughs).

When you go to the beach, do you now fear going into the deep end of the ocean?

Holly: No, I don’t worry about sharks. Actually, I feel I’m a more confident swimmer. I’ve never done that kind of diving before, so I feel I’ve learned a few things. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be an actor? Were you inspired by a film or actor?

Holly: I started acting when I was just three years old. My sister was an actress when she was younger. Seeing my sister, I thought, that looks like fun. Then I stopped acting for a bit when I was a teen. But then I started watching a lot of classic movies like Street Car Named Desire and watching Vivien Leigh. I was enamored by her performance. And I remember thinking, I could do that, I want to do that. So I emailed my agent and, well, here I am. I’ve been very lucky in that I started when I was young. 

Many fail in this business and give up. What keeps you going?

Holly: I love it. It’s the adrenalin and thrill I get from acting. I’ve had some amazing roles in my career, like playing a hostile synthetic robot in Humans or being in a Playstation game. Since I started as a child, I don’t know if I could do anything else. 

So, had you not pursued acting, what career path would you have taken?

Holly: When I was a teen, I thought about going to art school and becoming an artist. I applied to art school and got in. But the day I was accepted, I got my first adult acting job. It lasted for some months, then I got another acting job and I just kept going.

What have you learned about the entertainment business that surprised you?

Holly: My various experiences and how they changed my life. I can only see the industry through my perspective and how it impacted me. It made me so much more confident as a person. I used to be quite a shy kid. Acting has allowed me to become more extroverted and be a confident person.