Eliza Butterworth is, without a doubt, one of the most gregarious, warm and passionate people I have ever interviewed. Beautiful, animated and vivacious, her enthusiasm is infectious. I found myself thinking, “I want to be her, and if I can’t be her, then I want to be her friend.”
Her parents met in Nebraska, where her mother – who is from an Italian-American family – was training to be a nurse and her father – who hails from Lancashire – was a pilot in the Royal Air Force, so, although she was born and raised in Lincoln, she found herself travelling to the American Midwest during summers to spend time with her mother’s family. Much of her warmth radiates from her Northern roots, and she attributes it to the kindness of her “absolutely gorgeous” father.
Eliza credits her early interest in acting to her parents, in particular her eccentric and larger- than-life mother, Edie. “My mother is a wonderful icon that I’ve always looked up to, and still do,” she shares. Witnessing her glamorous and captivating personality, Eliza equated this to the world of acting, and listening to the varied accents of her family from both sides of the pond further fuelled her passion for mimicry and characterisation. At the age of 15, she told her mother that she wished to pursue an acting career, at which point Edie threw herself on the ground (theatrics obviously run in the family) asking, “Why would you want to do that?”
“My mother is a wonderful icon that I’ve always looked up to, and still do.”
– Eliza Butterworth
Eliza took part in plays at The Lincoln Minster School and with the support of her teachers there she applied for a place at drama school. Having had no prior exposure to the thespian world, she says she approached auditions like “a deer in headlights, but without expectations”. Her relaxed mentality of “I’ll have a go and if I’m successful then that is an omen, otherwise I will go in a different direction” (in her case, believe it or not, dentistry) paid off though as, at the tender age of 18, she was accepted into The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Being the youngest in her class, she was a “malleable blank canvas” and was open to absorbing all training and instruction on offer. She graduated in 2014. It was during her time at RADA that her parents recognised her passion, talent and commitment to her chosen field, and to this day, they avidly follow not only Eliza’s career and projects, but also those of her fellow cast members. “My mom even has me on Google Alerts. Forget Kris Jenner, Edie Butterworth is the ultimate momager… on a budget.”
The roles she was assigned during her final year at RADA – the year in which industry professionals start taking notice – all seemed to feature Eliza playing an older character – somebody’s mother, grandmother and, it seemed, every battle-axe you could think of, but she wholeheartedly embraced the fun and transformative side. Whether this be tapping into another dimension of her underlying American heritage personality, or the challenge of portraying somebody completely opposite to who she is, it was all regarded by her as a learning curve
Eliza as Queen Aelswith of Wessex, the wife of King Alfred, in the epic medieval Netflix drama, The Last Kingdom.
It clearly stood her in good stead as she was cast to play Queen Aelswith of Wessex, the headstrong wife of the cunning monarch, King Alfred, played by David Dawson, in the epic medieval Netflix drama The Last Kingdom. Having taken the part aged just 21, Eliza, who sees little of the formidable Queen in her own personality, has since aged roughly a decade per season as the series strides through history and the bloody formation of modern England. So by the time they reached season 5, Eliza Butterworth, who is now 28, was portraying a woman at least 35 years her senior, a challenge only exacerbated by the fact that her on-screen daughter, played by Millie Brady, is the same age as her in real-life.
Eliza’s first foray into TV was enlightening. “Working with such a fabulous cast and forming family-type relationships as each season carried on, helped us to flesh out these wonderful characters, who were actually real people,” she explains. “A lot of the characters actually did exist. There’s something really nice about tapping into them as well.”
Eliza’s can-do personality and acting ability became apparent during an incident during the filming of an episode of The Last Kingdom. As with most productions, there were amendments and re-writes of the script. Eliza had just prepared for a huge scene involving a family loss by studiously learning and rehearsing her lines, but as they began filming, the lead actor stopped and asked why her lines didn’t match the script he had prepared for. It was only then that she discovered she had inadvertently been issued the original script, which was seven drafts behind the one being used. Mortified and wondering how she was going to learn the new scene in five minutes, the director came to the rescue and requested a hybrid script encompassing parts of the original, which meant Eliza had to learn only ten new lines. It also required her to break down in tears, and Eliza describes herself as “some sort of sociopath” as she was able to pull it all off.
“When I originally got into acting it was because I loved theatre.”
– Eliza Butterworth
Eliza’s latest project is called A Town Called Malice, which she describes as a phenomenal crime thriller set in the 1980s. The story is about the criminal Lord family from Bermondsey, who, fleeing from trouble in South London, find themselves on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Filmed in anamorphic style with gorgeous cinematic visuals, she sees the stunning soundtrack as “a driving force for the show, almost creating a character itself”.
Chaos follows the family wherever they go. “They are such a fun, crazy, wacky, wonderful family that you end up falling in love with every single character,” she comments with affection, “However,” she adds, “each of them has their own agenda.”
In A Town Called Malice, Eliza plays Carly, the wife of the eldest of the Lord family sons.
Before A Town Called Malice, viewers can catch Eliza in The North Water, a TV miniseries about a disgraced ex-army surgeon who joins a ship crew as a doctor as they head off on an expedition to the Arctic for a whaling mission. Also starring Colin Farrell and Jack O’Connell, and directed by Andrew Haigh, the show weaves themes of toxic masculinity and morality against the backdrop of the Arctic. “I play ‘a lady of the night’ in a few episodes,” she says laughing. “What I loved the most was observing Colin Farrell work. He’s an absolute legend.”
Although her TV career is blossoming, Eliza’s main interest is in theatre work. “When I originally got into acting it was because I loved theatre,” she explains. She made her West End debut playing Princess Eugenie in the 2021 satirical comedy The Windsors: End Game at the Prince of Wales theatre.
But, for all her love of stage work, for now Eliza’s main focus is A Town Called Malice – and she is full of enthusiasm for the series. Eliza says it’s “a bit in your face, but with beautiful, subtle moments that pepper the script with emotion”. She describes her character Carly – the wife of the eldest of the Lord family sons – as “warm-hearted, loyal and fabulous but often overlooked by the rest of the Lord family because she comes across as quite ditzy. As the show evolves though, the lioness side of her comes through.”
A Town Called Malice releases on Sky Max with NOW on 16th March.
Words: Shelley Campbell