Follow us on social

Essential Journal

  /  Film & TV   /  Charlotte Ritchie Does Not Live In A Haunted House (Apparently)
Charlotte Ritchie 2023

Charlotte Ritchie Does Not Live In A Haunted House (Apparently)

Charlotte Ritchie could very easily be anyone’s best friend. You probably know her face from her breakout role in Fresh Meat as the exceptionally annoying Oregon; or her sophomore series stint on Call The Midwife as the enthusiastically lovable, and conclusively tragic, Nurse Barbara; or maybe from her the last few years seeing her as the complicated love in Mae Martin’s Feel Good, Penn Badgeley’s latest obsession in You, and, of course, joining the Horrible Histories troupe for their latest stint in the off-the-cuff supernatural sitcom Ghosts. But sitting next to her in a vintage band shirt whilst sipping an English breakfast tea, the breadth of her fame doesn’t appear to touch her. Though it’s talk of her latest work, the final chapter of Ghosts, that brings us together, what unites us is an impassioned conversation about the state of the world, the state of the people in it, and…well, what kind of spectre she’d like to be. 

Interview: Beth Bennett & Katie Langford | Photography: Beth Bennett

CR: You know, being asked to self-style for a photoshoot has actually given me a good opportunity to work out what I actually like from my own wardrobe. It turns out a lot of them are from costume departments from previous jobs, like my trousers are from Ghosts.

EJ: I always thought your character, Alison, dressed very…how I imagined you’d dress. 

CR: They are! I genuinely love Alison’s costumes, probably more than any other character I’ve played. 

EJ: You mean you didn’t love Oregon’s costumes?

CR: Oh my god! [laughs] Actually no, I loved Oregon’s costumes. There was one scene where I come and talk to Vod (Zawe Ashton), and I’m wearing this full length, green…I look like the Lady of the Lake from the Legend of King Arthur. Then I’ve got a headdress that’s dripping down my face and it’s unreal. I remember thinking ‘does this girl spend any time on her essays?!’. No, she spends all her time in the shops. But they were epic looks. I really loved them. 

EJ: Whenever I think of Fresh Meat, what really does come to mind is Vod and Oregon’s outfits specifically. The comedy and everything else is great, but I just think of the looks. It’s very much of the time. Very 2012. I’d love to have dressed like that if I was at uni then. 

CR: I would have loved to have dressed like that at any point in my life, but I think I’ve always been a trainers-jeans-t-shirt person. I don’t think I’ve ever deviated. Deep down, I’ve probably been that since I was seven years old. I think really, I ideally would like to dress how I dressed when I was seven for my whole life. I find fashion a total mindfuck. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, because it’s bound up in this image-obsessed monetary thing, and it so inextricably links to consumerism, but at the same time… you wanna look good!

EJ: And feel good.

 CR: Yeah! I always say to myself that it doesn’t matter, but then I think ‘why didn’t I put the effort in?’. I see people who find such joy in it, who aren’t necessarily just doing it for the designer brands – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but these people are purely doing it as an expression of themselves, but then I circle back to thinking ‘well that’s the best way to get people to spend money, making them think it’s on expressing themselves, and then we’re back to consumerism!’ and it’s such a vicious cycle. I find myself sitting on the floor getting ready for something, thinking ‘Why?’. 

EJ: I find myself making a mental note of a style I’ve seen in the street or on social media and thinking I could build it and pull it off, but then I get to my own wardrobe and it’s just jeans, t-shirts, and trainers. And you know what… It’s comfortable. 

CR: For me, that’s the main thing, so you can bomb around. I think at some point, it’s important to acknowledge whether there’s a good or a bad reason for it, if it’s a thing you care about, wanting to look nice, or present yourself in a certain way, and you’ve just got to embrace that and make the most of it.

EJ: To be fair, with your job, you do get the fun of getting to put on other peoples’ clothes.

CR: That’s what I love the most about it. I think it allows me to occupy a headspace. Firstly, it’s someone else’s vision a lot of the time. I might personally have a bit of a say but ultimately, it’s the costume designer, because that’s their whole department, and that ties so much into the character. It’s really nice to relinquish that responsibility from myself, because I don’t think of my characters as representative of me. I get to enter into that and enjoy it. Fresh Meat was a great example of getting to wear things that I would never have tried, and I think I got a bit more adventurous in my own wardrobe after that. It’s funny, after each job I do, I start to dress a little bit like that character. Say I wore a lot of high heels in a show – suddenly there’ll be a high heeled pair of boots in my own wardrobe which would never have been there before. But I’ve worn these for six months [on set] and I can now see a version of myself where I can wear them.

EJ: I hear a lot about actors putting a little bit of themselves into their characters, but it sounds like you’re doing the opposite?

CR: Definitely. And it’s so nice! A lot of the characters I’ve played have been really unlikeable… [laughs]

 EJ: Oregon never did anything wrong!

CR: It’s funny, increasingly I’ve noticed that some people seem to think I don’t realise that the character isn’t likeable. The only issue I’ve had recently is that I worry that I’ve judged that character too harshly myself, and a really good actor gets inside that person and empathises, without external judgement, which is something I’m really interested in doing. Someone like Oregon, I decided that she was so insecure and awful, but in some ways I might have had a bit more sympathy for her.

EJ: In Raging Bull, Robert DeNiro played an absolute dick: a real-life boxer who was abusive, cheated on his wife with a fifteen-year-old. Martin Scorsese was asked why he was making a film about such a terrible person, and Scorsese justified it by saying that even when you can’t personally explain why a person acts awfully, it’s still worth understanding that there are bad people in the world. DeNiro plays him with so much truth – he knows he’s awful but towards the end of the film you do just feel sorry for him.

 CR: Totally. I think Red Rocket has another great depiction of a character who is just such an arsehole, but there was something about his childlike fever. The way he was pursuing his own desire, but from a complete place of myopic, total inability to see anyone else. He was awful, and the ending is so grim, but some part of you still feels for this guy. And that’s something I think I’m learning, although it’s a little different with comedy. Oregon for example was, not quite a caricature, but certainly leaning that way, quite a ridiculous person.

 EJ: I think everyone knows someone like Oregon.

CR: I think I was like Oregon! I just don’t think I realised it at the time. Sixth form, leaving school, thinking that you know shit. But now, I’m only just understanding how young nineteen is.

 EJ: The older you get, the more you realise you don’t know anything.

CR: It’s the worst thing isn’t it. Although, I was listening to Mike Skinner being interviewed this morning on the radio, and he did The Streets first album when he was twenty-one and he thought it was the best they’d done. I think your critical mindset grows as you get older because you know more, and you know more of what other people do.   

EJ: It’s easy to descend into that thinking, of what good do I have, what bad do I have, am I part of a machine, and you just descend into a spiral.

CR: And then you think ‘how many coffees have I had…?

EJ: If we look at Fresh Meat, Call the Midwife, Feel Good, Ghosts, and then You, your characters do vary. It’s not just sweet nice people, or terrible awful people.

CR: That’s true. People have different interpretations. I met a girl recently who told me she can’t watch Feel Good because she just hated me in it and… fair enough! People definitely speak to me differently depending on what show they know me from. If they know me from Ghosts, they tend to immediately be very friendly, and don’t feel any hesitation saying hello or chatting about the show. With You, people are clearly wondering what I’m going to be like in real life, and I find that really interesting.

EJ: Do you think there’s something in that? In how people are understanding the role of the actor? Especially with the current concerns about AI in industry?

CR: I just watched Joan Is Awful, the Black Mirror episode. I don’t know the legalities of it, but I have on my to do list, to have someone sweep the internet for my face being used. I think it’s on some porn sites, as deep fakes. The way I first found out that my face was being put on naked bodies was when I was laughing at another friend’s face that had been put on a naked body. Me and her were sat around the table laughing about it, and I thought I’d Google my name just for fun, and it had, and it suddenly wasn’t funny once it was me. It’s something I never, ever thought would have thought about ten or fifteen years ago when I first started being filmed in things. But it’s not just people who choose to be on film, it’s anyone with an Instagram account, just days and days of potential footage. 

I find that now I sometimes get self-conscious because if I’m at a festival or something, I’ll notice people are filming me, and it does mean that I can’t dance like I want to, or let loose a bit, or be drunk. I guess that’s actually a bit of insight into what it’s like to be a teenager now. It’s not just me. It’s no longer just people on TV who get filmed now and again, it seems like anyone and everyone. I can’t get my head around it. The one thing I feel grateful for is being older, experiencing this stuff. It’s been a real baptism of fire being talked about online, or analysed or taken pictures of, and you kind of come out the other side thinking ‘well, there’s not much I can do about this’. It’s kind of crazy I ever thought there was something I could do about what people think of me? It’s like suddenly seeing through the other side and realising that I’ve never been able to control how other people see me, and now it’s on a scale that I can’t comprehend. I kind of have to just go ‘oh well!’. 

EJ: Do you think the work you do gives you a kind of toolbox that enables you to be more self aware?

CR: I have found that I rarely talk to people face to face who don’t share the same ideas about nuance, and the understanding that everyone has bad days. It’s very rare that you meet someone in person who thinks ‘that person said x and therefore they’re a cunt’. 

There’s still a big thing about how you solve the concept of change in a person, whether someone comes out of the other side of something as an acceptable person again.  I guess the difficulty is that that always rubs up alongside public figures and groups of people who don’t take any responsibility, and don’t own their shit.

EJ: And knowing whether you’re the right person to accept their change, if you aren’t within the minority they may have affected.

CR: I guess it depends on where the conversations are happening. I think I find it difficult because we’re speaking in such broad terms, and they’re such big concepts. And people behave in a certain way en masse, but individually they have such nuanced and varied views. There’s a power in group thinking, but it can also be reductive. 

EJ: We’re waxing philosophical today. Watching Ghosts this morning I was thinking: Robin didn’t have to care about what was going on with Paris’ bed bugs. France didn’t exist. And when Kitty has pineapple for the first time and she’s twenty. And you just think – she didn’t know about the politics of Australia. 

CR: There’s something lost there too. There’s just no such thing as one thing that’s just ‘good’. Everything has its.. it’s bloody yin and yang! Our interconnectedness is really really stressful and we know way too much, but equally we can have family and friends across the world, and empathy for people we’ve never met. 

CR: Each individual holds a bit of responsibility about how they engage and how much they engage. You can’t expect anyone to man it for you, you are fully responsible for your engagement with the world and how much or little you ingest it, especially as you get older. And to be aware of that does to you when it happens.

I think self image is very interesting. The main thing I’ve been taught in the last few years is letting go of this idea of… you’ve ideally got to try and work out who you are for yourself, and that ultimately people are just going to interpret you as they want to. I used to get really stressed about people who I thought thought I was an idiot, because my character was an idiot. Not idiots, but… people will say ‘oh Oregon’s such a dickhead’ and I wonder why I needed so badly for one person to think that I’m not. But then I realised I can’t [worry about it or convince them] – you cannot ever do anything about it. You’ve got your good friends, and then you’ve got people who you work with or interact with where you’ve got to try and be as kind and as nice as possible, try and be open-minded, try to give people the time of day. My friend’s mum always says ‘meet people as if they’ve just had bad news’, that’s a really good tip. And then beyond that, there’s not really much you can do about how people interpret you. When you find yourself on a Reddit subthread and people are analysing your body type, and saying how bad you look and xyz, I had this sudden moment where I realised it will never go, I will never be able to solve this, and I simply have to let this go. What’s that saying? All I know is that I don’t know anything?

EJ: Is that Socrates or something?

CR: Someone like that. They know what they’re talking about. Who’s the modern day philosophers? Therapists?

EJ: I thought you were just gonna say actors.

CR: Sadly not. Although, I do think actors are a good bunch, broadly.

EJ: After working on Ghosts for so many years, how does it feel for the experience to be over?

CR: Ah, I feel totally gutted. It’s just the dream job. I had a front row seat to the funniest, nicest people, and it’s going to be pretty hellish getting to January when we usually film and not bringing in the spring with everyone at West Horley place. But the show is about death, endings, how you cope, and it’s inevitable it has to end at some point. It’s a rare example of when you can choose to finish something on your own terms, and I think the writers have done the right thing. Even if I am secretly fuming about it. I have laughed so much over these last 5 years. Oh god, What if I never laugh again?

EJ: So what was it like acting against such funny people? How did you even keep a straight face?

CR: It’s impossible. Someone’s kid did a tally chart from the bloopers, a chart measuring who corpses the most, and I think it was me… I definitely think I’m one of the worst for laughing. It’s just too joyful. 

EJ: Starting in 2019, Ghosts came out just before, and carried on, through a period when we all needed a bit of lightness – how do you feel about the audience who found solace in your show? 

CR: I’m so so grateful to them all. Every time anyone stops me and talks about how much it makes them feel jolly, I feel connected to them because it made me feel that way too. Working on this show helped me through all sorts of different and difficult times, and I feel grateful to be apart of something that brought to light to so many people.

EJ: What do you hope people take from the show?

CR: I think that Ghosts sets a pretty amazing example of living alongside people you don’t agree with but finding enough middle ground to start conversations, learn from each other, and develop their perspectives. It’s very loving and it’s core. And it’s hopeful. It’s an optimistic show and my hope is that it continues to make people laugh right until the very end – and even afterwards!

EJ: You know, I’m really not sure what I’m going to write for your headline. 

CR: Charlotte Ritchie: pretty cool chick. Radical dude. 

EJ: Does not live in a haunted house?

CR: Does not live in a haunted house. 

The final season of Ghosts is streaming exclusively on BBC iPlayer.